I recently was given the gracious opportunity to play Deck 13’s new Action RPG The Surge and I wanted to share my opinion of the game with everyone. If you have not heard of the game, you play a newly appointed worker, Warren, for the state-of-the-art technology company CREO in the not too distant future. You awaken after a cataclysmic event known as The Surge, to find yourself now facing hostile forces inside your now decimated work space. You must survive long enough to uncover the truth about CREO, save yourself, and if you’re lucky the planet. It is quite the unique setting for an Action RPG, and is a frankly a big risk for Deck 13 to take, since it isn’t the traditional fantasy type setting that many gamers prefer. Let’s take a look if it paid off.
Published by: Focus Home Interactive
Release date: May 16th, 2017
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Price at time of review: 59.99 USD
The Surge Features
- The Surge is an action RPG set in a world ravaged by war and global warming.
- Innovative combat mechanics and an original character progression system based on modular upgrades gained through tight, visceral combat.
- Target. Loot. Equip. Harvest the limbs off of foes and then equip them on your exo-suit.
- Harvest resources and use these to improve your equipment, upgrading your weapons and
Story and Setting
As mentioned above, you play the role of the recently employed Warren, for a technology company called CREO. CREO’s mission statement is to help prevent the planet from dying out, due to over population and climate change, which is not an inconceivable probability in the not too distant future. They outfit many of their workers with EXO Skeletons that make them faster, stronger and even connected via neural link. This allows them to work extremely efficiently, and what could possibly go wrong…
You begin the game in the Main Assembly Line of CREO and it is very clear that things are not right. There is destruction and havoc everywhere you look, and on top of that, your co-workers see you as a threat and don’t give a second thought to eliminating you. Machines and humans alike are out to get you and the only friendly face is a woman named Sally who speaks to you via the Communications Link in your Operations Base. As you make your perilous way through the facility you start to unravel the truth, and eventually the only question becomes…what are you going to do about it? While intriguing at some points, the story is not the game’s strength but there is depth to be had if you dig deeply enough, although I am unsure how many people will look for it.
TL;DR: you won’t be playing this game for the story, however, it is good enough to keep you progressing and looking forward to finding out what’s around the next corner.
While not the traditional setting for an RPG, Deck 13 does surprisingly well at pulling it off. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but the attention to detail is phenomenal. You will visit Rocket Yards, Material Depots, Toxic Waste Disposal, Abandoned Train Stations, Biolabs, the Greenhouse, Research and Development and finally the Launchpads. The locations and settings are certainly varied for the envorinment Deck 13 chose and they do about as well as anyone could ask for with it, however, it had the drawback of pigeon-holing them to a very specific setting and that may not satisfy those who look for high environmental variety. Personally, I would have liked to have seen some more differentiation.
It’s extremely difficult to sum up the gameplay of The Surge. It shares elements with many different popular RPGS such as: Bloodborne, Nier: Automata, Dark Souls and of course Lords of the Fallen, and sort of mashes them up into one. Players do not level up in The Surge, but instead gain more “Core Power“. Increasing your Core Power allows you to use more Implants, use higher quality Implants and use better Armor. Implants provide passive and active effects such as more Health, more Energy gain, Stamina cost reduction, short duration damage increases as well as limited heals. You must decide which are more important to you and there are tough choices to be made, which makes it all the more intriguing. At the same time, this builds anticipation for just a bit more increase in Core Power so you can meet all the requirements for the things you want.
This is a much better system than Lords of the Fallen and allows for fantastic character progression that is rivaled by few games.
Players gain Energy when striking an enemy, allowing them to use Injectable Implants that increase their damage, heal or provide some other effect. This rewards an aggressive playstyle, like Bloodborne did with regain, as the more you strike your opponent the more often you can heal, making it entirely possible to sustain health simply from playing offensively, which is extremely fun. This works great in combination with Deck 13’s addition of the dodge/slide to their combat engine, which helps give the illusion of more intense gameplay. I say illusion because unfortunately, underneath the sexy combat animations, executions and speed, the combat suffers from some of the same issues that Lords of the Fallen did.
Though larger weapons swing slower, they hit for more damage, net you more energy per hit while also having higher Impact, which tends to stagger/interrupt enemies more frequently. The problem with Lords of the Fallen’s combat, that is repeated in The Surge, is that there was simply no reason not to use a large weapon (I’m looking at you Peacemaker) because you could running attack R2 any enemy in the game with it and kill them in 1 or 2 hits without taking any return damage. It removed much of the strategy to combat and imposed upon the player the decision to either play handicapped with less effective weapons, or simply cheese their way through the game. Many players will choose the latter and, while still fun, it isn’t as interesting as it could be. I would have preferred if this was not a decision the player made, but one the game dictated. To take the combat to another level of balance and choice, this is something that has to be addressed by Deck 13 in future games.
Weapons and Armor can be acquired by severing parts of enemies with visceral executions, that give the game a cinematic feel and are a fun novelty. I honestly thought it would get old or repetitive after several hours, but I found myself constantly observing my enemy and discerning whether they had anything of note for my every growing arsenal. Because enemies are somewhat random with what they have equipped, you have to pay attention and it really helps to keep things interesting. You can also upgrade your Weapons and Armor at the Gear Assembly in your Ops Base, which helps to add more depth to the game. In order to do so you will need to obtain the corresponding materials of that part from enemies. This means you will have to sever certain parts, like heads if you want to upgrade your helmet.
Although subtle, this again helps to keep combat interesting and you will absolutely have to spend some time farming to upgrade all your gear, which is something I really enjoyed.
All in all the combat was better than I expected. Deck 13 has made improvements to their combat engine with the addition of executions, specific targeting on enemies and the addition of the dash/slide. Your character moves about much faster (who doesn’t like faster right?) and the change to a more aggressive healing system really allows you to just go flying into enemies and actually makes you excited to get into combat. My first thought whenever I see a new badass enemy is simply “Charge!“, and that is both invigorating and refreshing. In my opinion, combat could even be just a little bit faster, but it’s really hard to complain about it as it is, and I think it’s one of the hallmarks of the game.
Audio & Visual
Lords of the Fallen raised the bar for visual standards when it released in October of 2014, so naturally I thought The Surge would as well, and I was not disappointed. The lighting, visual effects and the detail of the environment are some of the best I have ever seen in an Action RPG. Everything looks and feels exactly how you would expect it to. As light shines through rusting steel beams, you can see the particles floating in the air, kicked up by the footsteps of a nearby enemy. Gears turn, fans spin and and sparks fly out of your rig as you slide across the post-modern futuristic ground. In short, The Surge never draws your attention negatively, but instead you remain constantly immersed in the well-crafted, bleak environments. Deck 13 absolutely crushes this aspect of their games, and The Surge is no exception.
The level design is flat out some of the best there is in the Action RPG world. Deck 13 has mastered the use of vertical and horizontal space to make averaged size areas feel much larger than they are, and give the player an extremely rewarding sense of exploration. Players will be scouring every nook and cranny for all the hidden secrets and they will most certainly need the Wiki, since as thorough as I was on my first play through, I still missed a ton of stuff, including a different ending. In a day and age where the gaming landscape is dominated by “open world” and “sandbox” RPGs, The Surge still manages to make an “old school” approach to level design hang in there with these games and actually inspires a sense of nostalgia by doing it so well.
If there was an award for this aspect of game design these guys would take it down every year.
On the audio side of the things, the voice acting and music are decent enough, but not outstanding. To be perfectly frank there is a somewhat constant narration by a character within the game, that at times may get on your nerves because of his long winded monologues that are seemingly stuck on repeat. He is used to help explain the story and give some background information about CREO, but much of it is unnecessary and I felt he was over used.
Be that as it may, Deck 13 has excelled at adding an element of suspense with their musical and audio cues that give parts of the game somewhat of a horror feeling and is something I enjoyed very much. You’ll be walking down a dark corridor and all of a sudden you’ll hear that classic “horror movie” sound and know that shit is about to hit the fan and it gets your blood pumping. Combined with the pitch black areas and the horrific scenes of blood and death, The Surge manages to just dip its mechanized toe into the horror genre that is in desperate need of more games like this. I would absolutely love to see more Action RPGs in this vein!