Is the most recent game from Deck 13, creators of other Dark Souls clone Lords of the Fallen, just Dark Souls with robots or something more? Well, the good news is that it does do some interesting things that help set it apart from being a cheap copy of Dark Souls. First of all, I didn’t even realize that robots actually make up the minority of the enemies here. Most of the time you’re actually fighting humans in various exoskeletons and mech-suits whose neural implants have been corrupted by the mysterious surge, so basically you’re fighting crazed techno-zombies. Yes, it seems that The Surge is secretly kind of a horror game, so that’s cool.
Another nice surprise is the limb slicing mechanic. In combat you can target specific limbs of enemies and ideally you want to aim for the unarmored bits so you can do way more damage, but the trick is, these armored bits are also the best source for new gear and crafting materials. If you see a guy with a fancy new armor or weapon you can just chop that shit right off him and take it! Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple, as the fight will be significantly harder when you’re targeting an armored limb and you’ll need to perform a finishing move at the end in order to make the proper slice, but still…pretty fun and interesting mechanic.
Your character, Warren, is also extremely customizable, as you level up in the form of power core level increases, which allow you to equip more and more implants. Implants can do many different things like give you more health “potions”, increase your base health/stamina/energy pools, or give you other special abilities like attack power “potions” or the power to gain health from finishing moves. There’s a ton of different options to mix and match and you can switch them all out almost whenever you feel like it (some of them you’ll have to be at a medical station to switch out).
The Surge is also a good deal shorter and easier than your usual Dark Souls game too. Finishing it and both the expansions only took around 30 hours and during that time I did die many times, but I was never once unable to run back and recover my “souls” before losing them permanently. It can still be a pretty tough game, but it’s generally more forgiving and it feels like a walk in the park compared to something like Nioh.
There are a few downsides though. The level design, while impressively intricate, can be a little bland in some of the middle areas of the game. There are a lot of dark, metallic corridors and factory-type areas to get through, many of which look nearly identical to each other. This also made things a bit confusing in terms of navigation, especially with the really convoluted and backtrack-heavy route you have to take back and forth through the same big factory level multiple times. I almost feel like figuring out where the hell I was supposed to go was harder than the enemies at times.
I also saw more game crashes than just about any other PS4 game I can remember, which can be a serious problem in a Dark Souls game, but luckily isn’t quite so bad here since this one seems to use a more lenient auto-save system, probably due to the fact that there’s no multiplayer component (hooray for not having to deal with random assholes invading my game in the middle of trying to do something though).
In many ways it feels similar to Lords of the Fallen, for better and worse. It’s a very competent Dark Souls clone and it’s definitely a fun game, but it feels like there’s a certain something missing compared to From Software’s games. On the other hand though, the interesting limb-slicing and implant mechanics show that Deck 13 has been putting some thought into the formula and are trying to learn from their past mistakes and improve on things instead of just spitting out a cheap “Lords of the Fallen in space”.
It can’t dethrone Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but…it doesn’t really need to. It brings its own twist to the formula and does so in an above average way that’s definitely worth checking out for fans of this kind of game.