(Focus Interactive for PS4)
By Mike Delano
The Souls series had a huge impact on game design, from its immensely gratifying combat to its risk/reward progression system. One of the series’ other, less-copied contributions are its engrossing, atmospheric environments. They’re endlessly menacing and foreboding, conjuring feelings of desperation and dread. They’re so effective that fans have been clamoring for developer From Software to apply their world-building talents to somewhere other than the medieval setting the Souls games are known for.
Not content to wait around, developer Deck13 — creators of 2014’s Lords of the Fallen — went ahead and brought the Souls sensibility to a grim, mechanized future in The Surge, where threatening machines and augmented humans lurk around every corner. The player controls an exo-suited character that encounters many familiar trademarks of this style of game (a stamina bar, the equivalent of bonfires, shortcuts) but the game makes some interesting tweaks to the Souls framework.
Leveling up your character enables you to use more helpful implants and equip sturdier armor, but everything draws from the same pool of points. Therefore, outfitting your character resembles a throwback to the Resident Evil-style equip grids of old where you could only carry what you had room for. This restriction ends up being a fun way to constantly reevaluate your character build, deciding whether to bulk up on defense and leave behind extra healing items or run around exposed but with an extended health bar.
Combat in The Surge is satisfying and addictive, giving you the tense one-on-one encounters you’d expect from this type of game, but the developers go the extra mile by implementing a limb-targeting system. This extra combat layer allows you to hack away at more heavily-armored sections of your enemy for a chance to grab their gear. Deciding between pushing your luck or going for the easy kill makes each skirmish feel worthwhile.
These additions to the (by now) well-known Souls formula are a pleasant surprise, but what’s most striking is how well the The Surge captures the haunting atmosphere that defines the Souls games. Its dark, labyrinthine structures are eerie and claustrophobic, the intentional emptiness of the world feels creepy and since nearly every enemy is dangerous enough to kill you quickly, you end up tiptoeing into each new area.
I had hoped that this “sci-fi Dark Souls” would deliver on the basic expectations for this style of game in this setting, and it does. But what The Surge delivers beyond those expectations — a new approach to character building, excellent combat and a fascinating dystopian world — ensures it will make its own distinct impact on the gaming scene, and developers of future games in the genre might look to it when they need to do a little “borrowing” of their own.