In 2017 developers at Deck 13 released a sci-fi twist on Dark Souls called The Surge. The game wasn’t a runaway hit, but it did well enough that a sequel called The Surge 2 was announced in 2018 and released just a few days ago. The good news is that many of the imperfections that hindered the first The Surge game have been polished. The potentially bad news, depending on your hopes, is that not much else has been enhanced. Like other games in the increasingly popular Souls-like genre, a large part of your enjoyment will come from your joy in overcoming difficult challenges. This is not an easy game, but then it also does not pretend to be. If games with brutal difficulty are not for you then The Surge 2 should be an automatic pass. If you do enjoy the genre then it warrants a closer look as a solid, though flawed, entry.
The main conceit of The Surge 2 that separates it from its contemporaries is the lock-on combat system. While on the surface that sounds fairly standard, where The Surge 2 splits from the pack is its system encouraging you to target specific limbs on enemies with your attacks. There are several layers to this combat system, which on the whole results in a satisfying experience. The first thing to consider is what part of your opponent you want to attack. On human opponents this generally means the head, torso, either arm or either leg. The wrinkle in this is that each body part will be either armored or unarmored. You may assume you want to target the unarmored sections as it’s easier to do damage to your opponent, but Deck 13 has cleverly made it so that the armored parts will often drop crafting materials or patterns which are essential to powering up.
The second layer of the combat in The Surge 2 is that your basic attack choices are a vertical swipe or a horizontal sweep, as opposed to a quick or powerful attack in most games. What this does is allow you to swing in a way that is more effective for your positioning, and also for what body part you’re attacking. You can also chain together attacks of either style for combos, but you’ll find it’s not often a wise choice to do that since it opens you up to counterattacks. The third layer is the more typical matter of what weapon you use. Short or long; sharp or blunt; fast or slow; and many other characteristics will be available at your discretion for each fight.
What all this adds up to is a game that fosters a strong sense of risk/reward gameplay in The Surge 2. Should you go for unarmored spots for an easier (and safer) kill, or go for armored spots for coveted materials? Will you dart in for quick strikes and then back away to avoid counterattacks, or wait for the enemy to commit to a strike and then retaliate with a heavy weapon? Is upgrading the sword smarter for your playstyle, or the big flamethrower fist weapon? These are just some of the choices you will have to make in every encounter in the game, whether you’re fighting regular enemies in the streets or in the grandiose boss battles. Fortunately the game does hit a good balance with the crafting system which allows you to play the game the way you want in at least one important way. Most crafting plans use the same pool of parts, so you can go with whatever path suits your play-style rather than having to go farm specific opponents at the expense of other encounters.
Where the game falters is in its technical performance. I played on PC on a fairly powerful rig (Intel i7 with an Nvidia 2070) and I encountered frequent stutters in the framerate when playing at either 1440p or 1040p. A quick glance at message boards and gaming communities makes it apparent that these limitations are not unique to the PC port, and even the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro are reportedly having issues. The graphics in the game aren’t all that refined overall, so the performance stuttering is a bit surprising. It may not look like a previous generation title, but it also does not look like a game near the end of the current console cycle. I hope that means that some of the performance problems can be patched out down the road.
The Surge 2 Review Final Thoughts:
The Surge 2 is a game that ranges from being fun and satisfying to enraging and frustrating. Much of my time in the early part of the game was spent farming the low level enemies for materials and schematics. With the enemies always spawning in the same spots and little variation the world seemed a bit less alive than other titles. It took a few hours before I really started to feel confident in my combat skills, which is natural when the game mixes things up with a boss battle that required entirely different strategies.
While I understand that to many gamers that is actually part of the appeal of the genre, for me it was a source of annoyance. In fact, a lot of the time I didn’t really feel any satisfaction from defeating a particularly tough boss or combination of bad guys, but instead that I had merely endured it so I could move back to a style of combat I was more comfortable with. I am fully willing to accept that that is probably not a failing with the game so much as not appealing to my only personal preferences. I won’t hold it against The Surge 2, though I did think it was worth noting. What this all adds up to is a perfectly fine entry into the Souls-like field with a few technical problems. I don’t think The Surge 2 will become the new go-to game for genre fans, but it does provide enough substance to fill the gap while we sit between release windows for bigger titles. Enjoy it for its entertaining, and often extremely bloody, combat and for its simple, but polished, crafting. Just don’t expect a deep story or engaging plot because those seem to have been largely left to the wayside.