If there’s a word that perfectly describes the team at Deck 13, it’s tenacity. They’re been doing their thing for a little while now, and with three games under their belt, they have almost gotten to the point where we could call them successful at what they’ve been trying to do. That is, to make a Dark Souls like game of their own. Their first release, Lords of the Fallen, fell really short, pun intended, thanks to a general sluggishness to its gameplay, and the first The Surge managed to be way more snappy, but thanks to bad hit detection and overall jank, I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I wanted.
As the saying goes, third time’s the charm, so I had hope that The Surge 2 would overcome its predecessor’s issues, but unfortunately, it does not. What it does, however, is present a much more varied world to explore and cooler enemies to chop limbs off of, but the lingering problems that plagued the original The Surge are still around and really sour what should’ve otherwise been a far superior game.
Taking place directly after the original game, The Surge 2 has you playing as a nameless passenger of a doomed flight that crashed into the city of Jericho, just as it was being put into quarantine by the government due to an outbreak that fried a lot of people’s brains and drove them even more insane in a world where humans have basically merged with machines. The game wastes no time getting you into gear, and while not nearly as dramatic as the first few minutes of the original game, escaping from the prison you’re put into after surviving the crash only to fall into a coma and waking up some time later works as an excellent set piece that eventually leads to a decently paced exposure to the city in which the game takes place in.
Jericho as a backdrop unfolds well as you start stomping around. Much like its inspiration, The Surge 2 is full of gates that are locked and can only be opened by circling around, so as you explore, you’ll run into a bunch of ‘a-ha’ moments when you circle back to common areas near the game’s version of bonfires, the med bays that allow you to refresh and craft items, so if you like that gameplay loop, you’ll find plenty of it in this game. It also goes to show how well the city is designed, since you’ll often be running around and probably looking for a checkpoint, only to find it by getting to one of these shortcuts, which more than once it even made me reminisce the interconnected nature of the original Dark Soul’s environments, and how that got thrown out the window in later games.
The whole gist about both The Surge games is how you get new gear. Targeting different body parts from your enemies that might happen to be wearing special pieces of armor allows you to get the blueprints and craft those for yourself, but not before wearing down the armor points by fighting them, at which point you can execute a really badass counter, killing that baddie and severing whatever body part you’re aiming for. In that regard, the combat in The Surge 2 continues to be cool, but it’s still rather janky due to the funky hit detection that sometimes doesn’t register, which is especially prevalent during boss fights, an issue that pops up during one of the game’s first major boss fight against a crab-like that requires you to aim specific body parts in order to beat it. For every hit you land, you get a boost of power that fills a third on-screen bar, which can be spent in healing you. I honestly enjoy this bit much more than the classic Estus Flasks, because getting into the groove of combat can eventually provide infinite healing, or as much as needed in most situations.
Weirdly enough, it’s unclear if the concept of poise is present in this game, since most enemies can be interrupted by attacking them in certain ways, but others simply brush off your hits, even heavy ones that should’ve done the job, giving you no room to react. This leads to a lot of cheap deaths since there’s no recourse or counter in these situations, other than hoping for the best and trying to dodge around the poor hit detection. Sure, you’re given a drone early on just like the first game, and it’s definitely effective as long as you have ammo for it — it runs out and can be picked up by defeating enemies or buying it with the scrap *cough* souls *cough* you pick up along the way, and you can equip it with different mods, even, that allow you to traverse the world — but it would’ve been great to have more consistency to combat.
Progression is cool enough, sure, and it’s fun to farm enemies for those crafting plans, which aren’t at all hard to come by, a big improvement from The Surge. It doesn’t take long at all to complete a set, and they provide cool bonuses for wearing a certain number of parts. The big difference, though, is that you have to mind the amount of power your core can handle, and how much it’s required by each piece in order for you to wear it. That power isn’t only used by that armor, since implants also demand a certain amount in order to be equipped. These items can provide many neat benefits, like better poison or other elemental resistances, stronger attacks at the cost of defense, the such, but the best one you’re likely to get at first is the one that boosts your healing and gives you a health injection to save up every time a battery is spent, which comes in extremely handy.
That, coupled with a much easier time coming across and nabbing new weapons really makes it that much easier to get equipped way earlier than you ever did in the first Surge. Still, all the great loot in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t dodge and bob your way through the way encounters you’ll face in the game, and even for that there’s an implant in case you have as much trouble as I do with its directional defending is somewhat tricky to grasp at first, but eventually becomes somewhat natural. The mod shows where attacks are coming from, giving you a moment or two to try and deflect it, in the hopes of a much-needed opening. Enemies in the game are fairly aggressive and come in numbers, so any advantage you can get should be exploited.
The Surge 2’s greatest improvement when compared to the original has got to be its setting. Jericho proves to be a really lively locale to explore and loot your way into, for as ravaged and completely in chaos it is, given the quarantine and the outbreak. I absolutely hated how samey the areas in The Surge looked, so much so that I felt constantly lost while playing. Its ‘Walk in the Park’ DLC made things better by introducing a spec of nature to the drab industrial gray and goo-green halls of the future conglomerate CREO facility the main content took place in, and The Surge 2 takes that cue and runs with it.
The city is more vibrant this time around, and each of its districts feels distinct, from the rundown downtown area to the waterfront, and up into the greenery from the Gideon’s Rock area, where the hunt is on for the mysterious bio-robotic creature that hunts you from the very beginning of the game. It’s really cool to move between these hubs, and even into NPC areas where you can buy items and sell unneeded junk, as well as pick up new sidequests. My only gripe is the presence of loading screens in between some of the zone transitions, but the whole shortcut deal I mentioned above works seamlessly, which I’m glad for, because corpse runs get fairly long in this game, let me tell you.
Wherein the original game felt like a very lonely and strictly solo experience, The Surge 2 offers a little bit of online interaction with fellow players in the way of graffiti that they can leave for others to see, like the messages from Dark Souls, in order to give clues, throw off rivals, that sort of stuff, via a drone module. There are also mannequins of yourself that you can hide, and for as long as it’s not discovered, you’ll get bonus cash. It’s a weird addition, but it’s there if you want it. I haven’t run into any really clever uses of these features, but I hope to once the game goes live for real. Here’s hope that it comes through better than my initial impressions.
If only Deck 13 had polished the combat further and made it more intuitive and snappy, The Surg fe 2 would’ve been an incredible sequel and yet another hit for Focus Home Interactive this year, following the amazing A Plague Tale: Innocence. It’s in almost every way a superior game to The Surge. As it is, it’s still a decent action game on its own, but its inherited and meddling issues get in the way of the fun, making some portions of it more frustrating and annoying that they should be.