For a game so heavily populated by mechanics, The Surge 2 really doesn’t seem overly concerned with fixing stuff. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and if it is broke, don’t fix that either,’ appears to be developer Deck 13’s mantra here, but luckily very little of The Surge was broken to begin with. Besides, being such a clearly intended Souls-like game, it’s not like Dark Souls 2 provided the genre’s definitive blueprint on how to improve things.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Deck 13 has very smartly kept things simple, with slight iterations and increased confidence in their vision from the original. What strikes as the biggest improvement in this sequel is the game world, and it is almost literally night and day when compared to the same, uninspired and linear Surge. The new setting of Jericho City is vibrant, interesting, and intricately complex with lots of side quests and people to meet along the journey.
Gone is the overabundance of dark, metallic corridors – replaced with a sprawling, colourful outside setting that allows for a lot more freedom of movement, secret areas, and tactical combat. Perhaps Deck 13 went a little too far with it in some places, almost as if they felt the enlarged game world necessitated adding in a shortcut or secret every few feet. As a result, it can be a little easy to get lost. With so many shortcuts to unlock, it often feels like you’ve gone the wrong way if you’re not at your destination in under a minute. I understand the desire for being Souls-y with exploration, but the constant drip-feed of new items, opening up previously inaccessible areas, gives an inherent Metroidvania feel to proceedings, and makes the absence of a map all the more glaring.
The Surge 2 may be an ugly, at times wonky and buggy, experience, but it sits very nicely in the upper echelons of a disappointingly barren ‘Triple B’ landscape in modern gaming.
Naturally, a lot of the game’s target audience will want exploration to be done this way, and eschewing a coherent map in favour of forcing players to decode the tangled architectural web certainly stays true to The Surge 2’s inspirations. Likewise, there’s a lot of the obligatory environmental storytelling here, but the game isn’t afraid to be upfront about delivering its narrative, both through short scenes of dialogue or audio logs. The game’s story isn’t all that gripping or innovative, but its progression is a lot clearer than finding your way round the map.
Unfortunately, an enlarged game world doesn’t exist in The Surge 2 without serious caveats, and it’s pretty safe to say that the graphics department have seriously done the level designers dirty here. The Surge 2 is one of the ugliest games I’ve played in the current generation, and it looks like a low-budget PS3 game at the best of times. It may be fixed with future patches, but at the time of review, a significant number of textures would consistently fail to load at all – usually on my character and his armour, but often across entire areas of the world. The biggest shame is that there is a lot of cool armour to unlock and equip (I think), but whenever you do this it’s a total crapshoot as to whether you’ll actually be able to see it while playing.
There are options in the menu (presumably just on PS4 Pro/Xbox One X) to toggle between a performance or graphics enhancement, but the graphics need a miracle to enhance them, and with a game so focused on punishing combat you need that solid 60fps to stay alive. I never felt the frame rate tangibly dipping below 60fps, but that also doesn’t come without its own proviso – the screen frequently tearing itself asunder to compensate for those smooth frames.
Aesthetic repugnance aside, the combat in The Surge 2 is still a very substantial hook upon which to hang your game’s hat. Not a lot has changed from the original, but that automatically means you’re still dodging and parrying your way towards hacking limbs off your enemies in order to unlock new weapons and gear. There’s a truly satisfying number of weapons and gear available to obtain and mess around with, and the risk/reward dismemberment system used to unlock new schematics is still awesome – even if a lot of the finisher animations are exactly the same as the first game.
The most significant update to the combat in The Surge 2 is the use of batteries and how they work in tandem with the stamina meter to govern the flow of gameplay. An energy meter is filled to complete batteries that are typically used for healing and executions. It sounds limiting, but when used intelligently it really amplifies the combat experience and allows for some seriously smart character builds. At one point, I had implants equipped that filled the battery meter both when I landed and suffered a hit. It encouraged me to be a lot more aggressive, as everything I did was filling the meter used to heal, and gave the action more than a hint of a Bloodborne feel.
Equipping implants is only part of a greater whole in terms of the overall loot gain in The Surge 2. A really nice touch is that you can compare loot you’ve just acquired to your currently equipped stuff, even previewing its stats were it at the same upgrade level. There can be a problem with games like this where you can’t feel enough of a tangible progression in your character’s power as your enemies are scaling alongside you, but The Surge 2 really seems to have this impeccably balanced. Implants and upgrades can be meticulously combined to make a really effective build that can feel powerful without ever being too overpowered.
That being said, the game is definitely not as hard as Dark Souls or even its own predecessor. Make no mistake, it’s still tough enough for even the lower enemies to deal serious damage, and its bosses are no mugs (for the most part), but I found the difficulty a lot more forgiving than I expected. Personally, this felt right on the money, and it was a lot more enjoyable to play a game that had the potential to challenge, but never became overly frustrating or left me hitting a wall. Some of the bosses did take a fair few attempts, but they’re a lot less annoying than in the original Surge. A great number of human duel-type bosses was another welcome addition and added to the Bloodborne feel even further.
The Surge 2 may be an ugly, at times wonky and buggy, experience, but it sits very nicely in the upper echelons of a disappointingly barren ‘Triple B’ landscape in modern gaming. It’s a game with clear inspiration and direction that boasts its own signature hooks and is not concerned with anything other than delivering a solid 20-odd hour campaign. It’s completely free of live service money-grabbing, totally uninterested in needless padding, and just a really engaging and enjoyable experience. It’s far from perfect, but in a direction that’s completely palatable – one I wish the industry as a whole would follow much more often than it does.