About fifteen hours into my first playthrough of the sequel to ‘science fiction Souls-like’ The Surge (2017) I’d finally remembered how the game ended, well, how my game ended as there were multiple endings. This speaks to how divested I was in the lore, the story of Warren as he ultimately fails to cull the coming alien nano-machine invasion as it’d been unleashed by way of nuclear rocket (canon ending) or physical infection by way of failed containment. If that first game spoke to the ills of technology in the hands of corporate rule over nations then The Surge 2 speaks to the psychotic illness of religion and the frightening combined ability of religious propaganda, corrupt state government and malignant corporations to work unknowingly hand-in-hand in the destruction of society, environment, and ultimately humanity. As much as you’d suppose its innards to be a dystopian cyber-punk future story of heroic jihad, the reality is that the world of The Surge is more construction-jock n’ sci-fi body horror than it is any sort of triumph. The cold absurdism that drives the experience means that all paths (revenge, piety, justice, mayhemic slaughter) are obsolete in the hands of the inevitable continuing plague of technological misanthropy by way of nanotechnology. The end is inevitable, whether you are ‘one of the good guys’ or not: All paths lead to doom no matter how much agency you’d feel as the limb-chopping ‘warrior’ out to save the innocent from the evils of the end-times.
As much as its sequel builds upon, expands, re-writes, and re-thinks its core ideas The Surge might’ve been a “B-game” to many but it had so much more ‘heart’ and character than most Souls-like video games that’d rehash the core design of From Software‘s original Dark Souls series since. This is only because my adventure was with Warren, a bit of a dolt, uncovering a gloriously convoluted sci-fi plot through slow and segmented world building centered around the exploration and dominance of a single treacherous factory. By expanding their vision to a relatively small scale but densely arranged Jericho City, segmenting it into four main hubs that branch into circular points of exploration, the German developer crafted an über-Souls metroidvania experience that is decidedly more fun to play than most any iteration on the formula since Nioh back in 2017. The story is largely nonsensical garbage performed by outrageously bad voice actors, the game launched with a host of bugs and unpolished physics (speaking to the Playstation 4 Pro experience, only), and there are hideous difficulty spikes for those who don’t have a mind to plan ahead, grind, or learn the nuance of The Surge 2‘s many systems but, it all persists as a fun almost arcade-like take on the Souls-like formula without losing any of the tension and terror of exploring each new area before mastering it. It is a blast to play and most all the glaring warts are (eventually) forgivable for The Surge 2‘s fun factor.
Right to the point, then: Learn to parry. Deck 13 have made it very easy to parry in The Surge 2 and you’re able to do it from the start even without the directional indicator implant. Parrying is one of the most satisfying and effective changes made in this sequel and it belays the need to mash buttons or focus on any particular style of weapon. If you have the patience to learn the timing of the many enemy types within the game every choice from rig armor and weapons to implants will almost feel cosmetic soon enough. Granted you can get gear and implants that give great bonuses to enhance parrying, which you’ll want, but I implore folks who’re familiar with The Surge‘s dash-n’-bash stamina management intensive (see: Bloodborne) style of combat to allow some wiggle room for experimentation. On that note, you’re going to have to learn to parry to defeat most of the bosses in the game regardless of how much you grind levels and level up gear. I know that’ll be a portent of doom for many players who want to play Souls-like games as if they’re Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but again, they’ve made the timing window for parrying very fair here and the rhythm of combat has always been more effective with a certain intentional rhythm since the first game. Fuck parrying? Well, at least don’t mash buttons because timing button presses (specific to each weapon) will make it easier to break armor, chop off limbs, and not just beat through everything like a retarded gorilla like you probably did in the first game.
Goliath, sentinel, and operator class equipment still have some general meaning in The Surge 2 but the beefier sets do not feel as heavy or sluggish as they did in the first game. Here the real issue is matching your power level and ‘build’ with the style of armor you either want to look at or that fits your play-style best. Enemies wear Goliath type armor by a wide majority but I found a Sentinel class set made the most sense because implants are still a vital part of The Surge experience. From the start you’re presented with a healing injection system that no longer replenishes in full at Med-Bays, instead you’re tasked with building Energy from hitting enemies and when you’ve filled a battery slot you can either bank that Energy for a consumable-on-demand heal or you can use it to heal then and there. Healing on the spot mid-combo, mid-execution, and mid-everything becomes very important as you encounter increasingly fast and brutal swarms of enemies and status-effect tossing bosses. Beyond that implants are almost more important than weapon choice in terms of creating builds; For example I’d focused on parrying around halfway through the game and that meant certain implants would give health, energy, defense, and attack damage boosts for a certain period of time each time I would parry. This meant parrying later bosses would heal me, build up energy for another heal, grant me 25%+ defense and even more attack damage which would in turn earn more energy. This could be supplemented by implants that increase energy gain, power-up status effects, and strengthen the effectiveness of certain drone options. In The Surge I would rely on dashing in circles and brute-forcing a (gimmick driven) boss battle but in The Surge 2 an electrical (or nano) weapon, a stun charge from the drone, and various implant bonuses focused on parrying success meant I’d actually created a viable build among many, many possible builds. Sure, it isn’t exactly as deeply customizable as Dark Souls III but in some ways every weapon can be made effective within a build which I couldn’t say for any From Software game.
Chopping off body parts, harvesting scrap and pieces, upgrading armor and weapon sets, and leveling up your core power level to 90+ present enough of a loop to keep most folks playing through The Surge 2 but none of it would be interesting if Jericho City and its adjunct sectors weren’t designed like a Gordian knot. Of course that is the general consensus I’m playing with, in no way is the city as complex as reviews and Twitch-y seat-shitters might suggest. The Surge was only maze-like back in 2017 because its factory environment had to be somewhat claustrophobic by design, this isn’t the case for The Surge 2 where you’ll eventually find seven shortcuts to the first Med-Bay you find beyond the tutorial in the JCPD Building. Get this– There’s no fucking map! Yep, and straight up I loved that there was no map because it forces you to pay attention to your surroundings at all times and remember where each shortcut leads. You don’t just get a quest from “enter name here” and go to “point on map” you get a quest from Rex to go to Port Nixon to find what Little Johnny did with his girlfriend April and finishing that quest matters more in the long run because you had to work your ass off remembering where each actor in that minor melodrama as you benefit from each act in the play. You do have a quest log and eventually you’ll realize the world map isn’t so big that you’re going to miss anything unless you advance the story too quickly or ‘accidentally’ kill a side-quest giver, or most of them… like I did. What was my point, again? Right, natural and immersive exploration is an important aspect of this game because it is undoubtedly one of the busiest, screen-filling, fuckery-a-thons in recent memory.
In what is one of the more subtle points of satire within The Surge 2 a DJ who secretly works for ‘The Resistance’ tasks you with… Tagging each area with graffiti specific to their ’cause’ for cash. This informs the player that they have full access to an array of purchasable graffiti tags that the drone can spray most any surface to communicate with other players. Most of these point the player towards items, enemies, death by falling, and to be sure if you play in online mode you’re basically faced with so many tags that there is no need for a guide or a map… Other players lead you through EVERY item and area with tags. On top of this, though it isn’t tied to a quest, you can leave a player beacon in hard to reach or hidden areas and if it takes more than one hour to be found in game by another player you’ll get a considerable amount of currency. You might scoff at this and just not use it at all but if you’re finding The Surge 2 very difficult or you’re ending up very broke these systems can help assuage some of those woes. I didn’t bother with any of it and ended up playing in Offline Mode around half of the time simply because the screen was always caked with neon fucking bullshit pointing in every direction. If you don’t turn off tutorial hints or the online tag stuff you’ll find constant screen-filling garbage covering the action, hell, text even pops up for every loot item that drops as well as body parts you’re targeting. It becomes a bit of a mess if you don’t flip a few of those switches off and I didn’t like how it all detracted from the generally serious atmosphere of the game.
If you’ve been playing video games since at least 2000 you’ll have no trouble piling the lackluster plot of The Surge 2 on the heaping trashfire of stupid, pointless blockbuster movie styled sci-fi garbage we’ve all been digesting these last two decades. You’ve been in a coma for two month and when you wake up you’re in jail. The city is fucked by way of nano-swarm invasions and a deadly nano-lizard, a religious cult seeks to gain some kind of world-demolishing change by merging with the impending nanoswarm looming overhead. You’re tasked with engaging with the cult, rescuing a young girl who’d been the only other survivor from the plane crash, and I dunno… Beating up the corporate cops that line every street preventing the nano-infected from exiting the quarantine of Jericho City. Once again the story is told, be it side-quest lore or otherwise, through found audio logs and direct communication through your rig. A small handful of cut-scenes, some pre-rendered, spell out key plot twists and events but most of them serve to introduce the roughly doubled count of boss fights since the first game. I appreciate that the boss fights, enemy encounters, and general combat customization is the major focus of this game but some more thoughtful storytelling might’ve enhanced the experience rather than made a bit of a bad sci-fi ‘made for TV’ mini-series of it all.
The final boss fight from The Surge is about as threatening and inventive as a normal enemy in The Surge 2 and this is where knowing the first game inside-out pays off when considering the full experience of this second game. It isn’t that we’re given ‘more everything’ the second time around it is the fact that everything is much more playable, elucidated, considered, and balanced into a fun video game that will likely reach beyond the Souls-like niche into the general action RPG space for fans. As I’d stated previous, this is probably the most fun I’ve had with this style of video game in a couple of years. Hell, I finished the game and hit New Game+ to take a few screenshots for this review only to end up playing for an additional four hours. Highly recommended and surely one of my favorite experiences of the year.
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