In today’s gaming landscape, you might be forgiven for never having heard of Dark Souls, but you would definitely be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t played a game either directly inspired or affected by it. Enter The Surge 2, a tactical hack- and-slash experience that follows hot off the heels of its predecessor, bringing across all of the things you loved and adding even more gory goodness. While it’s far from perfect, The Surge 2 improves on many aspects introduced in the first title, adding more enemies, weapons, moves, characters and cinematic moments. There are things The Surge 2 can’t properly translate at times, although with good intentions, that the original simply did better.
The Surge 2 abruptly begins as you create a character, with varying degrees of customisation. While I didn’t mind what was on offer here, I found that for a man with a lengthy beard and a man bun, my appearance could not be replicated on these 2 fronts. For shame. Once the game begins however, players are thrust into the world of Jericho City, a run down wasteland, ravaged after a plane crash unleashed sentient robots known as Nanites, which brought the city to its knees. You awaken in a prison facility at the worst possible time, with the task of fighting your way out of a riot, to explore the wasteland that lies beyond. I didn’t mind the world The Surge 2 created, and with an interesting backstory I found Jericho City had enough to explore, but compared to the CREO Facility of the first game, I found the five main sectors of Jericho City to blend into meaningless back-alleys and trashy streets. Although the flashy neon signs and bright colours do well to brighten up your surroundings with a dash of colour, something that was missing from the first title, you could argue The Surge 2 does a better job of gluing the pieces of its world together. But the CREO Facility of the first game divided sectors drastically, and while they weren’t necessarily connected, they were more memorable. There are parts of The Surge 2 which definitely differentiated themselves from the repetitive landscapes, like Gideon’s Rock for example, which acted as a place aimed at preserving nature’s beauty. This section was absolutely stunning, but while this was a welcome change, I found that I wasn’t spending nearly as enough time in these places compared to those overused city streets.
Where The Surge 2 succeeds consistently however, is in its combat. The Surge 2 brings back the tactical souls-like hack-and-slash combat of the first title, which plays similarly enough, with the exception of a healthy dose of icing on the combat cake. The combat is, at its core, very much the same as it was in the The Surge. Players must dodge, block and manoeuvre around various enemies, only to strike at the right time and chain combos all while managing their stamina bar. But the defining factor in The Surge was the ability to select and target specific body parts, in order to weaken them and deliver the finishing blow. Some enemies may have certain sections covered by armour, which make The Surge 2’s combat one of brute force and tactical choice depending on the scenario. This time around however, combat is considerably deeper thanks to added weapons, attacks and gear. Choosing what weapon to use is part of the fun, as while each weapon you collect deals different levels of damage, they also handle differently. Single and double handed blades allow for a balance blend of speed and damage, while huge two-handed hammers deal all the damage, and move like a turtle. The multiple challenges the combat presented were varied and engaging, with boss battles presenting players with the most complete combat experience, where they must balance between selecting and dismembering the right body parts, all while choosing the most effective weapon for the job. The boss battles themselves were also highlights for me simply because of their implementation; bigger and better. The Surge had similar encounters, but these are on steroids.
While combat is arguably the biggest draw of the game, The Surge 2 rounds it all out with a challenging yet addictive rogue-like gameplay loop, where players must traverse the land from one med-bay to the next. Each med-bay acts as a beacon of sorts, saving your progress while allowing you to upgrade and modify your character. Between each journey, you’ll take on enemies to scavenge for Tech Scrap (XP) in order to improve your cybernetic suit of armour. Part of the addiction is progressing further and further with each attempt, as you learn the layout of the land, and improve your combat abilities. I must admit that the difficulty can become incredibly frustrating at times, with huge difficulty spikes in the form of completely armoured enemies that take incredibly long to take down, while exploration can lead you to many places without a med-bay in between. However, The Surge 2 also attempts to reward your hard work, by allowing you to track down all the goods and scrap you found on your last run by returning to the location of your last death within a set time. Killing multiple enemies also builds up a scrap multiplier, which puts you in a tricky position, deciding between rushing to the next med-bay, or sticking it out for extra scrap.
Enemy variety also shakes things up in The Surge 2. Apart from the bosses, certain enemies now posses both guns and shields, requiring extra tact and manoeuvrability at every turn. Shielded enemies require powerful blows which must be charged at the cost of all your stamina, while ranged enemies must be tracked down with multiple dodges and dashes in order to turn the tides. I found that all these aspects layered so nicely in creating an experience that understands exactly what made it so satisfying in the first place, all while adding touches only if they serve the core gameplay. The added ability to create certain load outs and swap them at will only aids in taking down each enemy type. For the sake of variety, The Surge 2 also adds various social elements, as players can find graffiti tags from other players who have waled in the same path, alerting players to areas of interest. Players can also engage in multiple conversations with NPC’s, which help build the surrounding world and add context to the story. The only issue I had here was that some characters were far more interesting than others, with some giving you hints and tips to bypass certain enemies, while some only serve to complain about things completely irrelevant to the story, wasting your time.
Overall, The Surge 2 is still an improvement over the original, and while I prefer the world of the original over the sequel, The Surge 2 does too much to flesh out and improve the core gameplay experience. There’s a heap of fun and interesting additions, and while the story does’t necessarily break new ground, strong and varied combat keeps things fresh, while boss battles provide players with interesting character models and interesting ways to take each of them down. If you weren’t a fan of The Surge when it came out, the sequel is definitely worth jumping on board for, as second time could very well be the charm.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Tactical, varied and satisfying combat; Epic boss battles; Enemy variety
Lowlights: Repetitive open world; Difficulty spikes can be frustrating
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on Playstation 4 with a retail code provided by the publisher.