In a time where the “Souls-like” genre is thriving in the gaming world, it is hard for any individual Souls-like game to stand out. This is the biggest hurdle for a game like The Surge 2. Not only was its release close to the release of another Souls-like game, but as it stands, there is nothing about The Surge 2 that makes it stand out in a sea of similar titles. While it does have some interesting ideas, it feels largely surface level. This is not to say that The Surge 2 is a bad game, but it is not a good game either. It rides the line of being ‘meh’ and it rides it hard. I went into this game with an open mind, trying to experience it for myself blindly and trying to form my own opinion. What is worse is that there is not much I can say about The Surge 2 because it left such a small impression on me.
The Surge 2
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform: PC, (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: September 24th, 2019
The Surge 2 plays more closer to Dark Souls than most other games in the genre. Even the control scheme felt similar. I mean honestly, even the default stance of your character looks similar to that of the chosen undead.
This makes it easy to pick and start playing for someone who is already familiar with this genre, while at the same time, it does give an easy to understand tutorial section leading up until the player first exits the prison.
One thing that does make The Surge 2 stand apart from other Souls-likes is it’s limb-based targeting system. As you are fighting enemies, both normal and bosses, they will have areas of their body that are unarmored and can be attacked to do more damage.
At times it almost felt necessary to use this system to take down enemies that were overwhelming me. But at the same time, this led to the lock-on feature sometimes holding me back when I was fighting multiple enemies at once.
I would have to unlock and relock on, hoping that I would be targeting an enemy that was closest to me, or was the biggest threat. So while the feature was nice, I often would ignore it in order to try and take down enemies through brute force.
The savepoint system of The Surge 2 is unique in the sense that it not only has safe areas like bonfires, which in this case are medical bay pods, but it also have checkpoints when you enter a new area. Much like other aspects of the game, this works better in theory than in execution.
For example, one of the checkpoints I hit put me less than 30 meters from four enemies that would all target me at the same time. This means that right out of the gate after a death, I would have to once again fight for my life just to get by in hopes that I could try and run down the road and get back to where I died before.
Unlike in other games, when I would die and my frustration would drive me forward compelling me to overcome a challenge, this kind of situation would just deflate my willingness to continue and lead to me just putting the controller down and walking away.
I felt myself reaching a point where the only way to progress was to just sprint by and avoid enemies, which is not a good feeling to have When I am playing a Souls-like game, I want to be able to balance the challenge with my accomplishments.
I want to be able to breathe a sigh of relief after the defeat of a boss or reaching a safepoint, but at the same time, I never want to feel like the only way to win is to avoid confrontation, especially against low tier enemies.
One feature that was cool is the use of “battery” when you attack enemies, you will build up your battery life, which can be expended by doing executions or, in my case, healing myself. This allows for a good sense of forward progression without the need to constantly return to a Medbay.
In fact, the usefulness of the battery mechanic became super apparent to me when I was able to defeat one of the early game bosses by the skin of my teeth by using healing each time I had enough battery life built up.
As the player progresses, they will level up and spend ability points similar to how they would in any other Souls-like, as well as gain new upgrades and gadgets. Gadgets can be a handy way to get out of a sticky situation.
After defeating the prison warden at the beginning of the game, I got a flying drone that I could use to target enemies from afar. I used this to my full advantage to quickly dispatch enemies that were on higher platforms than myself, or to deal a little extra damage to a powerful foe.
While combat itself is fast and fluid, one issue that stood out to me as a glaring problem was the enrage mechanic. Enemies, after taking enough damage, will enter an enraged state and become stronger, faster, and no longer are able to be stunned.
At first this mechanic seems totally fine, of course enemies should have some kind of power up mechanic, or else the game would become too easy. The problem arises when the enrage mechanic pops during a combo, so that when your character is in the middle of an animation, the enemy has the chance to counter you and deal big damage for free.
The graphics of The Surge 2 is where I ran into some of my biggest issues with the game. I understand that not every studio should be held to AAA standards, but that being said, it is hard for me to let some of the problems I ran into with this title get a pass.
I will say that the change of environment from a single warehouse to a full city did allow for the developers to create varied environments. This alone puts The Surge 2 well above its predecessor. However, even with that said, the game does not look very good. The environments are lackluster, the enemies designs ranged from boring to overly cluttered, even the lighting felt off.
At times it felt like I was running the game on low settings, though that could have been the dynamic resolution bugging out like it did during my character creation. There just seemed like there was a lack of polish compared even one of Deck13’s earlier titles, Lords of the Fallen, which has an awesome aesthetic.
The character models and designs were boring, the regular mooks were passable at first, but quickly grew to inspire little more than a yawn. To make matters worse, the designs of the enemies in more complex rigs left me struggling to really make out the finer details of their designs.
In a game where combat is focused on targeting unarmored limbs, it would have been preferable that I did not have to so often rely on the use of the lock-on system to figure out if a body part should be targeted or not.
One thing that stood out to me was the awesome execution animations that can be pulled off on low health enemies. I felt like I had superpowers during those moments. From a clean of a leg to the complete bifurcation of an enemy’s midsection, each animation looked awesome.
Even if the graphics did not do it justice, The Surge 2 is one of the goriest Souls-like games on the market right now. I would like to see Deck13 work on another Souls-like game in the future and expand this system further. Who knows what can be done with a little more time and polish?
The sound design of The Surge 2 is passable for what it is. There was nothing that really pulled me out of my experience, but at the same time, there was not anything that really blew me away either. I will admit that the sound effects for combat were well done and fit the style of fighting.
There were small differences in the sound effects depending on whether or not you are hitting an armored or unarmored section of an enemy. It is not much, but it does show there was attention to detail here.
On the other hand, I was incredibly annoyed by the repetition of the same voice lines over and over again by NPC’s. For example, at the beginning of the game there is a point where I had to help a fellow inmate get out of a prison cell and he kept saying the same voice line about getting a RIG to me.
Yes dude, I get it, I need a rig to get you out, you did not need to tell me fourteen times. While this was a minor issue, it more or less led to me just tuning out voice acting down the line, even if it was not terrible.
The bosses that I fought in the game, at least many of the humanoid ones, did not have any sort of real stand out voice acting to make them stand apart from the regular mook enemies that I fought along the way. It made it more difficult for me to figure out why they were so hellbent on killing me.
Despite my harsh criticisms up until this point, I want to reiterate I do not think that The Surge 2 is a bad game fundamentally. Instead it can be chalked up to being a game that just is not my cup of tea.
I can see aspects of the game that definitely will appeal to others over myself and I never want it to seem like I am the arbiter of truth. The developers at Deck13 Interactive are clearly talented and I want to see them succeed.
Perhaps some of the issues I have with the game will be patched or fixed some time down the road, but from where I stand now, there are simply better games in this genre to play.
The Surge 2 was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Focus Home Interactive. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.