The Surge 2’s opening cutscene muses that machines built by imperfect creators can never themselves be perfect. Nonetheless, H.A.R.O.L.D. — an AI capable of projecting itself onto various cybernetic bodies and accessing the databases of the most powerful corporation in the world, CREO — has other thoughts. He comments that some consider AIs to be “superior beings.” Given their capabilities, it’s easy to see why. Even still, “superior” is not the same as “flawless.” Coincidentally, one could say something very similar about the Surge 2 itself. With exhilarating combat and impeccable environmental design rich with atmosphere, and with an unwieldy camera and some underwhelming boss battles, The Surge 2 is an incredible machine destined to inherit the flaws of its makers.
- What is The Surge 2? It’s an action RPG set in Jericho City, a jumble of ancient industrial neighborhoods, tarnished futurist wonderments, and improvised shelters constructed in the wake of a nanite-induced apocalypse. Hop in your Exo-Rig and tear through government forces, cultists, and nano-monsters as you collect upgrades and unravel the mysteries of a world forever changed by the titular Surge.
- Reviewed On: PS4, also available on Xbox One and Windows
- Price: $49.99
- Developer: Deck13
- Publisher: Focus Interactive
- Release Date: September 24, 2019
- Website: http://thesurge-game.com/en
The Fall of Jericho
Deck13 nail their setting; Jericho City is brimming with history and personality. The ages this city has passed through are written in the architecture. Port Nixon is one of Jericho’s oldest neighborhoods, and it encompasses a sprawl of shipping containers and debris half-sunk in the muck, a maze of red brick alleyways, and a gigantic warehouse adapted for the manufacture and distribution of a potent mind-altering narcotic known as Blue Sparkle. As one character, Brother Eli, puts it, the rest of Jericho City grew out of and around Port Nixon. Other parts of the city shed old squalor in favor of sleek, stark structures plastered here and there with neon advertisements. Corporations like CREO are responsible for the technological sophistication of these areas — and for the ruin which marks all of Jericho City.
Gideon’s Rock offers a good example of the strengths of environmental storytelling in The Surge 2. On a thematic level, the Rock–a nature reserve built by CREO — is a perfect metaphor. The splendor of nature itself has been co-opted to suit the tech company’s needs, and the reserve is guarded by robotic sentinels gussied up as beautiful golden statues. Fittingly, these enemies you face are a projection of artistry and wealth, a veneer over cold machinery and the threat of violence. Dig deeper and you’ll discover a more complete, bitterly ironic picture; you might find hyper-positive corporate Audiologs among corpses and ruin, or you could discover the den of the last known grizzly bear — in a wildlife refuge owned by the people who were very likely responsible for its extinction.
If that sounds a little depressing, not to worry. The writers manage to derive a lot of black humor from the sheer absurdity of it all. Understandably, the Surge has left humanity a little tweaked out, and many characters you meet along the way resort to strange, amusing coping strategies in its wake. Furthermore, you have a seed of hope in the form of Athena, a young girl (and the only other survivor of the plane crash that brought you to Jericho) with strange powers and an even stranger connection to you. Her character serves as the primary throughline of the narrative.
Speaking of characters, they serve as another great thematic and atmospheric play by the writers. Numerous NPCs are off, to put it charitably, and plenty more are just waiting for their opportunity to stab you in the back. People will tell conflicting stories about themselves and one another, leaving you to sort out who can be trusted. It’s incredibly fitting for a post-apocalyptic game to instill a feeling of mistrust and unease when meeting other survivors. The overarching story has its ups and downs, but Jericho City itself is endlessly rewarding to explore, and its often-deranged inhabitants are well worth meeting.
Hunting for a Few Good Scraps
The Exo-Rig makes up the framework of The Surge 2’s gameplay. With the aid of implants, it allows you to go toe-to-toe with similarly-equipped opponents, targeting different limbs in order to gain an edge. That edge can be short-term (aiming for an unarmored body part) or long-term (slicing off the arm wielding a potent weapon and/or wearing valuable armor). Defeated opponents will also cough up Scrap, allowing you to level up your rig and upgrade your gear. Now, this all sounds a little dry and businesslike, and it’s important to remember how easy it is to get distracted by the brutal, flashy executions. I mean, just look at it:
Well-placed shortcuts ensure a brisk pace and some relief, particularly after tough battles. That these shortcuts–and by extension the game flow for the player–are meticulously planned out is readily apparent in glimpses and hints peppered throughout the leadup. Consequently, opening a door only to discover the Medbay you started at (these are checkpoints where you can level up and upgrade your gear) often feels like an “aha!” moment. And thorough exploration can also yield other advantages.
Certain encounters are defined by the direction from which they are approached. From one direction, you might be faced with a heavily-armored shieldbearer supported by a couple lighter, more agile compatriots and a rifleman in the rear. A head-on attack may be borderline suicidal, but if you can find the right byway, it could make all the difference in the world. Suddenly, you have the chance to hack down the rifleman and a support troop or two before the heavy can even react. These sorts of rewards make exploration feel exciting and worthwhile. When that level of care with the design is applied to bosses, the Surge 2 finds some of its most climactic moments.
An early boss fight, Little Johnny, exhibits this perfectly. While I became very familiar with the phrase “NO VITAL SIGNS FOUND,” I was discovering attack patterns, working out strategies to adapt to the various stages of the fight, and feeling out the windows for deflections. By the time I finally overcame him, I felt that rush of triumph and satisfied exhaustion that any beleaguered Souls player knows well. If only most of the bosses could match the quality of that fight.
“Can the Maker Repair What he Makes?”
Alack, it was not meant to be. While a few bosses hit that difficulty sweet spot, others are underwhelming or simply rehashes of other fights. Without spoiling too much, I was surprised at the ease with which I defeated certain characters who had been hyped a lot by the storytelling. And the encounter with the Delver was a fun, challenging monster hunt, built up and executed superbly; but I didn’t need it three more times. This is probably the game’s biggest shortcoming, and they get considerably smaller from here.
Specific to this game, targeting limbs can be fiddly, especially in group fights. Getting cornered by multiple enemies also screws with the camera, but you’re probably screwed at that point too, so no big deal. Other gripes include visual bugs wherein important NPCs will stand cheerfully next to their own blood-spattered corpses, which is a little surreal, and certain quest scripts will bug out, failing to trigger the next part in the sequence. As mentioned above, this game was made by imperfect humans, and so it is an imperfect machine. That said, it’s still a damn good one.
High Ground View
A few loose ends: The Surge 2 doesn’t support full multiplayer, but as in the Soulsborne series, you can leave messages for other players in the form of Graffiti Tags, which is a welcome addition. And while I didn’t get a chance to delve fully into it, from the outset New Game + introduces some wrinkles in the story and some challenges in the gameplay which are definitely worth checking out. Overall, The Surge 2 boasts spectacular combat, absorbing worldbuilding, and a satisfying action RPG experience. I was unimpressed by the final turns the story took, and some bosses could have been spruced up, but my journey through the ruins of Jericho City was undeniably awesome.
Game title: The Surge 2
Game description: In The Surge 2, you engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat with humans, nano-monsters, and everything in-between. Lock onto specific body parts and take them clean off, extracting valuable resources and gear upgrades. Once your Exo-Rig is up to snuff, take on the huge bosses waiting in the most perilous corners of Jericho City.
Combat - 9/10
Level Design - 8/10
The Story World - 8/10
Boss Battles - 7/10
Despite some uninspired bosses and an intermittently clunky camera, The Surge 2 impresses with deep, meaty combat, creative encounter design, and expert use of environmental storytelling to establish tone, themes, and atmosphere. Book your ticket to Jericho City today!
- Combat is challenging and viscerally satisfying
- Jericho City is a compelling setting suffused with tone and atmosphere
- The progression loop is consistently engaging
- Boss battles are hit or miss
- The resolution of the story is a little underwhelming
- Camera issues and bugs can be frustrating