It’ll be nanite on the night
Cast your minds back to 2017 and the release of The Surge, a AA “soulslike” from developer Deck 13 which gave a sci-fi twist to the tried and tested formula. I gave it a review and found that it was decidedly alright. While I liked the freshness of the setting, the flexibility that the loadout system and the limb severing mechanic that allowed you to harvest gear and crafting items off enemies, I wasn’t so fond of the lack of a character creator, the bugs and the obnoxious difficulty spikes. I gave it a 7.5; not bad, but could do with some improvement. Now, I’m not saying that Deck 13 read my review but… well, I’d like to hope they did because everything I criticised in The Surge has been dealt with in this far more polished sequel. Let’s take a look.
Straight out of the gate we have a character creator that will allow you to customise the look of your nameless, voiceless amnesiac. Oh yes, The Surge 2 casts you in that tropiest of tropes. While The Surge had you playing as Warren, a worker at the CREO facility, The Surge 2 has you as the survivor of a mysterious plane crash. Not the only survivor, mind – it looks like there was also a creepy kid who got out of the wreckage, someone who may hold the key to the nanite infection that’s sweeping through Jericho city. It’s up to you to suit up in a stolen police Exo-Rig and battle your way through hordes of infected humans to find out the truth.
Jericho is a fantastic place to explore
Ah, Jericho city – where the CREO facility of the first game was, at times, a bland mix of industrial sci-fi corridors, Jericho is a sprawling, desolate metropolis in the throes of a technological uprising. The shining neon of its signs clash with the ruined concrete that litters its streets and there’s danger at every turn. Jericho is a fantastic place to explore full of twisting alleyways and verticality, taking you up to building tops and down below the streets to subways and sewers. It’s a huge difference and gives The Surge 2 much greater character and scale. The story here is also more compelling, as you explore the city trying to piece together what you can about the mysterious virus. This is also helped with the inclusion of far more friendly NPC’s who make Jericho feel more “lived in” than CREO ever did, as well as a much better quest log than I’ve found in similar games which helps you keep track of each main and side objective you have to complete.
Elsewhere, the game will feel very familiar to fans of the original, albeit with some serious nips and tucks which make the game feel a lot more polished and, something we’ll get to in a bit, friendly. The combat retains the same horizonal/vertical attack combo but feels far more refined and smooth, and the limb severing mechanic makes a welcome return (and is suitably gory), allowing you to harvest new weapons and armour schematics off enemies. One big and very welcome change is to the games parry mechanic. No longer do you need to pull off awkward jumps or ducks to evade attacks, The Surge 2 has implemented an ingenious directional parry system. Hold block and tap the right stick in the opposite direction of an incoming attack to stun the enemy and deal massive damage. This makes the combat feel way less intimidating and almost feels like it’s taken a leaf out of Sekiro’s playbook, making deflections and parrys more of a rhythm game style experience. Elsewhere, you still level up to unlock implant slots into which you can install upgrades to give you specific resistance, or different health regens, but the implants are now a lot easier to understand. They can also be hot-swapped on the fly, allowing you to adapt easier to different situations rather than having to wait til your at one of the games med-station respawn points.
So what about that “friendly” aspect? Well, these sort of games have a… reputation. This has been a hot topic this year with FromSoftware’s epic action RPG Sekiro proving particularly divisive with its unrelenting difficulty and has started a dialogue about how maybe these kinds of games can have some accessibility options to help new players, while still being super hardcore for those git-gudders that have a death wish. The Surge 2 proposes a few quality of life tweaks that make serious moves towards that. First and foremost is the implants that are available to the player, specifically a number that you get early on in the game. Enemy health bars, indicators for which direction you need to parry in as well as health regen implants are made available to ease the player into the action – the game can absolutely be played through with these installed all the way, but the fact that they can be swapped out enables a subtle difficulty toggle – they do, after all, take up precious implant slots. Got gud at parrying? Take out that indicator and throw in something else to spice up your build. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge that these games provide, but I also hear those people who find them too much of a challenge – it looks like Deck 13 has as well.
Those difficulty spikes that plagued the first game have also been, if not removed entirely, blunted to a significant degree. They’re still challenging, but the surrounding mechanics and the way that the game telegraphs suggestions on how to circumvent them by including helpful items nearby mean that players will be able to find ways round that don’t necessarily involve brute force. The first BIG boss, for example, took me a good hour to beat, but a lot of that was reading its weaknesses and exploring the area for armour upgrades and implants that I could use to exploit those. Once I got the feel for the fight and was geared up accordingly it was a cinch; an exhilarating victory nonetheless, but one I felt I’d earned not through analysing the esotericism in the area, but by paying attention to what the game was telling me. Again, I do love the lore of From’s grimdark ARPG’s, but I wouldn’t have seen, for example, Ash Lake in Dark Souls without the help of a wiki, so well is it hidden away!
…playing online is not a threat but a bonus.
Another big addition to The Surge 2 that was absent the first time round is online connectivity. While not essential and certainly not as intrusive as Dark Soul’s invasions and summons mechanic, The Surge 2 still encourages players to engage and connect with each other in meaningful ways. Early on players will get the ability to leave graffiti messages for one another, a series of up to three symbols which can be used to tell other players where they can find short cuts or secrets, or warn them of impending danger. It’s an ingenious analogue to Dark Souls message mechanic and fits perfectly into the aesthetic of Jericho city. Then there’s “revenge enemies” which spawn into players worlds after having defeated another player in THEIR game. These enemies are tougher but also offer the player more tech scrap (the games XP currency) in addition to more upgrade and crafting materials. Finally players can find the dead bodies of other players in their worlds which will provide them with helpful loot. It all, once again, makes for a friendly experience in which playing online is not a threat but a bonus.
So all great steps to improve what was already a promising franchise, and they’ve certainly pushed The Surge 2 surprisingly onto my “must play” list for 2019, however there are a couple of technical points to note. Having watched a few videos of the beta release played on PC I know that this game pushes some lovely visuals, however my experience on a base PS4 has been a decidedly mixed bag, with jaggy edges showing a lack of antialiasing and some slow loading textures creating a weird dissonance at times. Fortunately the game holds a solid 30fps with only some slight dips, so if you’re on a base console and can get past the visual issues, you’re in for as smooth a ride as you’d expect.