How keen are you on dying over and over as a robot-enhanced human in a factory full of murderbots? The Surge, developed by Deck13, is a new entry in the genre of ultra-hard action-RPGs in the same vein of the Dark Souls series. Following up on their previous game, Lords of the Fallen , The Surge takes this framework and puts a gritty sci-fi spin on top of it.

Our Dystopian Nightmare

The Surge wastes little time before throwing you into the action. Your character Warren arrives at a CREO Facility looking to join the workforce. Warren is in a wheelchair, and CREO offers their employees an exoskeleton to augment their strength and mobility. You’re given a choice of a lightweight and agile exosuit or a heavier one. You end up watching a horrible nightmare as Warren is awake while the exosuit is attached. He finally wakes up in a scrap yard and the game begins.

If you’re looking for a deep and engaging storyline, it’s not here but it only bothered me in the beginning. Warren starts fighting the various people and robots in the scrap yard and the game doesn’t really explain why that is. I get that he’s probably very pissed at CREO for what happened to him, but his motivations aren’t revealed. The other central mystery is what happened to the CREO facility. Many of the enemies are zombie-like shambling exosuits and deranged robots. At first, I just assumed it was because everything was malfunctioning in the junkyard. You soon discover that something has happened across the entire facility and you’ll help uncover the real threat within CREO. It’s a hint of a plot and certainly not the focus of what you should be looking for from The Surge.

Get Busy Living

At its core, The Surge falls into the same genre as Dark Souls. It’s exceptionally difficult and driven through careful and methodical combat. One of the things I want to establish from the outset is that The Surge is my first experience with an action-RPG game like this. I know a lot of the basics of what makes a Souls game but I approached The Surge with no real preconceived idea of what these games are supposed to be and ended up having a really good time with it.

Combat in The Surge is the central focus and you need to be deliberate in how you attack. As I learned multiple times while playing if you try to rush combat you’re going to have a bad time. Both Warren and your enemies have clear animations telegraphing their attacks and the key to success is learning the patterns for each enemy. Warren has both a horizontal and vertical attack, a dodge, and a block ability at his disposal. Everything Warren can do is limited by stamina and once it’s depleted, you’ll have to pause your attack until it regenerates, leaving you exposed.

The Surge’s main differentiator is the ability to target an enemy’s limbs during combat. You click in the right stick to target the enemy, then use the right thumb stick to select head, chest, or which limb you want to strike. Horizontal and vertical attacks work better or worse depending on which limb you target, and as you hit the enemy you’re generating energy. You can spend this to use implants that require energy or, after a certain point, you can execute a grisly finishing move. After inflicting enough damage, you can chop off the limb to salvage it as a ‘schematic’ to equip. The end result is Warren looking like a mess of parts from every enemy and I really dug his patchwork look over time.

Or Get Busy Dying

There’s a lot of trial and error you’ll go through to take out certain enemies. The basic exosuit zombie is all over, but the weapons they’re using will require different tactics. For example, the second area has enemies wielding large hammer-like weapons and they’ll swing them in a wide arc. The pattern of when to dodge, block, or avoid their attacks comes over time. For the longest time, I would avoid the non-humanoid robots because I just couldn’t get their pattern down. It took several tries (and a few deaths) to realize how to read their attacks. Boss battles are their own challenge, requiring exact timing and problem solving to deal with them. These were immensely frustrating, but I understood why someone would keep throwing themselves at these challenges over and over. The thrill of downing a tough boss is absolutely worth the headache.

On that note, death is absolutely a part of this game. You’re going to die a whole lot and if you’ve never played a game like this before, you best get used to it. Each run has you start in a medical bay where equipment can be upgraded and implants are managed. As you get further into the CREO facility, each enemy you kill will drop Tech Scrap. The longer you stay alive, the more that Scrap is multiplied for each kill. When you die, you’ll drop all your scrap at that point and start over in the medbay and you’re given a timer of two minutes and thirty seconds to recover it. Shortcuts can help cut down the amount of backtracking you need to do, but they can be difficult to find. I would race past certain areas to avoid fighting the same enemies over and over just to brute force find a shortcut. I believe the timer is unique to The Surge and if you can recover your scrap, it helps lessen the blow of dying. However, it’s all gone for good if you die before retrieving it.

Upgrade Complete

Scrap is ultimately useful for upgrading your equipment. Warren can equip multiple pieces of armor that each has an upgrade level from one to four. You can also use it to increase Warren’s exosuit core power, allowing him to use more implants and advanced equipment. Implants offer a variety of customization options, ranging from stat boosts to special powers. You can increase your health, stamina, and energy and I had some sort of boost for them equipped at all times. Some of your active abilities require energy generated by attacking enemies and others are limited by a quantity before you need to restock at the medbay. Of course, re-entering the medbay will cause all enemies to respawn and it will reset your scrap bonus. The game will reward you to stay out there and stay alive, which clearly isn’t easy but with your courage comes great reward.

I’m sure you could regularly swap out your implants and optimize your character but I fell into a good rhythm with the boosts that I had, favoring increased health and health regeneration to stay alive. I found a configuration that worked for me, and until I could generate a lot of scrap, I really didn’t change up my equipment until I regularly ran into problems. One helpful tip I can provide is to use the implant that lets you heal based on the energy you generate through attacking. Some of your implants are limited by the number of charges, but you’ll always be able to get some energy when you need it.

Polished Metal

The Surge’s sci-fi aesthetic is visually very snappy. The enemies are unique, and in a world of drab brown-grey-black video game palettes, the colorful pop of the world helps The Surge stand out. Before I realized this was a Souls-like game, the design of the world is what drew me to check it out. The graphical quality and frame rate was a mixed bag. The environments look very sharp at a distance, but as you get up close you’ll see textures and models have some rough edges. I know for games like The Surge, you want to be at 60 fps. I’m personally awful at identifying frame rates, but this game had a ghosting feel similar to the effect you’ll see in a TV section of an electronics store. I adjusted quickly to it but it could be a turn off to some folks. I would probably chalk it up to my settings before I lay that entirely on the developers. However, you will not be disappointed with the sound design, the characters, music and effects because they are all awesome. Everything has this rough industrial sound to it that makes this insane robot factory feel real.

My biggest faults with the game really came from the camera and targeting systems. The camera itself would clip through objects in the world and zoom in extremely close to Warren when the rooms became way too tight. This presents a challenge when you need to clearly see where the enemies are and what they’re doing. This also plays into the issues I had with targeting enemies, but specifically for the bosses. I’ll use the third boss, a giant manufacturing robot, to help illustrate this. The first stage of the fight is two large claws that are thrust forward at you and you have to destroy them one at a time. As soon as you break one, your target lock is lost but the other claw is likely primed and ready to attack. It’s also behind you, so until you realize what’s going to happen the boss will likely score some free hits on you. I get the difficulty curve is high for bosses but this seemed a tad unfair because it was not my lack of skill but due to bad angles.

New Acolyte in the Cult

Ever since I heard about how great and frustrating the original Demons’ Souls game was, I’ve always looked at these games and, ‘That sounds neat, but I don’t think it’s for me.’ The Surge has shown me that I’m not only capable of trying this genre out, but that I might actually like it. Yes, I wanted to rip my controller in half at multiple times while playing it and I understand that’s the point of these games. The core game is solid and engaging. After dying, I’d curse out loud, sigh, then dive right back into it. I wanted to keep going despite the challenge it presented. This game won’t be for everyone. You must be willing to push through, learn from your mistakes, and not give up. The Surge eases you into the mechanics of how these action-RPG games work. If you’re patient, attentive, and on the fence about diving into this genre, The Surge is a great place to begin this journey.

The Surge Review
The Good
  • Great industrial aesthetic
  • Difficult and rewarding combat
  • Wide range of customization options
The Bad
  • Hard to find shortcuts to minimize backtracking
  • Problematic camera
8Overall Score
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About The Author

Andy L
Review/Editorial Writer

Ever since he received a Sega Genesis for Christmas at age 6, Andy has been hooked on video games. Pokemon and Metal Gear Solid are his all-time favorite games, but he's found an appreciation for quirky, unique indie titles as well. He's also into board games because one gaming hobby just wasn't enough.