The Surge 2 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 26.09.2019

Review for The Surge 2 on PlayStation 4

What Deck13 has created with The Surge 2 is an exhibition in sequel crafting. When The Surge was originally released in 2017 it was to muted interest, with critics applauding its artistic direction but lamenting its core gameplay, design and technical issues. All of this feedback has been taken into account by the developers and used to improve many of the core features of the game, as well as the titbits that deservedly saw it garner a cult following. In any event, it's great to see this intriguing IP make a return with some fresh changes - albeit with a few persistent annoyances.

Make no mistake, this is a hardcore action RPG that has been heavily influenced by Dark Souls. Soulsborne veterans detest FromSoftware's games being compared to any game with a steep learning curve, and rightly so, but the comparison is unavoidable here. Everything about The Surge 2, from its controls to its gameplay mechanics to its labyrinthine, interconnected map screams Dark Souls. Deck13 are no doubt capitalising on the success of that ultra-hard caste of games but The Surge 2 is anything but a clone - its own distinct voice and vibe are clearly present.

For starters, the setting is very unique: Jericho City is a sprawling vision of a future in which mankind's obsession with technology has taken a sinister turn. Anarchy reigns following a societal breakdown the origins of which are ambiguous at first, and the streets are occupied by cybernetically enhanced psychopaths that have a bone to pick with anything that moves. It's all very tongue-in-cheek but still rather intimidating; while nowhere near as haunting as its genre cohorts, The Surge 2 still manages to forge a distinct atmosphere of intensity, and the bland environments of the original are almost gone entirely as there is now a welcome variety between the main districts. The only disappointment is that the districts of Jericho City are isolated from one another by loading screens.

Unlike the first game, The Surge 2 affords players the opportunity to create their own male or female character. This in itself ties the experience closer to its RPG roots and is a welcome change, even if the customisation is far from versatile. It essentially consists of cycling through presets for each facial feature and has nothing in the way of fine-tuning, which is disappointing but still better than a stock standard character model.

Screenshot for The Surge 2 on PlayStation 4

From the moment gameplay commences it does a great job of making itself immediately accessible. However, the tutorial zone instils a false sense of security by being rather easy: it highlights all the core gameplay mechanics and allows you to test them out before spitting you into a much more difficult zone, whereupon the handholding ceases for the most part. This transition does a great job of eking out every bit of potential in its systems and mechanics as they were first introduced.

Controls-wise, this is a fairly standard hardcore RPG experience, making use of the right bumper and trigger for different forms of attacks - namely horizontal and vertical. The direction of weapon swings is very important, as the limb-targeting system makes a return. Attacking a specific limb requires a certain direction for the swing to be most effective, and if a limb is damaged enough, it can be severed during a brief and very cool animation which differs based on the equipped weapon.

Severing limbs is very important as it gifts the player new armour schematics for that limb, as well as the enemy's weapon in the case that the arm wielding it is cut off. The caveat, however, is that limbs can only be severed by spending a battery charge, a resource that is accrued through dealing damage but is also used to restore health. This means one must strategize when using these battery charges, i.e. "do I spend a charge on severing a limb to get some new gear, or play it smart and save it for a health boost during a tricky encounter around the corner?"

Screenshot for The Surge 2 on PlayStation 4

Needless to say, the combat is extremely addictive, and the animations are awesome. New weapons and gear are always a severed limb or a cleverly hidden path away, and there is some decent variety herein which does a great job of maintaining player interest. Weapons marked as favourites can also be cycled on the fly to tackle each new combat encounter with the most appropriate tool for the job. Additionally, The Surge 2 allows for up to three gear loadouts to be created for different situations, negating the need for mundane inventory management with each new enemy encounter. Implants make a return but unlike in the original, they can be swapped out on the fly without needing to visit a medbay. The number of slots available is directly tied to the character's Core Power, a stat that increases when levelling up and also dictates the armour that can be equipped.

Regarding combat encounters, enemies respawn after every player death or upon leaving an area, as one would expect from this type of game. If you die, you lose acquired Tech Scrap and are revived at the nearest medbay. Dropped Tech Scrap can be collected from the death site, but there is only a limited time in which to do so. This time can be increased by defeating enemies, though, so it's uncommon to actually see it run out as opposed to simply being mauled before you can get to it. An interesting feature is that when in the vicinity of dropped Tech Scrap it provides health regeneration, and when picked up it immediately restores all health. Again, tactical decisions must be made here - the choice between holding off and utilising the health regeneration, and simply picking it up outright to avoid dying and losing it for good is often a difficult one. Deck13 have done very well in taking a familiar mechanic and putting a new spin on it.

Screenshot for The Surge 2 on PlayStation 4

Story-wise, however, the impression is less than positive. Over the course of the 20 to 30-hour experience there is nothing that truly stands out as a storytelling hallmark, and the scriptwriting is bland at best and cringy at worst. Nevertheless, there are some fun side quests that can be picked up during interactions with NPCs, many of whom are engaging and entertaining enough to sit through expositional dialogue with. They are all firmly rooted in the setting and do a great job of bringing Jericho City to life.

There are some disappointing technical issues that hold The Surge 2 back, however. The graphics can be muddied in certain areas with some textures stubbornly refusing to load and this reviewer had a couple of crash issues - nothing game-breaking, thankfully. It simply comes down to a lack of polish and it would not be surprising to see these issues blitzed with a patch or two, but these problems do unfortunately mar first impressions.

The biggest quibble this reviewer had with The Surge 2 was the bland map. A map of Jericho City can occasionally be brought up whenever it is passed during exploration, with a general pin highlighting the current whereabouts of the protagonist. The map is next to useless for navigation though, as no routes are defined on it. It merely consists of a zonal overview with a few key locations dotted here and there. It's clear that Deck13 was trying to keep the navigational aid to a minimum, but it's an annoyance that is most felt when the player becomes lost while trying to navigate to a new area. Thankfully this doesn't happen often, but when it does, its effects are certainly felt.

Issues aside, The Surge 2 is carried on the shoulders of its addictive gameplay loop and its fantastic innovation upon core genre principles. It's an ambitious title that does its best to one-up its predecessor and it's a joy to play even despite its technical issues. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that it's one of those games that reminds you why it is you play them in the first place - on an elementary level, it's simply a fun and addictive experience.

Screenshot for The Surge 2 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The Surge 2 rises above both its technical limitations and its predecessor to set itself apart in the action RPG genre. It could even be debated that it makes a case for being lumped in with its genre cohorts - a case that is strong indeed thanks to its innovation and willingness to change and improve upon the foundations set in the first game. While it flits in and out of being a smooth-sailing and sleekly presented package, it nevertheless provides a walloping good time and can't be faulted for its enjoyable combat and exploration, navigation issues aside.

Developer

Deck13

Publisher

Focus Home Interactive

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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