Welcome to the Creo family! Join the ranks of our highly specialized team of employees and enjoy loads of benefits such as: infinite vacation time, healthcare provided by our exceptional bio-tech medical engineers, a huge salary and the ability to be super hero strong! Join today and you might even last long enough to cash a paycheck! …what?
The Surge is a game that is best described as a robotic Dark-Souls with a brutal twist. Players must accrue “tech scraps” for use in their own internal gear mods, to upgrade their health, stamina, core power (for using the mechanized weapons and attachments) and craft weapons and armor. Enemies can be brutalized for their special upgrades and weapons, which you then can attach to yourself like a horrific Borg soldier with free will. Gear scraps may only be spent at a medical upgrade room, which resembles a medical bed with a suite of robotic arms hovering above it to change your mod sets. Similar to Dark Souls however, enemies previously slain on the battlefields (with the exception of bosses) will resurrect after visiting a medical bay to once again impede your progress. Each level is similarly mapped to center around the medical station, as players will be forced to return or respawn there many times. As a result, each level includes multiple routes back to the relative safety of the med bay through carefully constructed and hidden shortcuts that unlock as you progress through the level. Once a doorway/shortcut is opened, it is forever passable to skip the earlier stages in your way to face the boss waiting at the end. Upgrading your gear is the only way to make progress, and similar to the Souls franchise, this game isn’t playing around with difficulty sliders. It’s maxed out and locked there.
For those familiar with the souls games, this is a refreshing take on an old formula, but with enough different content to remain engaging and fun. Enjoying games that will not hold your hand and a slight masochistic streak is a prerequisite however, and this title is not for casual players.
Let’s discuss the story a bit before we really dive into mechanics.
Upon starting up your first save in this world we are greeted by Creo’s on-boarding video while riding a train towards our new life. The company, which reminds of a startup with far too much money and power tells us about all the exciting opportunities that await us at our new job. The train rushes towards the headquarters and when we are handed control of our character, we realize that our game is played in third person, and that our hero is wheelchair bound. Rolling through the desolately empty train station, there are a few military guards in exo-suits who point you towards the job center, but no other applicants. The job center is our player creation screen, in which we are asked to head into a doorway that we think fits our “working style”. A heavy class rhino suit for lifting heavy objects and a fast lynx suit for speed and agility on the other side. The promise of being able to use your legs again is a very appealing draw. I chose lynx. Gotta go fast.
Innocent beginning turned to horror as I accepted the job and was asked to sit on the operating table. I get strapped in and comfortable and the screen goes black as it appears your character is falling asleep for the surgery. All of a sudden we’re awake again as a voice states calmly, “the patient has been anesthetized” and your character begins to squirm and shout to protest that this is not in fact true. We’re treated to the start of what promises to be a brutal experience as your character is operated on while fully awake and screaming. Pistons and armor welded to bone right through the clothes you are wearing. Holy. Shit. Drills die down and it seems like you’ve made it through the surgery. A smaller quiet drill starts whirring and moving towards your head as your character screams out in terror and pain before blacking out. You come to in a scrapyard filled with dead patients as a drone is busy trying to disassemble you part by part. It’s here that we start our adventure and smash the drone to bits with a piece of scrap metal fashioned into a bat. Hell yeah, this should be good.
Equipped with the bloody remains of mechanical badassery, you smash and roll through the levels like an unhinged cyborg death machine. Collect scrap, smash skulls, level up. You get the gist. Unlike Dark Souls which has a guided linearity feel, in that you branch out in multiple paths from a central hub, The Surge seems to be broken into individual levels, but with a spiraling back to the center mechanic instead of multiple check points. In a game where you can only heal in a medical center, for story purposes I suppose it wouldn’t do to have hundreds of surgery stations scattered everywhere. However, this has the added effect of making your progress really insanely difficult on occasion, as you ABSOLUTELY MUST go through that wall of enemies if you want to unlock the shortcut to never see them ever again. On the other hand, Dark Souls does this also, except every 25 feet is another wall and it’s bloody hard to see.
Your exosuit has a stamina bar and a power bar. Manage your “power consumption” which is the power cost that each mod needs to function. Out of power means no more upgrades. Spend tech on core juice, or on upgrades. But upgrades won’t work without power, so it’s a good balance.
For the most part, swinging your death blade arms around is really fun! It’s easy to get wrecked, but does a good job of making you feel like you are definitely at fault for your failures. Over extending into enemy lines, failing to dodge, allowing yourself to open up to attack, or just not managing your upgrades properly. Like a true enemy of the player game, The Surge delivers on making you love and hate every minute.
Enemy design is pretty interesting as well, and centers around groups of enemies that for lack of a better description appear to be zombies. Everyone in the game with few exception has been modified with Creo-tech gear, and it looks like either they’ve gone insane, or the suits are animating the corpses that are still bolted into them. Occasionally you’ll come across a human who is in need of assistance, and you can recruit them back to your medical base for upgrades and small missions/trade. In addition, there are human guards stationed around the maps who aren’t doing ANYTHING to contain this outbreak of crazy machine/human death, but instead get irritated if you ask to get inside their encampments. You can kill these guys, but they usually are a few levels higher than you are, so come prepared to die in the battle.
Item retention is well managed. The game expects you to die a lot, and so you can feel free to occasionally run towards the glowing valuable on the ground in the danger zone and pick it up right before dying. You’ll awaken at spawn, but you’ll have the item, which can spell the difference between living and “going offline” in the next round. Modification chips alter your abilities and passive powers in the field. Anything from an injectable health-pack to an enemy health bar gauge plugin is available for your use. Most of, if not all of these are acquired by pulling someone’s head off in battle in a gruesome kill scene and raiding their bits for good hardware. You’ve gotta make your way back to the medical center to install it however, so be sure to make regular trips.
It’s hard as hell, and I’ll be honest, I put it down for a few days after getting stopped at one of the bosses. Similar to my love of Dark Souls for not entirely clear reasons, I enjoy the experience that the Surge has offered me.
I guess what I’m saying is that I really enjoyed playing through some of this game. You’ll note that I didn’t say “beat” there. Games like this are often long-term slogs through the mud, gearing up and leveling to make a few checkpoints worth of progress at a time over the course of many weeks. In that way, you shouldn’t expect to sit down and clear this game in any sort of timely manner. However, it has a certain appeal that has me coming back to continue bashing heads and taking arms off of enemies that I haven’t felt since the first dead space. Dark souls has one up on this game, and that’s only the sense of pride you feel taking down a huge monster or dragon with a sword isn’t quite matched by bringing down a robot with spinning blade arms that just happens to be 10x your size. There’s something… missing I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of progression, but I felt that destroying mechs doesn’t feel as triumphant when you think about maybe just dropping an EMP into the facility.
The level design is the other thing missing for me. While I appreciate the return to hub mechanic in each level, It has a tendency to hinder my desire to push on if I hit a wall. Again, Dark Souls uses a spoked wheel system of map design, which allows you to try another path if you start getting wrecked over and over. Sure, you can farm for Souls or scrap and gear up for another push, but occasionally it’s nice to try doing an entirely different thing. Get some momentum going in another direction and when you’re ready to rock, go back and mess up the guy in your way. This spiral level locked progression leaves me forced to face the boss, the ONLY boss, until he’s dead and then I can continue on my way. This felt a bit harsh, only while thinking of the alternative.
Overall, The Surge is a gorgeous experience, full of brutal action, fast paced fighting and a return to hardcore games that few dare emulate. In this regard, it succeeds with flying colors and for those interested in the souls like experiences, it’s certainly worth buying. While it falls short in some regards to it’s cousins, it’s still an excellent experience. Those unfamiliar with the harsh unforgiving gameplay of souls-like titles may find this to be unpalatable, but for those dedicated to the fight there is a rewarding battle to be had here.
8.5/10, might even beat it one day.