Time Surging: 64 Minutes
Sponsored By: August’s Humble Bundle
Extreme Citrus Review
I was kind of hoping to hate this game, so I could call myself a Surge Suppressor. It turns out that I like the game and will now defend it from its critics.
That makes me a Surge Protector, so the joke still works. I love it when that happens!
I’ve had my dalliances with the Souls genre. I reviewed Dark Souls, and found it interesting but not interesting enough to play more than an hour. I played Bloodborne, and wrote two separate articles about my own gaming inadequacies. I played Lords of the Fallen, and found it so unimaginative that I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about it, so I didn’t. What I’m trying to say is: I’ve played enough Souls-Likes to know that I don’t really like Souls-Likes.
Then The Surge cropped up in a Humble Bundle that I bought because I wanted Conan Exiles, and I figured: Why not?
So I installed it and gave it a whirl, and I am very glad I did.
The Surge is what happens when someone who likes to make Souls-Likes (Focus Interactive) decides they want to do a gritty retelling of Wall-E. You play Warren, a man in a blue suit with no real personality to speak of. Warren has lost the use of his legs, but he’s in luck! A company that wants to clean up the Earth’s junkyards has decided that fitting people with exoskeletons is cheaper than building an army of adorable hoarders who look like Johnny Five wearing a Minion costume.
Wall-E Warren starts to question his luck while being fitted for the suit, which requires surgical implants that are installed without sedation. What’s worse, they’re installed through his clothing, which means his exosuit has literally bolted through a bloody jumpsuit to his body. They may have figured out how to make exoskeletons in the future, but they’ve apparently lost a lot of institutional knowledge about hygiene.
Warren’s luck further dwindles after the unhygienic exoskeleton is installed, because it’s apparently a defective unhygienic exoskeleton, and since they used too much Loc-tite on the bolts they screwed into his body, the company opts to just throw him and the suit away. Warren wakes up in a massive junkyard surrounded by robots that want to kill him because … oh, what the heck. Does it matter? If you’re playing a Souls-Like for the narrative, you’re doing it wrong. The bottom line is you’re stuck in a scrapyard surrounded by hostile robots and other people in exoskeletons who are crazy because it’s a Souls-Like and you need lurching enemies to fight.
With the exposition safely out of the way, we can discuss the bits of the game that are fun, interesting and, occasionally, both. The combat is your standard animation-based stamina-dependent melee’ combat that should be familiar to fans of the genre. It’s responsive and fun, which caught me off guard.
As you attack enemies, you’ll notice another bar going up as the yellow stamina bar goes down. This is your “energy” which seems more like a rage meter to me, but it’s sci-fi so they have to make everything sound technical. When your energy meter is full, you’re given a prompt to press the action button, which will cause your character to chop armor or weapons off of your enemies. This will take the attached body part with it, but hey: Omelettes need eggs, right?
This is where the game gets interesting. When you’ve locked onto an enemy, you can use the right analog stick on your controller to target a specific body part on that enemy. You can opt to target unarmored bits for quicker kills, but if you want to upgrade your gear you have to target the parts that have good gear on them. So if you see a weapon you like, target the arm that holds it. It won’t necessarily give you the weapon, but it will give you parts that you can use to build or upgrade that weapon back at the workshop.
Using scrapped bits of enemies is an interesting way to manage level progression, and it adds a touch of Monster Hunter to the genre in a way that I can only applaud. And if your interest isn’t even slightly piqued by the idea of a hybrid of Dark Souls, Monster Hunter and Wall-E, then you’re a very different person from me.
Will I Keep Surging On?
I believe in the three-pillars of game design: Characters, Story and Gameplay. Almost no game does all three of them well, but good games generally do at least one of them exceptionally, and one or more of the others passably.
The characters in The Surge have about as much personality as damp cardboard, so that’s not a draw. The story is a Souls-Like story, which means fairly minimal and revealed in maddeningly small drips as you go.
Fortunately the gameplay is very well done. I’m finding the combat to be just the right pace for me, and I’m even getting over that “I’M ATTACKING YOU BLAAARG!” adrenaline rush which leads me to hit the attack button a few too many times when I should be dodging. In sum, the gameplay is enough to keep me playing.
For now, anyway. This doesn’t have the feel of a game that I’m going to finish. It has the feel of a game that I’m going to play until it becomes annoying. That bins it squarely in with ninety percent of all the games I ever play, so it’s in good company.
Is it the Dark Souls of Souls-Likes?
The Surge is just about the least Dark Soulsey game in the Souls-Like category. The combat is quite a bit easier than Bloodborne, while feeling a bit more fluid and forgiving than Dark Souls. You’re not quite as fragile, the map doesn’t go quite as far between shortcuts back to the workshop, and the enemies don’t swarm you quite as badly; at least, not in the first hour.
The Surge is the Souls-Like for people who don’t like Souls-Likes. If you’ve ever had interest in that deliberate, frame-counting sort of combat but bounced off of From Software’s venerable offerings, maybe give this one a try.