The Surge 2 Review - Compellingly Vicious, Satisfyingly Difficult

The sequel to Deck13's sleeper Souls-like is an improvement in every way, and may very well be one of the best action RPGs I've played this year.
9.5
  • Playstation 4
  • Windows
  • Xbox One
  • Action
  • Action-Adventure
  • Hack and Slash
  • Open World
  • RPG
2019-09-24
TS2 Opener
Be it titans or humanoid enemies, The Surge 2 goes out of its way to make you feel like the ultimate Terminator-like badass - if you can handle the high difficulty, that is. Focus Home Interactive

In a vicious cacophony of stylistic violence and over-the-top dismemberment, Deck13’s The Surge 2 proves itself to be a worthwhile contender to the action RPG genre. It’s compelling, engaging, and incredibly challenging; the trait that surprised me, however, was that it’s also incredibly fulfilling. I’ve played a ton of games over the past few months, and I can confidently say that there’s none that matched the thrill of powering through and ultimately beating The Surge 2 . It’s the kind of game that will quietly surpass your every expectation, the sleeper that every studio wants to have and the sadomasochistic fantasy every hardcore player wants to subject themselves to.

While there are some parts here and there that are certainly questionable, with the occasional jank I’ve come to expect from the studio’s works, The Surge 2 is a perfect representation of a good idea gathering enough steam to turn everything around in a nearly flawless execution. In my nearly forty hours of playing, I’ve come to appreciate how much of an improvement The Surge 2 is over its predecessors. If Lords of the Fallen felt too clunky for you, and if The Surge felt like it lacked a proper hook and some polish, then The Surge 2 is easily a must-play, a culmination of every single thing that was missing in Deck13’s previous titles.

Gameplay

TS2 Gameplay
The Surge 2 is a semi-open world third-person action RPG. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The Surge 2 brings much of what it introduced in The Surge in terms of gameplay and turns it up several notches, while trimming down on the unnecessary fluff. It is a solid sequel for fans of the original, and also serves as a good starting point to anyone who found the first to be somewhat tedious.Combat is as vicious as ever, but streamlined to be less taxing and tedious. It’s not by any means easier, but now most of the challenge can be attributed to the actual fight itself, rather than the clunk and jank that plagued its predecessor. Wielding weapons feels incredibly weighty, and soaking it all in to experiment with everything you can do is preferable to running away and playing the defensive game.

The first big shift was The Surge 2’s role-playing aspect. The Surge saw you playing as Warren, a paraplegic on his first day at a tech company called CREO when an accident occurs that turns the place into a living nightmare. In The Surge 2, you create your own protagonist, who is one of two survivors of a plane crash that’s directly related to the events of the first game. You get to choose a proper backstory, appearance, gender and all the other minor details of your character. It’s a pretty good shift overall, since it ties you better to the protagonist, but I found the character creator itself to be a bit lacking. It’s serviceable, but once you get into the game itself you realize that most of the characters share the same facial structure as you, which is kind of jarring to say the least.

TS2 Locale
The setting has changed from the dank, cold and dark facilities of CREO to the much more expansive Jericho City. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The locale is also a very welcome change, as The Surge 2 moves to the sprawling Jericho City, a center for growing dissent between various factions and the birthplace of CREO itself. After stumbling around in the dark in the depths of a CREO facility for a large portion of The Surge, the open streets and colorful sights of Jericho City in The Surge 2 are a welcomed change. It’s not much larger than the map of the original, but for the most part map size wasn’t really the driving force for the series as opposed to how dense it can be in terms of content. The Surge 2 is filled with interconnected paths, tight streets leading to different hubs, secret areas, and perhaps the most welcome of all, safe zones for a reprieve. The semi-open world is filled with several different hubs, each representing a major part of the small city. I’ve always been a fan of smaller maps like these that eschew expansiveness over density, and it worked doubly for The Surge 2 because of the many secrets and winding paths you take on your quest.

For the bulk of The Surge 2, your only option for travelling is by walking to and from the various hubs within the greater city area, which can be a bit tedious if you don’t know where you’re going. For my part, I didn’t find that many problems with it, especially seeing as there are tons of shortcuts to unlock to make travelling less of a hassle, in addition to the relatively smaller scale of the map.

There is also more side content to sift through in The Surge 2, which really enriched my first playthrough by immersing me further into the finer details of what is happening in Jericho City. While there were some distractions in The Surge that made for a nice change of pace away from the main storyline, it was mostly added post-launch as DLC. This time around, the developers populated Jericho City with interesting people that flesh out more of the backstory of the city and its inhabitants. The world feels more alive and natural, and some of these characters are often very interestingly written, with some decent rewards offered for completing their storylines.

TS2 Menu
A huge variety of equipment and weapons are available at your disposal. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The Surge 2 also includes a ton of improvements over the original formula that really help the game come into its own. The entire role-playing mechanic looks a bit basic on the outside, but it really does its job well. You use collected scrap to upgrade your core module, and for every level you get two points to spend in either your Health, Stamina, or Energy. It’s very intuitive despite its simplicity, leaving a lot of the finer tuning and adjustments to the equipment you use.

One of the highlights of The Surge 2, of course, is its variety of equipment and how much fine tuning and min-maxing you can do with it. As with its predecessor, The Surge 2 allows you to outfit your character’s RIG exoskeleton with different armor for each limb and body part. All in all, you can have six pieces installed at any given time: one each for the legs and arms, one for the body, and one for your head. Each piece carries different stats, and can also belong to a set which grants specific bonuses at either three or six pieces. The resulting system allows players to really cater their build to a specific playstyle, from tough pieces of armor to form an unbreakable bulwark or streamlined pieces for fast evasion and movement.

Where The Surge 2 really shines, however, is its implementation of combat mechanics and its huge variety of different weapon archetypes. Like the original, The Surge 2’s combat works with a limb-based mechanic that allows you to target specific body parts to weaken. Focusing on different body parts have different effects, but for the most part it encourages players to target armored ones in order to get better equipment. Once a specific limb is weakened enough, you can perform an animation to cut off the limb and, should the limb be armored, gain its blueprints and materials for crafting the respective equipment. In a pinch, you can also target unarmored limbs in order to deal more damage, but at the cost of not receiving any blueprints or materials.

TS2 Dismember
Sometimes, killing enemies isn't enough. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The resulting system is an eruption of beautiful and well-animated dismemberment, which is the most fun you can get from playing The Surge 2. There are a number of different animations for each corresponding weapon and limb being dismembered, and they are all gloriously well-done, exploding with gore and gratuitous violence that taps into a primal sense for those who play. It doesn’t have to explain how over the top it is, or how unbelievably complicated some of them are, but we understand it anyway. It’s an amazing, yet very deliberate attempt to make itself – and the player by extension – look extremely cool while killing enemies, and it works really well in that regard.

Besides the combat itself, there’s a lot of fulfillment to be had in collecting and upgrading different kinds of weapons, each with its own unique move sets, strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure that in time there will be an agreed upon best weapon out there for those who will try to ultimately speedrun this game or perhaps do challenge runs of it, but it’s also set apart by the fact that you can finish The Surge 2 with whatever weapon you want to use. Combat is extremely approachable in this regard despite its overall difficulty, owing to the fact that you can go with whatever weapon you’re comfortable with and finish the game revolving around your own particular play style.

Armor and weapons aside, The Surge 2 also brings back the drone from the original with some minor quality of life changes. The drone now works on an ammo or cooldown system rather than being tied directly to your energy bar, which makes using it much more liberally a viable option. You can attach a number of gadgets to it to cater to specific situations, such as a rifle for long-range sniping, a grenade launcher for groups of enemies, or even one that shoots out shock bolts to temporarily stun enemies. You can also choose to revolve some play styles around the usage of drones, as some equipment sets give out bonuses like additional ammo cells or damage when used accordingly.

TS2 Deflect
Directional blocking is a high-risk high-reward mechanic that forces players to play aggressively and counter-reactively. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

After considerable time with it, I’d say that The Surge 2 is overall easier than The Surge, mostly because of the streamlining and less overall clunky feel of combat and movement. Compared to its predecessor, The Surge 2’s controls feel more responsive and easier to handle, with a bit more leeway for dodging and blocking to give casual players an easier time. It does, however, mix things up a bit in terms of difficulty with the introduction of directional blocking, a high-risk, high-reward move that every player should ultimately aim to master. Used correctly, it provides a ton of damage; time it wrong, and you’ll lose more stamina than if you’ve simply dodged the attack. It’s a great mechanic that encourages players who want a bit more challenge to play more aggressively. It also feels incredibly satisfying to pull off.

There are, of course, quite a few mishaps when it comes to the difficulty. For the last one-third of the game, gameplay devolves down to where you’re constantly swarmed by enemies rather than having to face them methodically in strategic locations. I found this to be very artificial and somewhat disappointing in comparison to the relatively even handling of the difficulty for the game’s first two thirds, where enemies are challenging, but the difficulty comes from how they spawn and what moves they bring to the table. It’s not particularly troubling if you’ve familiarized yourself with the combat already, but still this is kind of a letdown especially when you compare it with the rest of the game that takes a “hard but fair” stance.

Story

TS2 Coma
Overall story is somewhat formulaic, but the grounded characters make everything better. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

In terms of its overall narrative, The Surge 2 is somewhat good, although it’s a bit lacking in some areas. The characters will keep you relatively engaged, and the actual premise is good, but after all the secrets have been revealed, there are some very noticeable gaps within the story that only lead to more questions.

(Some minor spoilers for both The Surge and The Surge 2 follow).

The game is a continuation of the original The Surge, which takes place in a dystopian future where the world’s resources are at the point of exhaustion. With the advancement of technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones, and other working robots, the human workforce has been rendered almost obsolete, forcing a majority to turn to various augmentations and exoskeletons in order to keep up as an efficient equivalent.

The events of The Surge focus on Warren, a paraplegic who also happens to be a new employee on his first day at CREO, one of the leading tech conglomerates in the world. Following a titular power surge which bonds him painfully to a RIG, he wakes up to the aftermath of what can only be described as a catastrophe, with CREO now in ruins and plagued with other deranged employees and rogue robots. Throughout his journey in the facility, he learns of CREO’s secrets which culminates in an effort to stop a rocket filled with nanites from detonation in the atmosphere.

TS2 Detonation
The events of The Surge 2 follow the bad ending of The Surge. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The events of The Surge 2 begin almost immediately following what is considered the “bad ending” of The Surge. The rocket successfully detonates in the atmosphere, forcing  a plane carrying your protagonist to crash landing in Jericho City. Awakening from a coma two months after the incident, your protagonist finds the city in disarray and in the midst of an evacuation as the threat from a huge nanite cloud looms over Jericho City, affecting its many citizens in sinister and violent ways. Your own journey will introduce you to the various factions within the city, all vying for control as the perceived end of the world via technological annihilation is at hand. At the center of it all is a little girl named Athena, who was with you during the plane crash and who may very well hold the power to save civilization, or bring it to its inevitable ruin.

Much of what happens next runs within a set framework, but some decisions you make throughout the story ultimately affect the other citizens of Jericho City. The story itself is also a bit more straightforward in its presentation, with various NPCs and your protagonist’s visions filling in the blanks of what happened over the past two months. This is in direct contrast with The Surge, where much of the story played out via audio logs found in the CREO facility, which could lead to some missing out on details if they did not happen across some of the logs.

TS2 Stranger
The Stranger may be more familiar than he seems. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

It’s a pretty compelling narrative with a lot of deeper themes to be recognized, such as messiah complex, humanity, apathy, and the ultimate decay of society. Some characters are also very well-written, despite coming off as rather cartoonish and cheesy in their initial motivations. That said, there’s a lot to be desired once the credit rolls, especially as it felt like a lot of the questions posed in The Surge remain unanswered, even more so once they were reintroduced in The Surge 2.

For what it’s worth, The Surge 2’s narrative only acted as a temporary distraction from the gameplay, which is what made the title a masterpiece. It offers quite a few branching paths which will end the game in multiple ways, depending on your choices. The addition of certain callbacks to The Surge was also pretty cool, and without going into more spoilers there’s a character here that is integral to one of the game’s endings, who was probably my favorite.

Art direction, enemy design and sound design

TS2 Delver
The Delver, which killed me an ungodly amount of times during our first encounter, is one of the best bosses in the game. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

Overall, The Surge 2’s art direction is pretty great. It’s a good mix of the near future, blending in some of the modern sensibilities we have now with a realistic look at what we could be getting a few decades from now. Jericho City feels very much alive despite being almost desolate of friendly faces, and that can be owed to the proper setup of its buildings and the way its many smaller details were designed.

Enemy design is a bit lacking, especially when it comes to the bosses. There are 13 main bosses in The Surge 2, with two more of them being somewhat optional given the route you take. Of those 13 bosses, eight of them are human archetypes. It’s a bit of a shame, too, considering that the bosses were quite fun to fight against, but some of them are just retreading old grounds instead of being unique. That said, the mobs are better in terms of variety, with each area spawning different kinds of enemies to face, all with distinguishing traits, weapons, and move sets.

Sound design is pretty good, with slashes, hacks, thuds, and other gore-related audio sounding particularly crisp and effective. There are also certain beeps here and there that act as reminders or prompts for various button presses, which is really effective in making sure that most of your vision is trained on the combat instead of the HUD. Unfortunately, the music is lacking and forgettable. As a matter of fact, I just put some of my own music on to keep me pumped in the constant fighting.

Technical performance

I played The Surge 2 on a PC, and for full disclosure, the copy I played was an early release from publisher Focus Home Interactive. I came across two full crashes and a couple of freezes, especially in certain areas of the game, but other than that it ran pretty solidly without stutters and issues. The animation jank and visual glitches are still there, but it’s not nearly as much of a hindrance to overall gameplay and are problems that should get patched out in the final release or shortly after launch. The game also runs very smoothly at higher settings and resolutions, with some very in-depth visual settings for those who want to run the game at the highest frames or quality possible.

Overall

TS2 Overall
Deck13's best yet. Photo: Focus Home Interactive

The third time really is the charm for Deck13, as after two good premises the studio has managed to put out a compelling title that improves on previous worthwhile formulas. The Surge 2 is certainly very challenging, and there are still some minor problems within, but it powers through these by capitalizing on the absolutely insane combat mechanics and the wide variety of tactics and styles you can play with. If you are a big fan of The Surge, or are looking for your next ‘git gud’ title, then The Surge 2 easily takes the proverbial cake as one of the best action RPGs of the year, limbs down.

REVIEW SUMMARY
The Surge 2
9.5
The Surge 2 Review - Compellingly Vicious, Satisfyingly Difficult
The Surge 2 is a perfect example of a sequel done right, and in this case Deck13 hit it out of the park to deliver an enhanced action-packed experience with the coolest-feeling combat and a great difficulty curve to match. While not entirely flawless, the sum of all its parts is a game worth the price tag and play time, as The Surge 2 steps out of the shadows of Souls-likes and into its own as a standout action RPG, one of the best I've played this year.
  • Exceptional combat mechanics.
  • Well-implemented RPG system.
  • Interesting level design, dense and filled with secrets and hidden routes.
  • Good difficulty curve, extremely tough at times but completely fair.
  • Improved storyline, with much more interesting characters.
  • Fair bit of replay value.
  • Great art, enemy and world design.
  • Forgettable music.
  • Some technical issues like animation jank and visual bugs.
  • Constant backtracking may prove to be tedious to some people.
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