The first Surge game came out at just the right time, offering a very refreshing take on the Dark Souls style by having a sci-fi setting and adding some dynamic elements to the formula. But since then, a whole range of Dark Soul clones have released from 8-bit instant classics such as Deadcells to another title from the team behind the Dark Souls games in Sekiro, a masterful example of how the genre has evolved. I was very much interested to see how Deck 13 as a developer team and built on the foundation of the first game to see if they have taken it to a new level with the sequel.
The Surge 2 opens with asking the player to create their own character but sadly this so generic and limited that you can never really put together a perfect character. Trying to make a male character became such a chore due to not being able to land on a good face to facial hair balance that after almost 40 mins of trying I just binned it and created a female character which actually worked far better within the frustratingly limited options available. Next you can pick a back story for your character but this lacked anything really interesting and simply had me picking the one with the nicest outfit just to get into the actual game. Thought nice to have an option to customise my own character, it really would have benefited from having far more depth than just generic unimaginative selections.
Once your character has been finalised you are then thrown into a cutscene showing your character on board of a plane, making friends with a young girl. The plane is then struck by the Utopia rocket which is carrying a payload of Nanites which flood into the plane causing it to crash into Jericho City. Seeming the only survivor of the crash, your character then wakes up in a prison medical facility but discovering they had been in a coma for 2 months from the crash. The Prison is then suddenly attacked by massive creature seemingly made from the same form of Nanites that caused the original plan crash, causing so much damage that prisoners are able to escape from their cells. Waking up and armed with a basic weapon, the player ventures out into the prison.
I will come back to the story a little further on but I do want to start off by talking about something that stood out for me in the first game and is far more enjoyable now in The Surge 2, the combat. The combat system still relies on a limb targeting system using the now commonly used requirement of a stamina-based fighting system. What does change things up right away and is the first improvement for me, is that the player no longer has to choose between a light or heavy personal Exo-frame or rig. Instead you now simply get one Exo-frame and you can customise it with light or heavy armour as you see fit. In fact, making that choice is made very easily as you can now have three pre-set loadouts for your rig. The limb targeting system still enables the player to get hold of new weapons but also new armour blueprints which can be then crafted and used with a bonus of using a complete Armour set with three pieces giving you one bonus and a completed set will come with the bonus of a full set of armour bonuses.
The freedom to really customise your load-out on the fly also applies to the Implant system which is carried over from the first game, that allows you to add new abilities and skills whilst improving how your rig and load-out performs in the field. As always you can upgrade and craft new weapons and amour with the materials you find in the field which brings me nicely back to the combat. Thanks to be able to have different load-outs for your rig, the freedom to try out and test different weapons really allows players to tailor their own play-style in the world. The number of weapons has been improved so finding one to suit your own style from dual weapons, swords, staffs and hammer types can all be equipped. The work on ‘execution’ animations as well when taking out a particular limb has been focused on and with some of the weapons, these animations can bring a very satisfying end to any enemy. The game is also more forgiving should you fall you an enemy with the traditional “racing back to pick up your lost items” now having a timer showing how long you have to get back to where you fell to retrieve them. The only issue I have with the new combat system is the direction parry system, which if you install the correct implant will allow you to ‘detect’ the direction of an enemy hit in order to parry it using the right stick but it just feels really clumsy instead of a simply single button press parry system, I just found it really cumbersome especially when fighting a group of enemies.
Where the game does fall down however is in the story and world design. The story falls into the same trap as the MATRIX films for me, with the need to try and blend the philosophical and religious tones with how technology can impact on humankind going forward. The opening cut-scene to the game even raises the concept of can machines/robots be truly perfect if they are created by the imperfection in humans. The issue for be is that it just becomes more convoluted the further into the game you go and the story itself limits the playing area you have with Jericho City now cut off from the rest of the world due to the Nanite plague ravaging the city following the same plane crash that you as the main character survived.
The first game was set in a dystopian industrial world with corporate greed being a big focus but now we simply move those themes into a city-wide area with technology and the evolution of technology now the main possible big bad. The world does feel bigger however by having the player moving through streets instead of warehouses but it is a city that is just damaged, dirty and broken. Nothing really makes it stand out other than having more ways to run about. You can still create shortcuts between areas which can be very handy if you want to get back to a Medbay which still serve as The Surges version of the Dark Souls bonfires, allowing you spend your scrap to craft or upgrade your gear and I also like that you can bank your unused scrap instead of the risk of losing it out in the world should you fall to an enemy. The shortcuts can also seem almost added to be poke fun at the player, early in the world it took me a good hour of so to navigate through in order to find different areas to go explore but then to find a gate requiring a certain level of key card to open which then breaks the logic of having an Exo-frame and weapons and not being able to just kick or cut the door down whilst at the same time able to chop off armoured limbs to salvage.
Early on the challenge of coming across new enemies can lead to a massive difficulty spike, forcing you to grind and farm an area enough in order to gain a full set of new armour or materials to upgrade in order to grind and the game simply lets you do this without forcing you as the player to up the tempo or put pressure on you to push on. The early bosses can be a challenge making any cushion near you want to be someplace else as you might pound your controller into it but later on, the bosses simply become a higher level of the same fight patterns and with enough sensible load-out builds, you can become strong enough to simply make these battles a case of hitting them enough with your best weapon rather than the skilful dance that makes you learn their attack patterns waiting for a moment to strike.
What is a disappointment is that The Surge 2 still suffers from technical problems with average visuals but also screen tearing and a camera that can miss many of the brilliant limb cutting off animations when they trigger, especially when fighting multiple enemies at the same time. Now I began playing using my OG Xbox One and this game definitely rough around the edges, especially in character models but I switched over to my new Xbox One X and whilst it did help make the visuals look a little sharper, the screen tearing remained. I also became really bored with the sheer number of “player graffiti” tags if you have the game in Online mode where players can leave tags to either indicate where an item can be found or if an enemy might be hiding just around the corner so it doesn’t catch you out but it became annoying because a lot of players just tag anything and everything using all the symbol options possible so almost a case of spamming the world with tags. Aesthetically the world is just rather dull to be in, it might be set in the future but it ends up looking like any normal city with some broken buildings and burned out cars in the street.
The environments will have nooks and crannies that might hold secret routes or secret rooms to find with many requiring a particular skill in order to access them which is there in order to give players a reason to return to that place later in the game. I found the first game to be fairly average on the visual side and that can be forgiven for a small studio lacking the budget of a big team such as you would have behind a Dark Souls and Sekiro title, but this sequel just feels very much the same and with other games now out all battling to win over the Souls genre fan, some effort to just lift the visuals to another level would have helped.
If you enjoyed the first game than The Surge 2 will offer you a lot of the same both good and bad, with enough refinements to the combat to still make it fun. The sci-fi setting still offers a lot of room to build this franchise on if it can aim higher instead of playing it safe. The combat and setting alone are enough to make this worthy of your attention if you are a fan of the genre, it just lacks the polish that a sequel should have rather than just a few quality of life fixes. But there is a great deal of fun to have with The Surge 2, and the gameplay elements are strong enough to make this a game worth experiencing.