Reborn from the Fallen
There is a very interesting thing happening with reviews for Deck13's new action-RPG The Surge. It's something I saw before and something I myself am guilty of, especially when it comes to Deck13's previous release, Lords of the Fallen. That "interesting thing" I have noticed is a move to compare each and every aspect of The Surge to the Dark Souls games. That alone is fine but the thing I cannot stand is the fact that some are actually upset, even borderline mad, that a new action-RPG would even dare to not completely rip off the exact Souls formula. And yes, I am fully aware of the taste of hypocrisy throughout this review.

I will fully admit that when asked about the game, I compared The Surge to a "Souls" game. It was purely a matter of convenience. When push came to shove, there was simply no easier way to describe some of the core gameplay mechanics present in The Surge. Both this and Souls are brutally challenging. In fact, I would go so far as to say that The Surge is even more challenging due to the fact that it is entirely possible to be one or two-shot by the game's regular enemies.

Both games include currency retrieval mechanics when you die, and boy you will die often in The Surge. In Souls, you need to run back to collect your souls. In The Surge, you run back to collect the pieces of scrap that you dropped. It's important you do this as scrap is your primary means to level up, craft new gear components, and upgrade existing gear. If you die on your way to retrieving your scrap, well that's just too bad. Those scrap pieces are gone and you had best start collecting them from scratch. Fortunately, The Surge does something really nice for the player. It allows the player to bank any extra scrap in their possession. That way, if they're just shy of having enough to level up again, they can store it without fear of losing that scrap to their next dance with death.

The tradeoff here is that the more souls you carry around with you, the more scrap will drop for you. See, similar to a mechanic I first saw in Lords of the Fallen, The Surge utilizes a multiplier for the amount of scrap that drops from defeated foes. The more scrap you carry with you, the higher that multiplier goes and the more scrap drops from each defeated enemy. It's a risk/reward system that could potentially pay off big time for the daring, or result in some extremely heartbreaking losses.

Some of the complaints I have read involve there only being five bosses throughout the entire game. Is that really such a bad thing? I don't believe it is. Yet again, comparisons were made to the Dark Souls games that can have double digit numbers of bosses. Hey, that's great for the Souls games. It works there because that's what FromSoftware wanted to implement. And yet somehow because there are "only" five bosses in The Surge, it is somehow an inferior game. What's the rationale behind that thought that quantity equals quality? That line of reasoning sounds incredibly flawed to me. Once again, if it's a matter of the game not being as challenging, that notion is thrown out the window when you remember that even regular enemies can kill you in a single devastating blow.

The visuals in The Surge are actually fantastic. The team at Deck13 is making use of their own in-house engine and it is perhaps one of the most feature rich engines I have seen as of late. We're looking at a beautiful engine that accurately deals with lighting, prominently showcases the custom particle engine, includes multiple light sources that are able to cast a number of great looking real time soft shadows, resolution scaling, and pretty much all the other bells and whistles present in most AAA game releases. While I cannot personally vouch for the console releases, Digital Foundry did the rigorous legwork. The Xbox One version runs at 900p at a solid 30fps while the PlayStation 4 version is 1080p with a rock solid 30fps. The PlayStation 4 Pro version features "one of the best PS4 Pro implementations yet."

This PS4 Pro support includes a performance mode offering a solid 1080p/60fps mode, and a solid 30fps at 2880x1620 quality mode for those with 4K televisions. Given the fast-paced and sometimes chaotic nature of the game's combat, I would advise most people stick to the 1080p/60fps mode. Those with a Pro and a 1080p television can also enjoy a bit of downsampling for a cleaner image if they decided to go with the quality option.

Of course, on the PC side of things there are graphical and hud options galore. You can toggle or adjust almost every single graphical option directly within the game's menus. That's right, there is almost no need to go fiddling around with an .ini file to adjust anything. The best part is that the game runs great on settings that are above and beyond what you will find on consoles.

Sadly, one of the drawbacks to the game's sci-fi setting and narrative is that many of the environments may not be varied enough for a lot of people. A bulk of the game takes place in a very industrialized complex. We're talking about metal grating, fencing, rails, concrete, robots, plus a fair bit of crates and barrels to round things out. I personally haven't found the game to lack in diverse environments, but I do understand how some players may feel like every area is identical to the previous one. Each section of the game includes a main hub where players can always return to in order to level up and upgrade their gear. Shortcuts back to each hub can be unlocked as you progress through an area, rewarding those who choose to explore. The environments fit well with the overall setting and the story, and I cannot find much fault in Deck13's logic there. I can't help but agree with the opinion that enemy variety is somewhat lacking. Later portions of the game will find you encountering some of the same enemies you found in earlier sections just with more powerful versions of their old attacks and amped up health.

The upgrade system in The Surge is the real standout mechanic here. If you want new weapons or upgrades to your armor, you need to start slicing. The game allows the player to target specific body parts during a battle. If you manage to get a foe below a certain damage threshold the player has the opportunity to remove a limb if they accumulated enough stored energy to execute the move. If that limb was covered in a piece of armor, you will either unlock a new schematic for that gear item or get spare materials that allow you to craft that item. It's violent, it's rewarding, and it's ultimately a great way to integrate an upgrade mechanic that makes sense in this game's universe. The only real drawback to this system is that some players may feel like they need to grind out additional components in order to have enough to satisfy the upgrade requirements. This can happen from time to time, mainly near the beginning portions of the game, but it's rarely an issue if you're regularly engaging with enemies, fighting smart battles, and lobbing off those limbs before you deal any other finishing blows.

The Surge also makes use of a slot-like system for upgrading your stats. If you have played NieR: Automata you may find The Surge's system to be quite familiar. Instead of investing in specific stats to increase as you level up, you instead unlock new implant slots. These slots allow the player to utilize any number of implants they find in the game world. These implants can include things like boosting your total health pool and stamina, gaining more energy in fights, grant the ability to see the enemy's health bars, earn bonus scrap per kill, and more. Non-passive implants may allow the player to pop temporary damage buffs or gain some health back upon hitting a certain threshold of stored energy. You can earn additional slots by leveling up your Core Power. More Core Power means that you can equip higher level implants and armor. If you found an implant that requires more Core Power than you have remaining, you can either swap it with another implant or level up enough to make room for that implant. Many implants also scale their benefits with your Core Power level.

I have highlighted just some of the complaints I have seen made about The Surge. Complaints that are rooted solely in the fact that The Surge is, on its surface, a Souls-like game that isn't a Souls game. This obviously must mean it's automatically a bad game, right? To say that the Souls games have a poor fan base might be too generous. Deck13 seems to find itself in a sort of a damned if they do, damned if they don't situation. If a developer apes the Souls formula to the letter, then they're nothing but a copycat. And yet, if they don't adhere to the stagnant formula enough, then it's automatically an inferior game to any of the entries in the Souls franchise.

It's just exhausting to see people that haven't even tried a game dismiss it because a screenshot or promotional video seems to tell them that the game is either not enough like another game or it's too much like another game. This really could be said about a lot of media that comes out these days. Fans of one franchise will dismiss another franchise without any real justification. It just so happens that Souls games harbor a fanbase that is more up their own asses when it comes to the action-RPG genre than many other franchises out there.

The Surge does a lot of things right that will ultimately go unnoticed by most fans of the genre. I do concede, however, that there are some aspects of the game that may not appeal to everyone. Some of the combat, while largely enjoyable, can get a bit repetitive. I am also sad that there is currently no form of multiplayer in the game, including any form of cooperation. At the very least, you won't have to worry about some Dark Souls fans telling you that you aren't good at the game since you engage in jolly cooperation. I also wish there was some additional variety to the weapon types, though being able to have status effects and earn unique weapons from fulfilling certain requirements in the boss fights is pretty great. Though I will say that the number and variety of combos for each weapon type almost makes up for the lack of weapon type variety. The environments, while visually gorgeous, may turn some people away due to an apparent lack of variety.

Deck13 really stepped up their development game since Lords of the Fallen. They have managed to address most of the complaints consumers had about that game, namely the slow combat mechanics, and delivered an enjoyable experience through and through. Hopefully this trend of quality improvements continues on whatever it is that the studio decides to work on next. With any luck it will be another entry in the action-RPG genre that continues to redefine the expectations that some people continue to hold onto for dear life.

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Additional Information
The Surge (Developed by Deck13 Interactive, Published by Focus Home Interactive)
Starting at $49.99 (USD) for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (PC version reviewed)
Rated M for Mature 17+ for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Strong Language
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.