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The Surge Review: A post-apocalyptic Souls game meets Terminator

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To be honest, The Surge has not been on my radar. I saw it was announced a while back, but it never really felt like something I would love. I kicked myself when I started up the game and realised just what it was. Deck 13, the creators of Lords of the Fallen had been hard at work on a game that would fit so perfectly into the empty hole that was once filled with Dark Souls III. Yes, The Surge is basically a Dark Souls clone, but it has been done so well and its combat is so enjoyable, that I could not but help carry on every time I died, and I died again. Its recipe is familiar yet tasty, and its fast combat resonates with the Bloodborne, while its setting and themes set a tone for something new and fresh. Who knew that walking around in a mech suit with a giant buster sword would be so fun. 

The Surge follows Warren, an exo-technician who arrives at CREO, an advanced research development compound that has just suffered a major security breach. While the game's opening chapter is rather confusing, it starts to expand as you explore the compound. Warren has not walked in a couple of years due to an accident, but the mech suit, of which you can choose between two at the start of the game, gives him back his movement. After a disturbing scene that sees Warren get literally welded to an exo-suit, he wakes up in a wasteland of rubble and tech. With no memory of what happened and no clue where he is, he must now venture through the CREO compound and find out just what in the world is going on.

Robots be cray! 

Warren then finds himself surrounded by rogue robots and people who have been transformed into strange zombies in exo-suits. It is a unique take on a post-apocalyptic genre and one which I enjoyed. The enemy types can be a bit repetitive at times, as the game is mainly made up of humanoids, and lacks the creative robots/creature designs that would have made the combat challenging and different at every turn. Halfway through the game, the enemy types got a bit dull and there was no real surprise besides the boss fight. Some of the robots were tough to kill thanks to their armoured body, and the humans, or zombies more like, just got hard to kill due to their increase in health.

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It is the combat in The Surge that is truly the greatest feat in the game, and any Souls fan will love every moment of it, terrible deaths and all. The game is a hardcore combat game, and your stamina, proficiency, and character control is everything. Weapon types in the game range from a huge buster sword, to my favourite, a staff. I adapted to the each weapon I tried out pretty quickly, and each weapon type provided a benefit and a weakness. Larger weapons take longer to attack and require more stamina, but they deal almost double damage. The staff is a faster weapon that lets you get around the robots and attack them from behind. Sure there are some questionable moments that almost come across broken. Some weapons simply do not work with certain enemies. The first boss, for example, is almost impossible to kill with a large weapon as due to the slow attack speed, he counters attacks you every time you start a swing at him. I highly recommend that you keep your battle style varied in the game, and do not stick to one weapon type as it will be your downfall. 

There are also moments that need some work. Often I was hit completely out of my hitbox, almost on the other side of an enemy. It was clear that the combat needs some spit and polish in some areas, especially hitboxes. Some weapons also need some balancing and dare I say the staff. As much as I loved it, it became overpowered and almost deadly to every enemy due to its high power, fast attack speed, and little stamina consumption. The combat also has a unique targeting system where you can target specific parts of an enemy and attack them each individually. Some body parts will stagger the enemy when attacked, these are non-armoured parts, while the armoured body parts have the ability to drop items when you dismember them with a special move. You first need to charge your energy bar before this is possible, and when it is charged and the enemy is at a specific health, holding down square will chop that body part off leaving the item on the floor next to them. 

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A - Where the enemy hit me | B - Where I was standing

The game is divided into seven areas, of which you will explore, kill a boss which is normally a massive robot gone rogue, and then travel to the next area. Each area of the game feels new and fresh, this considering that it is a giant compound and not the kingdom of Lothric. I went from being outside and exploring toxic waste dumps, to scouring halls for shortcuts back to my med bay. Now The Surge came naturally to me as an avid Souls fan, many of its mechanics played out just as I expected, and it was a blessing to understand just what was going on. The med bay in the game act as "bonfires" where you level up, equip new tech, and most of all, bank your scrap, which in The Surge is souls. Scrap is the currency that is used to level up and craft items. The more scrap you have, the more you get from enemies. There is a multiplier that increases and at one stage I was getting 2x the scrap, but it was a risk-reward system that would see me lose all my scrap if I died. Just like the Souls series, there is always a chance to go and pick up your scrap, but if you die you lose it all. 

Levelling up Warren increases his Core, which is both a level number and a number of slots he has available for implants. These implants in the game act as buffs and boosts. The higher the boost version, the more Core it takes up. A perfect example of this is the vital boost chip. The chip increases Warren's max health, but the v.3 increases it by 30% compared to 10% found in v.1. Other implants range from the energy gained from attacking to the most important of all, the healing implant that recovers health lost in battle. In the end, I was happy with the chips I installed into Warren, and his overall health and healing abilities. I even had a chip that let me use energy to refill health. 

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Warren's Core acts as his level, which naturally increases his health and overall stats as you level up. The only downside to this is the lack of control over how he levels up. You cannot say focus on health only, and perhaps leave stamina and defence. The game does it for you and I feel that allowing me to focus on specific attributes would have allowed for a deeper customization system. This is not the end of the world (get it), but it did eliminate some of the RPG mechanics that could have been a deeper experience in the end. Items and gear also have layers of stats to them. Armour in specific gives you boost in defence, but at the same time, heavier pieces will increase your overall attack speed and movement. 

Bonfire...I mean medbay 

You can make new armour in your med bay, the only issue, however, is that you first need to find the schematic by slicing it off an enemy's body. Yes, when I mentioned you can get a weapon from an enemy by dismembering the body part, I meant the weapon only. Instead of dropping say, chest piece, the enemy will drop a schematic to the armour, of which you then need to go and find pieces of gear and make it. While this is somewhat fun (not really), it prevented me from ever finding new gear worth picking up. It was tedious and uneventful to have to slice off a piece of armour, and then go and make it in order to equip it. Another issue with this system is that there is never a specific way to find the materials, rather you just need to carry on playing in hopes that you find the crafting items somewhere along the line. 

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Warren also gets a drone later on in the game that lets him use it for special attacks. The drone can be summoned and used at any time, and the drone can also be replaced with other drones that have different abilities. One drone I picked up was a charge drone that rammed into enemies and staggered them, leaving them open for an attack. 

Exploring the CREO compound is a joy at times, as enemies keep you busy, and the environment has all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore. Saying that the enemies do start to repeat themselves and the environment does start to suffer from a "been there done that" feel. That is to say that it was never a major issue, but a little more versatility in design would have been great. Each area in the game is clearly distinguishable from the last, but it starts to look and feel the same after a while. The Surge has this feeling to it which brought back the Dark Souls love. Constantly looking for shortcuts to an area so you did not have to track your steps back to the bonfire, is something so relatable in The Surge, and finally breaking open a door, or unlocking a path back is a sigh of relief. 

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In the end, The Surge was something I could not put down. It was addictive, frustrating, and at times I wanted to toss my controller at the screen. I loved it and hated it, and it all played into the love I have for the Souls series. It has a unique approach to its setting, and some mechanics are different, but anyone who loved Lords of the Fallen, and Dark Souls, will love this. It is something that will keep you busy for a while, and hopefully, they will add a co-op mode soon as that is the only thing missing from the game. 

Take a look at some gameplay of the PS4 Pro version below. 

Available on: PS4, PC, Xbox One | Reviewed on: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 25 April 2017

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