Game reviewing sometimes leads to lots of comparisons between games. It’s hard not to compare when a developer takes unique ideas and/or gameplay mechanics from a popular game and incorporates them into their own. There’s obviously nothing wrong with borrowing these ideas, especially when developers do it well or improve upon them. This practice can even lead to the creation of entire genres or subgenres, which is what happened when Dark Souls came along and popularized difficult, third person action role-playing gameplay. The Souls-like subgenre is very niche, with many games taking the label without quite fitting the mold. The Surge 2, like 2017’s The Surge, is very Souls-like, and as with any great take on a genre/subgenre, it adds its own ideas.
The Surge had you playing as Warren, a new employee to the CREO Corporation who was fortunate enough to survive the eponymous surge which fried his coworker’s brains. He was unfortunate in the fact that he had to fight those zombified coworkers and mad robots in a bid to find answers. It was solid sci-fi dystopian horror, for the most part. The Surge 2, however, eschews almost the entire horror atmosphere and instead puts you in the center of cyberpunk Jericho City, which is suffering from a nanite outbreak following the events of the first game. While there are zombified workers to hack away at, most of your time will be spent fighting looters and police responders.
Jericho City is an urban sprawl suffering from a complete societal collapse as the nanite virus ravages it. The plane your character is on crashes into the city—the only survivors beings you and a child. This child—Athena Guttenberg—sends you visions, and encourages your search for answers to the goal of the experiments being run by the shadowy A.I.D., who have literally stolen children to run their experiments on. There’s no better excuse to strap on an Exo rig, and start hacking off limbs.
The Surge 2’s third person combat is fast-paced and challenging, but extremely fun. Most enemies you fight are potentially a danger, especially for the reckless. You can’t swing away as much as you want either, as you’re limited to how much stamina you have. There is a quick dodge that allows you to evade attacks. When killed, enemies drop tech scraps—and whatever tech scraps you have on you when you are defeated are lost. Enemies respawn when you travel between areas (with a loading screen in the middle) or, more regularly, when you rest at a medbay. Basically, it has all of the hallmarks of a Souls-like.
The gameplay is just fun. The combat feels faster, and more rewarding than in previous games. It’s an absolute joy to play, but it isn’t always perfect. In The Surge 2 you are required to target specific enemy body parts to yield schematics and crafting material to make and upgrade different sets of armor. It’s a mechanic that’s unique to the series, and while it can be fun—and the ‘executions’ performed can be satisfying—targeting specific limbs can be a bit much in the heat of battle. Still, the ability to target unarmored parts of opponents to exploit their weaknesses is a fun bit of strategy, and it just wouldn’t be a Surge game without it. But add in directional blocking/parrying on top of all of this, and the combat can feel a little hectic. Yet somehow , it works.
A lot of what makes it work is the Exo rigs, mechanical suits that serve as the modular base for all sorts of different types of armor. Different armor bestows different benefits—like faster attack speed, or higher impact—a stat that gauges your ability to stagger opponents. Your rig has a set amount of power, which is used up by the various armor pieces and implants, making it feel like you’re managing a mech suit ala’ Battletech.
Implants in The Surge 2 (like in The Surge) work as modifiers (buffs, and sometimes debuffs) but also consumables. Some of the implants increase damage against specific creatures, or give you other benefits, like faster stamina regeneration, or giving a consumable charge upon successfully hacking off an enemy’s limb. Consumables, like the health injector, can have charges stored, or they can be activated by using the energy from your power bar—which sits below your health and stamina bars. The energy bar fills up the more you attack, meaning you can heal yourself more often with more successful hits. This makes the combat extremely fast, and leads to some fun (but reckless) strategies in which you try to recoup your health as quickly as you lose it—something I haven’t really done in such a game since Bloodborne.
Some of the weaponry and armor makes it way from The Surge into the sequel—including the iconic Rhino Exo rig armor and the chainsaw-like Cutter weapon. There are a ton of armor and weapons to find and use. While many of them have unique movesets, I feel like most end up being slight variations to merely upgrades of other weapons. This makes what seems like a vast arsenal actually quite smaller. But that’s okay, what is there is extremely fun to use—and there is enough variety to keep it interesting.
Available to you in The Surge 2 is the surprisingly powerful drone. The drone acts as a weapon and support device. You can equip it with different types of firearms—like the sniper rifle, pistol, or even an impressive laser cannon. I discounted its use at first, but eventually the drone became an important part of my arsenal. And while it can support you, you can use it to help support other players with some of The Surge 2’s limited multiplayer features.
The drone, with its spray can attachment, can leave graffiti that will show up in other player’s games. If you’ve played any of the Souls games, you’ll have noticed the orange signs that other players can leave that warn you of impending danger, clue you into hidden treasure, or even trick you into jumping off of ledges. The graffiti works similarly in The Surge 2, and despite using only pictures, I’ve gotten some important help from them. Unfortunately, unlike Dark Souls’ glowing messages, sometimes the graffiti is a little harder to see.
In addition to leaving tags for players, you will sometimes run across the body of a fallen player with a little bit of loot on it—usually an energy cell or some ammo. You can also kill enemies that have defeated other players, granting revenge and giving you bonuses in the process. I think my favorite multiplayer activity is leaving banners for other players to find. If you managed to hide one away well enough that no one finds it, you are rewarded with a decent amount of tech scrap for your cleverness. And with a huge area like Jericho city, there are lots of places to cleverly hide stuff.
Jericho City is definitely sprawling—in fact, it can be somewhat confusing to navigate. Like the first game, and in Souls-like fashion, opening up shortcuts to previously visited areas and medbays are usually commonplace. And The Surge 2 certainly has a glut of shortcuts—so many that I felt like I was opening a new one every 20 minutes or so. These shortcuts, sometimes, didn’t help me navigate, either—as I was running through them so quickly. Later on, when you get the Exo hook (and later the lifting hook) travelling around the city is a lot easier. But until then, you can just look at the Exo hook lines and dream of fast travel.
I don’t want to say that The Surge 2 is easier than any game by From Software, but with all of the options available to me in regards to drone weaponry, rig upgrades, etc., it never once felt insurmountable—a feeling I would sometimes get with a particularly hard Souls boss. Of course, I may have just stumbled across a winning formula in regards to my implants and gear choice, so your mileage may vary. That’s not to say the boss encounters aren’t interesting—another major factor into my enjoyment into such a game. Most bosses were memorable, and visually impressive.
If I had one major complaint, it’s that The Surge 2’s presentation is lacking. Voice acting is uneven to sometimes terrible. Visuals, while graphically okay, are artistically uninspired—with many areas being bland urban environments. Even the vistas are somewhat ho-hum. It’s really too bad, because The Surge 2 is otherwise an excellent game.
I really love The Surge 2. It’s not just that I’m a sucker for Souls-like games, it’s that The Surge 2 ends up being an extremely fun version of one. Gone is the horror and isolation of the first game, replaced with a jaunt through a cyberpunk dystopia, but the satisfying combat and iconic limb removing fun still exists.
The Surge 2 will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows 9/24
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