Game: The Surge
Release Date: May 16th, 2017
Developer/Publisher: Deck13, Focus Home Interactive
First and foremost, the back story of The Surge shows a desperate human population on future Earth, and the CREO corporation is out to save the day. Rockets are launched into the sky in order to release chemicals and solidify the Earth's interstellar atmosphere. Every day citizens are outfitted with exo-suits, with each one representing a specific task. Heavy movers where larger suits, speed workers utilize lighter suits, etc.This is as much of the story that you will learn for the first dozen or so hours of the game.
We play as Warren, a man who is applying for work at CREO. On your first day at work, you pick which exo-suit you want and go into your augmentation. Unfortunately for Warren, the machines go haywire and he gets his suit drilled into his body (even his head) without any anesthesia. You wake up to find the company and its buildings almost completely destroyed. That's all we know at the start. Once you wake up, you end up in a Med-Bay where you speak with a holographic message from "Sally" who tells you she's in another part of the plant. It's very Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi like. The med-bay is where you can upgrade your exo suit along with its various parts and weapons. After this, you are thrust right into the main game with absolutely zero assistance what so ever. There is no in game map, no HUD, no story explanation. You're left on your own, which acts as both the best and worst parts of The Surge.
Dark Souls players will notice similarities to gameplay as the save points are almost non existent, while dying sends you all the way back to the beginning med-bay. The best part about the combat is the new limb targeting system. Since you'll need to upgrade various parts of your exo-suit, you'll need to acquire head, arms, leg parts etc in order to do so. Enemy body parts that are unarmored are blue, with armored ones in yellow. You have a choice to attack the more vulnerable blue ones, but yellow ones can be targeted for upgrade. Certain moves allow you to chop off the targeted body part in order to use the attached exo-suit part for your own upgrades. More parts are required to upgrade as you go, and the wide variety of choice does help add depth to the otherwise lackluster combat.
Outside of this new combat feature, there isn't much gameplay wise to write home about in The Surge. Although the environment has a wide variety of colors and post-apocalyptic vibes going for it, the exploration is wildly unorganized. The combat of the game sees you fighting full blown machines or other CREO employees that have become half zombies welded together with their exo suits. With no map or HUD to speak of in the game, you're left just wandering around with no clue whether you're going in the correct direction. In fact, the first "mission" only completes with a boss you locate after going to the same spot on your third time. This third time has to be after you complete other tasks, of course, and I only found it by sheer chance just walking around aimlessly. I'm all for not holding the players hand in exploration, but The Surge missed the boat due to lack of a complimentary story.
In our 15 or so hours of The Surge, nothing surrounding the story was explained further. Not one bit. The only thing we knew is what was explained in the opening sequence. It wouldn't have been as bad if we learned things along the way and had gameplay figure it out, but the total absence of any story explanation led me to ask what I was even doing in the game. It was disappointing as the combat / upgrade system is very good, but falls out of favor quickly due to the lacking story.
Outside of the bare bones story, the combat and upgrade system really does excel in The Surge. Defeating enemies earns you tech scraps which is used to upgrade items. Dying causes you to drop any scraps, and you must make your way back to where you died within a certain time in order to pick them up. Defeating enemies along the way does increase this time too, which is a help when you lose a lot in a boss fight. This scrap lets you upgrade weapons, parts and even you suit's Core Power - which is the primary function in the game.
The exo suit Core Power is exactly how powerful your suit becomes. Each level requires more and more scraps, and more powerful exo suits lets you use more base implants. These are things like health restoring collectibles, proximity sensors for secrets and even attachments which allow you to walk through poisonous gas unharmed. This is what really makes The Surge's upgrade system excel. Since tech scrap is needed for every part upgrade, sometimes making that crucial decision of "What do I upgrade next?" can make or break the next fight.
Enemy variety was surprisingly decent in The Surge. You start off with basically CREO employees under control of their exo suits, but then move on to giant machine bosses, mini turrets and flying drones. And yes, many fights include all of these enemy types which forces you to incredibly vary up your fighting style in order to survive. The companion drone you are able to utilize also helps as well, and is extremely welcome in the more difficult later sections.
The Surge's story isn't lacking for the entire game to be fair. It is explained near the end of the game if you haven't figured it out by then. It's kind of obvious to figure out near the beginning, but the absence of any reference to the story until the end keeps it a mystery. It seems like Deck13 didn't want the story to interfere with the gameplay, but they went too far in the Dark Souls direction and just abandoned it completely for the first 10 or so hours. This, of course, is a huge detriment.
Not all of the combat was sunshine and rainbows in The Surge, however. Losing your tech scrap is bad enough along with having to make your back from the beginning. On the other hand, all the enemies you just killed are now magically back in the same spot. I couldn't figure out any reason for this and often time just ended up running past enemies in order to get back to where I was. Abandoning the tech scrap wasn't an option since it's so vital, so it's not like I could have just let it go and kill the enemies again. After all, if I'm going to do that I might as well save the time and just run over to pick up what I just dropped, right?
The Surge has a lot of promise to it. In fact, I could easily see DLC for it in order to expand the story. The varying combat/upgrade system and limb targeting was really appreciated. The premise of the story is also very interesting, as it is about a very specific topic technologists have discussed for a very long time. The details on how CREO got to this point in The Surge uses much different details than what current day analysts explain as well. Although I did enjoy what the story was about in its base details, I can't understand for the life of me why Deck13 chose to abandon any explanation of it until the end. It would have made for a much better game and could have made for one of the better immersive stories to date.
Unfortunately, the rest of The Surge falls victim to the lack of story description as it's a central focus to the entire game. I liked a lot about The Surge and I would play DLC for it, but having a question of "What am I even doing in this game?" hover over me for about a dozen hours of gameplay was unacceptable.