It's the gaming drought and I've been looking for things to play. A lot of advertisements had recently sprung up about The Surge 2 showcasing some gameplay videos and a cinematic trailer - even our very own Giant Bomb gave it a shot on a UPF or something a while back. So I checked and it was on Game Pass - man I love Game Pass - so why not?
Turns out I really liked The Surge.
Many years ago I remember getting a fairly bad game from GameStop and I knew someone working there so they told me they can exchange it for something else they had on hand at the moment. Anything was better than what I had (title of the game escapes me) and when I saw him the next day he handed me Dead Space which had just released at the time. Now I wasn't all that enthused - I don't like scary games and I enjoy survival horror even less. I vaguely recalled the advertising campaigns for Dead Space touting it had amazing sound design and was incredibly scary. The game sat on my shelf for a while until a friend came over that wanted to play it. I let him go at it and sat back watching - when he left that day after getting a few hours into it I knew that a) it looked amazing and b) I had to play it for myself. The amazing design and clever innovations in the already established survival horror genre were able to help me play this title that I would never give the time of day otherwise. Sure I still cringed at all the monster closets, but no longer was I repelled by having 2 bullets and slowly walking around, turning in place using tank controls and clumsily dispatching slow zombies. A great game is just a great game, no matter what genre it occupies.
The Surge reminds me a lot of that time. A big difference is that I am already a fan of the Souls games, and Bloodborne is probably my favorite one-of-those, so I didn't need to force myself outside of my comfort zone. What the Surge does is take this existing formula and much like Dead Space did with survival horror all those years ago, it adds new systems and evolves some of the already established mechanics. More importantly it brought the Souls experience to a sci-fi setting which is very much my jam. Being in the future means that a lot of the things that were typically just fantasy magic mumbo jumbo all of a sudden have more or less logical explanations which actually goes a long way in increasing the immersion factor. Ironically it helps to ground the experience in some sort of reality which in a way helps you relate to whats going on around you. You're not walking through ruined castles or bogs, you're in the R&D department of a corporation where gross experiments were taking place. You're using a welding device attached to your exo-rig which increases your strength and speed so that you can work at an assembly line better. Your abilities are implants that draw power from your suit.. it's all very industrial and very cool. I even enjoyed the corporate PR you constantly encounter throughout the game, with a future Mark Zuckerberg letting you know how great Creo (the fictional corporation you work for) is both for you and for the world around you - without getting into spoilers you do get to meet this man and it's a really interesting encounter.
Then of course there is the dismemberment. This system where you cut off the limbs of your enemies in order to get the gear they are wearing is extremely fun. Not only does it look cool, but it helps the combat not get stale. Very rarely was I ever just mashing my pneumatic drill at an enemy. Each encounter is a little different because enemies will have different weak spots and depending on the situation you might want to go for a faster kill or you might want to prolong the fight a bit to gain energy so you can engage a heal. The energy meter you gain through consecutive attacks adds that one extra layer of strategy to combat encounters in addition to simply managing your stamina which makes a world of difference.
Similarly I love the skills system in the form of implants that you can slot in and out at will. Everyone knows the pain of playing through a Dark Souls game, increasing a stat for 15 hours only to find the perfect sword.. that uses a completely different stat. You can use items to re-roll but it's kind of a pain. The Surge presents you with implants that have either passive or active buffs, and you can mix and match them at will as long as you have the energy to power them. You're never locked into one "build" because you can always switch things up. You can even stack a bunch of the same implant that gives you bonus experience for each kill and go farming for a while, then switch in all your implants for exploring an area and keep on truckin. A boss too difficult? Slap on a bunch of extra heals so that you can use a "flask" 12 times. The freedom to play as you wish and the many choices you have at your disposal is a wonderful change of pace from the typically enigmatic and static way the Souls games handle this. The Surge doesn't really obfuscate anything - there aren't any items that "might bring a wanderer luck" or something equally vague. It still manages to be interesting and a lot of fun while being absolutely transparent with it's systems and options. There are some fun things to discover on your own, like for instance there is an entire combo system that executes different moves depending on the sequence of attacks you choose. There is a special way to kill every boss that will reward you a better version of the boss weapon afterwards. It's just enough to be interesting but not too much to be a nuisance.
Which is not to say that everything is great. The worst thing about the Surge is hands down their level design, which is a little drab and at times incredibly confusing. For all the cool innovation and awesome looking bosses and tech, the areas you traverse are quite boring, often looking very similar from zone to zone, always using the exact same maintenance corridors that twist and turn, going up and down until you no longer know where you are. While games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls were typically excellent about showing you the places that you're going to go to, so that once you get there you could kind of marvel how they cleverly tied everything together, in the Surge you go into these dark corridors that spit you out the other side and you have zero context for where you went or where you ended up. It's a real shame because it's the one element that really drags the entire experience down a whole notch.
If you have Game Pass, and are looking to kill some time until the next big thing comes out (this would be CONTROL next week) annnd you like the Souls games.. then hey check this out. At the time of release it got a somewhat lukewarm reception but I do think it's really doing a lot of interesting things with this new genre we got on our hands.