This past week I played through The Surge, a sci-fi Soulslike released in 2017. It seemed to go mostly under the radar but managed to garner some fairly positive review scores. It certainly passed me by at the time.
But, after spending 30-ish hours with it, I think it may just be one of the most criminally underplayed games in recent years.
It features some of the most intricate level design and thrilling combat since the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne, respectively.
Considering how popular the Soulsborne games and their many successors are and were, I can’t fathom how this game escaped my attention. Or perhaps that is precisely the reason.
There have been so many games like this in recent years, like Lords of the Fallen or Salt & Sanctuary, that at a certain point you kind of become numb to them all.
The Surge has some fairly unique art direction, and I think that this might be at least part of the reason I had overlooked it.
It has a kind of hard sci-fi aesthetic (which I’m usually here for), combined with an industrial theme. And it’s kind of colorful too, at least in the promotional artwork.
I suppose it must be pretty hard to sell the actual world of The Surge in promotional material.
While you do spend the majority of your time hacking off the limbs of zombified mech pilots with assorted industrial machinery, there is so much more to this universe.
Saying that the Surge is just sci-fi Dark Souls would be like saying that Bloodborne is just a game about killing werewolves.
Set in a dystopian future where the Earth’s resources have long been exhausted, one of the greatest threats humanity faces is mass unemployment.
The vast majority of the labor force has been automated, and finding a job is literally a matter of winning the lottery.
You play the role of the fantastically named Warren, a winner of one such lottery to work for a company called CREO, a Silicon Valley-esque mega-corporation.
Imagine if Google and Apple came together to dominate the planet’s industrial sector, and brought their sleek aesthetic and corporate culture with them.
Warren is a paraplegic, and part of the appeal of the job at CREO is access to the company’s patented exoskeleton technology.
While undergoing the surgical procedure to graft the exoskeleton to his bones, something goes horrifyingly wrong, and Warren awakens, alone, after an indeterminate amount of time.
From this point on, virtually everything about this world and its incredibly in-depth lore is left for you to discover, in true Souls fashion. There is a story here, an engaging one, but it is up to you to seek it out.
In many ways, I found it more engaging than the esoteric tales of gods and lost kingdoms that are the usual Dark Souls fare, because the item and weapon descriptions in The Surge tell you a concrete story of a relatable world.
And then there’s the combat, which has a satisfying heft and is incredibly deadly, meaning you both hit and get hit extremely hard.
It is much more Bloodborne than it is Dark Souls, although it has the incredible build variety of the latter, which means you can play heavy if you like.
The big thing here is the sever system, that allows you to target the limbs, body or head of any opponent you come across. Severing a body part will give a chance of recovering the armor that was worn, or even the weapon a foe was carrying.
You will usually at least get some crafting materials, and it looks suitably rad when pulled off.
The Surge features a modular upgrade system, which allows you to heavily customize your rig. Essentially, when you level up, you increase the number of mods you can have equipped at once.
This means you could attach more mods to increase your health, but always at the cost of something else.
As your stats don’t ever increase without attached mods, it makes the system constantly engaging, and makes the discovery of a new mod in the game world worthwhile and thrilling.
The world consists of several large and labyrinthine maps that connect to earlier areas in a way that I think surpasses anything FromSoftware has come up with, before or since.
The Surge 2 is releasing in just a few short weeks, on Sep 24.
Apparently, the original did well enough to warrant a sequel, and I’m glad it did. From the trailers released so far, it looks to improve upon everything the original did, but in a bigger way.
More weapons, a more in-depth combat system, and a larger game world to explore.
2019 has a pretty stacked last quarter, but somehow The Surge 2 has shot to the top of my most anticipated list.
The action moves this time, from CREO’s industrial complex to the nearby Jericho City, with a focus on verticality.
The developer, Deck 13 Interactive, has promised a much more open-ended experience than the original, with the player able to set out in multiple different directions right from the get-go.
This all sounds amazing, but I think the only thing I would change is the games shift to custom characters. Warren was a strange dude that was essentially a vehicle for the player to experience the world of The Surge through, and he didn’t get a lot of back story beyond the opening cutscene.
Still, I liked him, and I hope we discover his fate, as it was left somewhat ambiguously.
While giving the player choice is always a great thing, I always prefer a premade character. I think it gives you a better sense of place in the world, as antithetical as that may seem.
With the Dark Souls series on hiatus (it will be back), and the much asked for Bloodborne 2 still not having materialized (it’s only a matter of time), there has been a lack of quality Soulsborne games in recent years.
Dark Souls 3 was underwhelming for longtime fans, Sekiro was a radical departure, and Elden Rings is still a ways away.
That means we need to look to other games and other studios, at least in the meantime. Deck 13 is onto something with The Surge series, and I can’t wait to dive into the next entry.