When The Surge launched back in 2017, developer Deck13 was afraid that its sci-fi adventure would be branded as a cheap imitation of Dark Souls, little more than a reskin with mechanics that didn’t match up to the masterful original. But once players delved into it, what awaited was something far more complex.
A layer of strategy sat beneath the combat system that made each and every encounter an exercise in finesse. Each limb could be dismembered, weakening enemies or leading them to drop equipment that would soon prove valuable in your own quest. It felt excellent to play, taking place across a bleak, intertwining world that was a joy to explore.
However, it was a tad generic, confined to industrial facilities which largely all felt the same. Seldom did you venture outside them, unable to discover a wider world filled with alien technologies. The Surge 2 tackles this criticism head-on, taking us into the sprawling metropolis known as Jericho City. It’s massive, and filled with far more variety from the outset.
A new setting isn’t the only enhancement Deck13 brings to its ambitious sequel, seemingly tightening all the screws to deliver a deeper, more concise trip to its mechanical hellscape.
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While it has plenty of ambition hidden within its gameplay mechanics, The Surge 2’s opening moments are anything but inspired. You’re an unfortunate amnesiac, having been involved in a plane crash that has had major repercussions across Jericho City. Oh, and you’re also imprisoned, incarcerated outside of the city for reasons unknown. Although, one thing is clear – things are falling apart and you need to escape.
This is a setup we’ve seen several times before in an endless stream of mediums. It’s a tried-and-true concept, but still works surprisingly well for The Surge 2. After creating my own character, within seconds I was going up against my first enemy. Having yet to equip my exoskeleton I needed to rely on my own base instincts to best the opening area. I felt vulnerable, cautious that the gorgeous shadows around me might come to life.
Fellow prisoners rushed towards me, suffering from an affliction known as the ‘Defrag Virus’ which twists those previously human into strange, bloodthirsty monsters. Many of them were covered in a mixture of demented metal fixtures, clinging to limbs like unusual pieces of armour. It’s eerily haunting, hostile shrieks escaping them as they sprinted towards me. For now, a few punches to the face and they were down for the count.
Soon after I came across my first Medical Bay. Essentially acting as The Surge 2’s version of bonfires, upon death you awaken here with all your resources left behind where you fell. Provided with just a single chance to retrieve them, there’s a fascinating aspect of risk/reward with each new life. Bays are the first port of call for levelling up, crafting new gear and banking scrap.
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Each time I stumbled across a Medical Bay, or a shortcut leading to one I previously visited, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing the gauntlet I just charged through wasn’t for nothing. Moments like this are excellent, and frequent enough that I never felt disadvantaged or pushed away by a difficult experience that demands too much. The Surge 2 strikes a good balance, but only if you’re willing to play by its rules.
Combat is fast, almost dizzyingly so. Encounters can be over in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful, with the most basic enemies capable of cutting down those who aren’t. Each movement is essential, attacks and dodges require a small window of time to execute in which you’ll be immensely vulnerable. After mastering a rhythm, I was cutting down foes like clockwork, and it felt so good.
Weapons range from far-reaching, weighty hammers to swift pairs of daggers that cut through flesh like butter. I always opted for a faster loadout – quick attacks ensuring I was never left out in the open for too long. In the opening chapters, the right sequence of strikes can also down standard enemies before they have a chance to react, two of which I played through in this preview build.
Oh, and it’s stupendously violent, to the point that certain executions had me wincing in gnarly glee. The Surge 2 places a deliberate focus on targeting specific body parts of each foe. Some are heavily armoured, while others are weak and prone to attack. Focus on them, and you’ll achieve a quick victory. But opt for limbs hosting powerful weapons or armour and you’ll be rewarded with the blueprints to craft them for yourself.
I didn’t realise this for a couple hours, during which a challenging boss known as “Little Johnny” was wiping me across the pavement like nothing more than a bug. So I ventured through the battered streets of Jericho City with a new plan – to tear away limbs like the most violent DIY lover in the world. Soon I had amassed an array of blueprints to enhance my exoskeleton, waltzing back to the boss area with the ruthless aggression of John Cena.
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Much like Bloodborne, The Surge 2 encourages aggression. Coyly awaiting an attack can and will work, but it’s often cumbersome. On the flipside, if go in with the speed of a gazelle and you’ll not only catch adversaries by surprise, but whittle down weakened limbs using absurd finishing moves. Most of these involve slicing enemies to pieces, some illustrated in slow-motion, just to rub it in a little more.
You’ve also got a combat drone which attaches to your back, capable of shooting or shocking your foes into submission for essential nuggets of damage. There’s abilities that heal or enhance your attacks, available only by charging up a gauge through attacks. This forced me to throw myself into encounters with reckless abandon, often coming away with more health that I started with.
It’s initially terrifying, but once I felt versed in The Surge 2’s mechanics, it became a daring yet thrilling exercise in finesse. It’s wonderfully responsive, one of my only major qualms is the chaos that ensues when multiple threats spot you at once. You can’t really juggle confrontations like this, succumbing to unfair attacks in a matter of seconds. Some animations also felt unrefined. There were times when I’m pretty sure hits shouldn’t have connected, making death feel unfair.
These are all problems that I’m sure will be addressed ahead of the September launch, and beyond that, I’m pretty positive about The Surge 2. Its world, while generic, has plenty of variety in its dense metropolitan streets, underground sewers and construction sites, all filled with secrets to uncover. Environments intertwine with one another in a way that makes this world feel real, even if it’s grounded firmly in science fiction.
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Loading screens between major areas do falter the illusion somewhat, with my character moving slowly through a door and waiting for the next level to appear. Player choice emerges in conversations with characters throughout the game’s world, shining a light on its quirky sense of humour and lack of self-seriousness. It’s entertaining, yet nothing remotely special if I’m being blunt about the whole affair.
The Surge 2 is a fun, challenging sci-fi adventure with a lot of positives going for it. The world itself is drenched in atmosphere and more ambitious than what came before it.
Gameplay is similarly refined, exuding a notable sharpness without sacrificing that strategic edge which helped the original stand out. It’s more of the same, but developer Deck13 has learned plenty of valuable lessons.
If the full experience matches up to the initial 5 hours or so I enjoyed, this could be an underground hit for 2019.