While FromSoftware and Hidetaka Miyazaki will likely forever be seen as the lords of the Soulsborne genre of action RPG that they created and have developed, a handful of other studios have tried to steal some of the limelight. One of the more successful of these was Deck13’s second crack of the Souls-like whip, The Surge, but that doesn’t mean their sequel can’t make some real strides forward.
The Surge worked on a number of levels, taking a step away from medieval knights and monsters in favour of science fiction and augmenting humans with exoskeletons and robots gone wild. That also tied into the notion of Warren having an exoskeleton that you needed to work to upgrade and improve, doing so by retrieving parts from downed enemies and having to dismember various limbs in combat. It’s a well thought out and realised system that remains at the heart of The Surge 2.
Other things maybe weren’t quite so creative, such as the sprawling CREO industrial complex leading to a perhaps rather generic sci-fi feel. The Surge 2 picks up a few months after the end of the first game, with the government sending AID to try to crack down and contain the computer virus that caused the CREO disaster in the first place. It’s led to the quarantine of the city of Jericho, with heavily armoured soldiers rolling in, controlling checkpoints and simply trying to shut down civilian movement. You obviously aren’t going to let a few army boys get in your way as you try to stop the Rogue Process from spreading.
Jericho is a very different place and designed to be more open and allow for more player agency as you explore. You’re not as funnelled through the world and so can make a beeline for some trickier parts of the world if you want even more of a challenge, and generally there’s more variety in the environments, such as the overgrown parks that I got to go hands on with. Admittedly I didn’t get very far, as it always takes me a while to get back up to speed with Souls-likes, but it was interesting to see different enemies within this. The first game was all effectively dead humans in exosuits gone rogue, but here there’s humans that might be holding conversations, there’s enemies with cloaking shields, guns and shields.
What’s great is that, thanks to the enemies now often having human minds inside them, Deck13 can add some more interesting and evolving AI behaviours. You can more effectively lure enemies toward you, creating distractions that wouldn’t be too out of place in a stealth game to split them apart, and enemies with energy shields on one arm will behave more defensively until you overload their shield and they shift to more aggressive stances.
That ties into being able to quickly and easily target different parts of enemies, but a new skill to master in combat is to directionally deflect incoming attacks – something that even works on the hulking big boss enemies if you are confident enough to get the precise timing just right. You’re pushed to try and be on the offensive by being able to build up combat energy that can then be spent on healing and other combat effects, depending on your character loadout.
As before, you can use different tech modules to enhance your abilities, with an optional indicator that can pop up to say which direction an attack is coming from, provide more information and determine how that combat energy is spent. It’s something that Deck13 are still playing with and exploring, so while there will still be some elements in the UI determined by modules you have installed, it might not end up quite as strict as in the first game, where simply being able to see enemy health bars required you install the module.
There are new areas to explore with the ability to modify the drone much more than before. Whenever you defeat an enemy with a gun, and if you manage to target and get something to drop from them, you can nab a sweet gun. Your character seems to be very anti-gun personally, but his trusty drone isn’t so fussy and can be modified with an EMP to stun enemies or jolt electrical switches, or have that swapped out for an assault rifle or energy beam weapon. It’s a great alternative to help tee up some attacks by having the drone stun an enemy and then start cleaving away with a familiar weapon from the first game or some of the four new weapon types.
The Surge 2 is looking like a good step up over the first game, evolving Deck13’s take on the Souls-like genre. It feels like a fairly straight up sequel, both in terms of the story and the way that they’re evolving their formula, but the inspirations are still inescapable in places – one direct play for the Souls fan is being able to leave graffiti hints in the world for other plays to find passively. The question is, as FromSoftware recently released Sekiro as a big new change in direction from their Souls trilogy, will The Surge 2 will feel a little bit old hat, or will it be just what fans of the series and genre are looking for.