I’ve recently enjoyed applying an intellectual bent to an analysis of videogames. My most recent purchase was The Surge, and what better place to start than something so fresh in my mind?
The Surge is a third person action game focused on melee combat. It’s been (correctly) referred to as a Sci-Fi Dark Souls. What self respecting masochist wouldn’t enjoy Dark Souls in exosuits?
Deck 13 Interactive (the developers) have attempted to duplicate the success of the Souls series previously and failed. Miserably so. For those unfamiliar with the Souls series (and for those who are but haven’t conceptualized it in this way), its skill ceiling functions based off anticipation and committing to action. Enemies are too strong to trade blows with regularly, and must be avoided by anticipating their actions through the relevant animations telegraphing them. Similarly, the actions of the player proactively speaking (attacks, spells, stuns) must be done within certain time frames to avoid significant harm to themselves and maximizing damage against enemies. Stagger mechanics are present to afford players a greater degree of control over these windows of opportunity (and a greater degree of danger when enemies retaliate).
When Deck 13 last tried to emulate this, they created Lords of the Fallen. A fantasy world with mechanics of Souls-like games (high risk-high reward) with absolutely none of the polish. Weapon animations took ages to cycle. Anticipation was negligible and practically all enemies were faster in both movement and attacks than the main character. It was disastrous. While during interviews the Devs deflect, maintaining player choices related to armor and selected weapons were to blame for poor reviews of the game, it seems a performative contradiction is at hand. Virtually none of the problems with Lords of the Fallen are present within The Surge. It’s a contradiction to claim the customer is wrong and address the problem regardless, but a welcome one to be sure.
Attacks have weight and power in the Surge, and attack animations are furthermore disparate in their speed of attack, “impact” (likelihood or achieved threshold of triggering a stagger), and damage. 3 stats are managed; Health, Stamina, and Energy. Health and Stamina obviously measure your ability to survive a given fight. Energy is a very interesting gameplay mechanics; several implants (upgrades) rely on it, the finisher mechanics (which is triggered by the player) rely on it, and Drone abilities rely on it. Various abilities drain the bar and it’s regained through attacking enemies, very reminiscent of Bloodborne which reinforced the proactive rather than reactionary playstyle it was designed for. Various implants allow the player to consume energy for health or damage increases, or regain health when completing a finisher,. Individual body parts can be targeted within The Surge which is directly tied to the acquisition of crafting resources and blueprints for weapons and armor. Triggering a finisher on an enemy at low health on a body part significantly damaged and targeted throughout the fight greatly increases the likelihood of its crafting diagram dropping.
Note: the core gameplay does have some slight issues with the introduction of several ranged enemies in the latter half of the game.
Its premise is dystopian (of course, though its execution is admirable). While I generally tire of this sort of trope for its frequency usage as a crutch to uphold poor writing, the aesthetic reinforces the feeling of heavy industrialization and over-imposing degrees of technology surrounded by what looks like a wasteland.
Something that does need to be said is this game seriously reinforces the “evil genius cooperate dystopian dictator blahblahblah” tropes that occur far too often within games (I plan a full essay on this soon). Demonizing the intelligent and successful members of society as potentially demonic evil tyrants the second the all seeing eye of regulatory bodies stops watching them is morally reprehensible. That trope aside (after all, being aware of it nulls any influence it will have over you), I would recommend this game overall. If soulslikes fit your niche, this is a must buy. If not, wait for the price to hit about $25-30 for this purchase.