Holding Back Nanogeddon

HIGH The Nanotech Cult’s power plant stronghold.

LOW The boss featured on the cover art is ludicrously annoying.

WTF Hey, is that the star of the first game?!

2017’s The Surge brought Soulslike gameplay to a near-future setting, and did so with a decent amount of style. Set in a brutal world of exo-suited grunts violently dismembering one another, the interesting look and solid combat was undercut by baffling boss design and locations so bland and repetitive that they were nearly impossible to navigate. With The Surge 2, the developers take another swing at the subject matter and score a far more impactful hit.

The Surge 2 opens during the events of the previous game, with the player waking up from a coma to find themselves in a shattered city full of desperate scavengers, hostile government troops, and terrifying beasts grown from the nanotechnology anomaly that kicked off the original Surge. The player’s mission is to explore the crumbling city, gather the resources they’ll need to upgrade and survive, and find some way to stop this techno-apocalypse.

While the main character isn’t interesting — players build their own mute avatar — the story they’re at the center of is a compelling one.

Where the first Surge showed the immediate aftermath of a horrible cataclysm, The Surge 2 takes place months later, where the people trapped inside the quarantined city have built their own tiny society. Whether it’s mad scientists working on a cure, rich dilettantes hiding from threats in a swanky hotel, or doomsday cultists embracing the end of everything, the campaign is littered with characters to chat with, audiolog backstories and side-stories fleshing out the world. It’s definitely a more robust and fleshed-out narrative than before.

As with all descendants of the Dark Souls legacy, careful, stamina-based third-person combat is the name of the game here, although this game is more forgiving than most in the genre.

After a brief tutorial teaching attacking, defending and stamina, players are handed a implant — it’s one of the interchangeable ‘mods’ that the character’s exo-skeleton can use to unlock new abilities. This particular one shows them the direction enemy attacks are coming from, as well as whether or not those attacks can be blocked.

Starting players off with this ability is a great move by the developers, as it’s essentially a study guide to help learn enemy attack patterns. The dedicated (or masochistic) are free to uninstall the implant at any time, but I found The Surge 2‘s willingness to help me block and deflect attacks incredibly useful, instantly catapulting it into being one of the most accessible Soulslikes.

Another major improvement can be found in the map design. This new fallen city is a huge improvement over the sterile, anonymous industrial areas of the previous installment.

After just a few minutes in each new zone I was able to navigate with very little trouble, and the level designers have apparently taken the lessons of Dark Souls to heart by building verticall- interconnected levels full of unlockable shortcuts. Thanks to this, players are never more than a couple of minutes away from the med-labs that serve as save points and upgrade stations.

Each region also has a completely different look — there’s a ravaged downtown core, docks held together by crudely-rigged maintenance, a forest park where foes hide in the underbrush, and more. Only a trip to a comparatively bland cave system stands out as anything but a pleasure to visit.

The arsenal in The Surge 2 is a huge strength, offering a shocking variety of armaments thanks to eight different weapon classes, all with their own movesets and half a dozen variants in each. There’s a weapon for every playstyle here — huge heavy clubs, light punching daggers, swords, and even staves for martial arts enthusiasts. Players will find these new weapons everywhere by cutting off enemy limbs, completing sidequests, or even just carefully searching nooks and crannies.

With many differences in attack speed, power, and elemental effects, combat options are nearly limitless. The Surge 2 even allows players to choose how to play the game on a more fundamental level. Defensive players have the robust blocking system, while those who like to take the fight to the enemy have a reward of their own — every successful attack charges up energy that powers their healing circuits, allowing them to keep going even as they take all the punishment their enemies can give out.

With great combat and environments, The Surge 2‘s only real flaw is how sloppy the quest system can feel.

At any point, the player will have a main questline to follow as well as up to three or four sidequests. The problem is that there’s next to no guidance about how to find object of those quests. Most of the time I found myself enjoying the exploration and combat enough that I simply stumbled into the next goal, but I often found myself utterly baffled by the lack of direction on where I was supposed to go.

It’s rare to see a project as desperate for a map and objective markers as The Surge 2 is — juggling four different objectives is difficult at the best of times, but when players have no idea what direction the next clue lies in, it can start feeling impossible. This is especially galling because there’s absolutely no reason for the lack of a map. Players aren’t controlling a zombie dropped into a long-dead medieval city, they’re playing a character who literally has a computerized exoskeleton wired into their nervous system. I can only imagine the kind of superpowered GPS that must exist in such a future…

Despite that significant flaw, The Surge 2 is a thrilling ride from beginning to end. The foes are a joy to battle, the maps are built to invite and reward exploration, and the story offers just enough intrigue to keep the player hooked until the final battle. It’s wonderful to see developers taking a hard look at the successes and failures of their previous effort and ensuring that the sequel surpasses it in every way.

(Hopefully they can get the map situation sorted out before the third Surge, though.)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Deck13 and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is currently available on PC, XBO and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Intense Violence, Strong Language, Blood and Gore, and Drug Reference. No kids anywhere near this game — I can’t stress that strongly enough. Setting aside that the main combat mechanic is dismembering living human beings, there’s plenty of other borderline content. Cannibalism, excessive drinking, harsh language, and a storyline that features deadly experiments being performed on children. No kids. Seriously.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game’s combat and exploration are completely playable without audio. You will be ambushed more than people who can hear the clank of approaching foes, but it’s not a deal-breaker. On the other hand, this game has some of the worst subtitles I’ve ever encountered. Not only are they incredibly small, but the developers have made the baffling choice to only list which character is speaking when the player is actually in a room with that character. If they’re listening to an audiolog, no matter how many characters are speaking on that recording, every line is simply attributed to ‘audiolog’. This is a baffling choice that makes figuring out the story far harder than it should have been.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable, but lefties can swap movement and camera sticks if they want!

Daniel Weissenberger
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