Tech Souls

If you're a fan of *Souls games then you're probably going to want to take a look at the Surge, which blends science fiction with a *Souls-like approach to level design, death, levelling and combat, wrapping in a bit of Bloodborne for good measure.

Oh, and dismemberment.

It's also fun, a lot of fun.

Swing that Pipe

After the intro, which I'm not going to spoil - the Surge kicks into high gear quickly. You're soon fighting for your life using the Exo-suit tech-rig that you've been fitted with, and a scavenged one-handed weapon against some nippy lil' flying robot servitors. Combat in the Surge is simple enough with light attacks, heavy attacks, charged versions (hold the attack button down), block (drains stamina whilst it's held down), and dodge (extremely useful to get you out of harms way). You can lock onto an enemy and flick between multiple enemies that are trying to murder you.

All of your combat actions drain stamina and once you're out of stamina you can't do much, you'll swing slower, you'll become easier to kill and enemies can hit you hard even at the start of the game - in true *Souls style, you'll get blitzed if you underestimate even the smallest foe.

Combat is satisfying to begin with, but after you finish the small tutorial mission you'll discover a deeper level of combat that has its own unique flavour and design. It's worth noting as well that you have a familiarity with weapons in the game, which rises the more you use them, your proficiency with one-handed, single-rigged, dual-rigged, staff and so on rising and you continue to invest time and effort into the chosen weapon.

Takin' Limbs

Not only can you lock onto your many foes, but for a lot of them (the humanoid ones) they have different body locations you can attack. You'll do more damage to unarmoured areas than those covered in armour, and for those areas that are armoured you'll be able to target them for loot.

How?

Well, as you smash into your foes you'll not only do damage, but you'll build up energy that can be used to trigger a dedicated weapon-based finisher that not only looks cool, but also has the added advantage of severing the targeted body part. Now as you kill enemies you'll get tech scrap (think: souls), but also components and gubbins that can be used in the game's crafting system.

If you sever an armoured limb and you don't have that grade of armour, basically light or heavy yet, you'll usually get a blueprint for that type of armour so that you can craft it. Chop off a heavy armoured dude's head, you'll get a helmet blueprint which you can then make at your safe location (Operations) by using a 3d printer style machine.

As you progress you can sever various weapons from your enemies, put them to use immediately and build your arsenal that way. It's good stuff and it changes the way you approach combat for the most part. Do you want to take your time, chip that bad guy's frame down so you can take their armoured torso for yourself, or do you want that weapon they have, which would let you dual-wield for a change of pace?

Or that armoured leg looks tasty, get that leg and you have a full set of heavy armour when you get back to ops and manufacture it.

Decisions, decisions.

Techin' Up

Very early on you'll unlock Operations, here you can use the med-bay, level up your core using Tech Scrap and rather like *Souls bonfires, heal all your wounds and cause the enemies to repopulate in the areas. The Surge's levelling mechanic is interesting, and more than just XP to increase the simple base stats of the character. The more Core Level you have, the more augmentations you can add to your Exo Frame and these allow you simple buffs, things like health recovery upon using finishing moves to kill a bad guy, more damage with one-handed weapons and so forth.

You can also bank your Tech Scrap at the Manufacturing Station or Med Station. Because, if you die... just like *Souls you're going to drop that hard-earned currency.

Unlike *Souls though, you have a finite time to get back to where you died and reclaim it before it's gone for good. If you die again between now and then, tough, it's gone.

I really like the progression system in the Surge and I've found myself spending a lot of time levelling my Core higher and higher to unlock more slots to add in those lovely augmentations.

Findin' Your Way

The Surge doesn't hold your hand at any point. It gives you on-screen hints that appear in a very Splinter Cell: Conviction/Blacklist manner superimposed on the background of various flat surfaces, but that's about it. The Surge expects you to work out where you have to go by following simple objectives and allows you to open certain doors to create short cuts to various previously explored areas. These usually facilitate a quick route to a boss fight or back to Operations.

It's a very organic method of exploration and rewards poking around for various secrets extremely well. Not only will you find new weapons, new aug chips, but you'll also discover various bits of lore that flesh out the world of the Surge and what happened to the various people in the factory and so on.

Just remember that it's like *Souls in that regard, there are hidden enemies just waiting to shred your health bar and drain that stamina. There's different types of bad guys to face and the further into the game you go, things get tougher and tougher - with the first boss fight as taxing as some of the boss fights in Dark Souls III.

Also, loading is nice and quick when you die so you're never left waiting too long to get back into it. The transition from area to area is handled nicely and there's not a loading screen in sight as you push open the heavy doors to go into another part of the area.

Grunge Souls

The Surge has a lot going for it in terms of atmosphere, the graphics provide a grunge-tech feel to the whole proceedings and the various locations that you explore are deeply grounded in the chunky-tech design of the Surge's fictional universe. It's a good looking game that cleaves nicely to its lore and everything seems to fit into place as you explore the various locations.

It also makes use of dark areas, barely lit by your gear lights, to provide a sense of unease as you never quite know what's lurking in the dark.

Swing and a Hit

There's a delightful sense of weight, inertia, mass, and power to the combat system animations in the Surge, they're definitely one of the stars of the show here and when you get to grips with how the battles play out you'll see some spectacular clashes between your protagonist and the various denizens of the various areas. The animations in general are great in the game, and your various opponents are all able to perform some truly vicious (and surprise) attacks.

I love how the protagonist moves depending on the type of frame he's wearing too.

Living Technology

The A.I. for your various opponents varies quite a bit. Some are mindless, they'll attack slowly and telegraph a lot. Some are highly intelligent and they'll use special moves, finishers, and a barrage of quick attacks to rip your stamina bar down before they slaughter you in seconds. The game keeps you on your toes as you explore the huge areas and piece together what's happened, bit by bit.

The Sound of Surge

The developers haven't shirked on their sound design either, there's a lot of neat ambient and atmospheric sounds in the game, used to great effect in dark areas and to lend a budding sense of unease and tension to every step you take. That slow thunk thunk thunk in the dark, that could be a huge enemy armed with a giant hammer, or a malfunctioning machine's piston that just happens to sound like it.

Technology of Music

The soundtrack to the game is a solid mix of ambient pieces and some hard driving industrial-sounding tech-music that matches the game's style perfectly.

Use your Words

The voice work in the game is decent and there is even an RPG-style dialogue system in play, and whilst it doesn't seem to change things, it lets you explore dialogue options and learn more about the world as a whole, as well as any tasks you might have to do.

Standing on its Own Two Legs

Whilst the Surge draws from *Souls, it isn't bound to the formula, or the design of the game. It tries out new things, builds in a great combat system and delivers pulse-pounding action-RPG adventure right into the heart of the game. It's a game that is inspired by the *Souls games, but not defined by it, a science fiction step into the unknown and a great game for anyone who loves *Souls-style games and could be a nice entry point for folks who are looking for a more Cyberpunk style vision of Dark Souls.

Most of all it's fun, has that *Souls-like sense of tough but fair gameplay and is one of the more surprising games of this year.

It also runs beautifully on Xbox One and hasn't crashed, glitched or freaked out on me yet. I've not had any weird bugs or strange occurrences and Deck 13 has nailed for me what a sci-fi *Souls should feel like, whilst simultaneously breaking new ground and forging its own identity - a nifty trick and one that I feel needs to be rewarded.

They could have played it safe, but they didn't - I'm glad about that because I don't think the Surge would be half as good if they had.

Now, excuse me, I can see a sweet robot head that I want to wear as a hat.