If everything you want from the Surge 2 is combat in the vein of Dark Souls or Nioh, but with a twist, then it’s absolutely a success. Almost every aspect of these tense, varied encounters – from the slick, violent animations to the crunch when an absurdly-huge, electricity-sparking axe makes contact with an unprotected skull – feels satisfying. The sequel to Deck13’s sci-fi Souls-like hit absolutely delivers on that front, but as we said in our Review in Progress, a lot would hinge on the unfolding narrative and the world it’s set in.
So, yes. The combat is excellent, building upon the unique way that progression and combat intertwine from the first game. In the midst of battle, you can lock on and target the individual body parts of an enemy, weakening them and building up enough energy until you can perform a finishing move and slice off that limb. It’s through this that you face enemies and earn their armour sets, collecting the schematics that eventually let you build a new set of legs or weapon.
Every weapon has heft, every fight has more than one approach, and crucially, every enemy has the ability to conclusively ruin your day if you let yourself get too complacent. While some late game builds can make certain enemies seem much less threatening than they were initially, they never end up feeling like fodder. Jericho City keeps you just the right amount of lost, and just the right amount of wary, at all times.
If Jericho City stays threatening, though, it’s all down to numbers. How many minutes it takes you to walk back from a checkpoint when you die. How much tech scrap you’re going to lose. How hard enemies will hit you. Artfully arranged corpses and snatches of lore hint at individual struggles and ominous forces working against each other, but The Surge 2’s environments never quite reach the humming, poetic oppression or sense of history that compliment the mechanical challenge of FromSoftware’s games and give them their – thus far inimitable – personality. It’s some damn fine science, but it’s never quite alchemy.
So many of the elements The Surge 2 borrows were designed in service of a specific atmosphere and to evoke a specific feeling, and removing them from context to place them in a different game reduces these ideas to hollow, if functional, copies. Take Medbays vs. Bonfires, for example. More than just a functional checkpoint, Dark Souls’ bonfires evoke a sense that, just by resting at one, the player is partaking in a historied ritual. The Surge 2’s Medbays, as nifty as the mechanical tentacles that branch out whenever the player unlocks a new one are, don’t feel a part of the world in any meaningful way. They do a fine job of acting as an analogue, yet a sci-fi paint job can’t quite cover up the dry functionality.
Even The Surge 2’s arguably strongest aspect – the way in which it designs shortcuts that snake back to areas you shredded your way through hours ago – can occasionally feel arbitrary. Alleyways and tunnels feel haphazard and random, so much so that even if you might recognise where you are due to landmarks or billboards, there’s very rarely a sense of having travelled throughout a city.
There are other problems as well. Boss Fights are generally unexciting and lack the readability of smaller enemies. Some of the background textures tend to hint at the idea of a sprawling city rather than actually rendering one. NPC’s are also a mixed bag, although there’s a splash of welcome humour here and there, and some great voice acting sells a story that was, at least, enough to keep me interested.
I really, really don’t want to undersell how incredibly good the combat is, though. Consider this: me, on top of a skyscraper, with a hired brass band behind me, waving a sign that says “Oh, the combat? It’s really good, yeah.” Armoured bastards with obscenely huge hammers wait to ambush you around every corner. A trail of dismembered limbs marks your journey through the chaos of Jericho City. Each new weapon you pick up begs to be tested, and they rarely disappoint. The Surge 2 succeeds in most of what it sets out to do, even if most of what it sets out to do has been done better elsewhere.