Although I’m sure it’s a given for the genre by the now, it’s worth reiterating that The Surge 2 is a hard game.
Perhaps not as excruciatingly difficult as the works of Hidetaka Miyazaki and the FromSoftware team that it blatantly takes influence from, but one that still hits like the hind legs of a particularly angry horse on a potent course of anabolic steroids. If you know these games aren’t for you, The Surge 2 is not the exception. It will kick your backside frequently and leave you clenching your controller in silent rage, but, as is common with the better entries in the “Soulsborne” genre, The Surge 2 makes you want to keep coming back for another round.
Its fluid and responsive combat, rewarding level of challenge, and intense boss fights stand as some of the best outside of FromSoftware’s exceptional portfolio, creating an experience that’s as equally satisfying as it is brutally demanding. You will die, but as is often the case when these games are done right, every failure will make you stronger, smarter and more in tune with the game’s deep set of systems. When The Surge 2 clicks for you – and it will – there’s an addictive gameplay loop here that incentivises your pain with a blissful sense of pride most games can never instil.
If you aren’t familiar with the previous game, the story follows a dystopian future in which humanity is struggling with depleting resources and the emergence of intelligent (and deadly) AI. The Surge 2 picks the story up after the events of the last game in a city known as Jericho, where a mysterious plane crash has sent the city into hysteria. You play as an unnamed survivor of the crash (who you can entirely customise), waking up two months after the event to find Jericho in chaos and its inhabitants driven mad.
Unfortunately, its story is far from riveting, but not for the reasons you expect. While this genre has always taken a majorly hands-off approach to traditional narrative structure in favour of a foreboding, quasi-horror atmosphere, The Surge 2 tries to play its narrative more explicitly. It ends up overdoing it as a result. Dialogue exchanges are frequent and overbearing, while the uninteresting plot doesn’t expand enough to warrant its spotlight. It’s a bold effort to try and integrate a fully-fledged narrative into a genre that’s always opposed it, and some new narrative-centric additions like side-quests are definitely welcome, but there’s not enough depth behind the storytelling for it to work.
Luckily, the engaging combat makes up for the downtime of the story. Much like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s kinetic combat system, The Surge 2 manages to move away entirely from the dodge-and-attack systems that plague most games of its ilk. This is down to a few new systems and mechanics. One of the more impressive is the directional block. In a change from the original game, blocking now tasks you with matching the direction of an enemy’s attack to pull off a perfect parry, opening them up to massive damage and windows of time where they’re defenceless. It takes some time to master, but similarly to Sekiro’s deflection system, it makes for some really intuitive combat encounters that reward a skilful blend of aggressive and defensive play.
The limb targeting system also makes a return, and it’s easily one of the most interesting elements of The Surge 2’s core gameplay loop. Fighting enemies, you can target a specific area of their body to weaken and eventually dismember it. Manage to remove a body part and you get to keep whatever was on it prior to violently detaching from its host, whether that be weapons, armour or buffs. It’s a unique and engaging way to build your arsenal, and one that makes you weigh the most efficient method of killing a foe against the worth of their gear. Even bosses can drop specific gear upon dismemberment, making learning their attack patterns even more crucial.
Speaking of which, The Surge 2’s boss fights are easily the most entertaining test of your skills in the entire game. Much like Miyazaki’s horrific visions in Dark Souls, these enemies are superbly designed, fun to fight and, most importantly, make you sweat buckets. From a giant tentacled robot to a massive mechanical dog-like creature, these stand as the seminal moments of The Surge 2, testing your ability to learn attack patterns, defend against massive strikes and pick up on an enemy’s certain tells. While these Soulsborne bosses are gargantuan tests of strength, they’re also where these games shine brightest, and The Surge 2’s selection of massive foes are no exception. Some are weaker than others and there are a few too many variations of normal enemies made into bosses, but for the most part, you’ll crave hearing the music ramp up as a health bar fades into view atop the screen.
The Surge 2 isn’t exactly perfect outside its boss encounters. Some of its areas can drop from challenging to cheap very quickly, the game throwing numerous enemies at you in a confined space knowing full well you’ll fail through being stuck in a corner rather than overwhelmed. This becomes especially annoying because switching between enemies with the lock on feels as stiff as Sylvester Stallone’s acting. Getting trapped locking onto an opponent’s right leg while their mate is hammering you in the back of the head with a brick is surprisingly frequent, but without using lock on, you can’t see the directional block cues. It’s somewhat essential.
Quick changing gear is also needlessly fiddly, a button switching out your current weapon to the bottom of your pile (so, usually your weakest one) sits right next to the button that equips drone ammo. For a game like this, fiddling with the lock on and your gear can lead to lost progress, so grappling with these quickly becomes one of the game’s worst features.
As mentioned at the start of this review, if you don’t like these games, The Surge 2 isn’t going to change your mind. It’s a tough game that takes time to get to grips with and, while it’s definitely more approachable than FromSoftware’s games, it’s still going to hand you your dignity on a platter.
However, if you like these games, The Surge 2 is definitely one of the better derivatives out there. The combat is fluid and fun, the bosses are challenging and, most importantly, it’s infinitely satisfying to play. While FromSoftware has seen a lot of games try to replicate their formula, The Surge 2 is arguably the best attempt to date.
Game: The Surge 2
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: September 24, 2019