Best to get this out of the way first: yes, The Surge is essentially a sci-fi spin on Dark Souls. As hackneyed as such comparisons can be, they really can’t be avoided with Deck 13’s follow-up to 2014’s Lords Of The Fallen, which represents a conveyer belt of ideas drawn straight from the playbook of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s seminal franchise.
Hard-hitting combat, an interconnected maze of open-world environments, punishing boss fights, intense resource management systems, and an intentionally vague story that must be pieced together through player intuition? So far, so From Software. Luckily, Deck 13 is smart enough to use The Surge’s future dystopian setting – a world ravaged by resource wars and governed by shady tech companies – as the starting point for more nuanced forms of differentiation against its unofficial source material.
As the newest recipient of society’s latest technical innovation – a high-powered exo-suit – protagonist Warren suddenly awakes to find himself in the middle of what appears to be a robotic uprising, whereby every mechanical contraption in the area has – for reasons unknown – developed a thirst for killing. For a game of its kind, it’s refreshing to enjoy a story which deals in grounded, pertinent subject matter (conglomerate corporations, artificial intelligence) instead of otherworldly high fantasy, and The Surge’s fairly simple plot manages to work by riding on the power of its heavy atmosphere.
Gameplay also comes packed with variations on genre norms, each of which make sense within the context of the world. For example, with fights taking place primarily against machines instead of organic life forms, you can hack away at certain parts of an enemy’s body to lop them off, which can then be picked up and used for your own purposes as armour or weaponry. It’s small but smart ideas like these that keeps The Surge from being just another Dark Souls clone, but not everything is successful. With only two available class types, combat can feel simple at times, which leaves the twenty hour campaign victim to bouts of repetitiveness.
Even so, the production value and degree of craftsmanship on offer here is impressive. If Deck 13 can demonstrate a greater capacity to deviate from the blueprints set by From Software, then future titles from the studio hold the potential to be something really special. For now, however, The Surge is another game which largely sticks to what it knows, content with being great but never reaching for anything more than that.