Developer Deck 13 is so, so close to putting out a good video game. After failing to capitalize on the clear potential of The Surge, the studio is back with a sequel that is bigger and better in almost every way, but it continues to slightly miss the mark in one too many key areas. The Surge 2 will satisfy those looking for their next Souls-like dosage, but a shift in focus to a more open world framework brings about a new set of problems the original never faced.
While the experience is indeed a lot like the franchise that put From Software on the map, it’s actually more akin to Bloodborne than anything else. Much like the first outing, you do have the option of blocking attacks, but it’s best left forgotten about as dodging the swings of enemies is a far better way of preserving health. What makes this series unique, however, has been lifted wholesale and baked into the follow-up.
Combat once again revolves around targeting specific limbs on combatants and dismembering them. That is, if you desire the particular weapon they were holding or the crafting materials to upgrade a piece of armour that would be placed on that body part. The mechanic itself hasn’t changed in the slightest, which it just about gets away with since no other title in the genre has replicated or improved upon it. Still, one or two new features or ways to sever body from limb would have gone a long way to making engagements feel fresh.
Thankfully, one mechanic has been tweaked enough to the point where it changes how you engage enemies and tackle boss fights. Once again using Bloodborne as a reference point, the game takes the act of regaining a piece of your health by attacking the foe that has just damaged you and cranks it up to 11. The Surge 2’s health system is based entirely around being on the offensive as much as possible as successful hits and blows build up a battery meter which can be traded in for life regeneration at opportune moments.
You can either use the heal immediately once the meter reaches a certain point or bank it for later, and it’s this that completely changes how you go about conquering tougher adversaries. Instead of entering battle knowing you have the chance to heal 10 times and that’s that, you can actually factor in the possibility of taking hits because you’re likely to come out the other side better off. Dash in and take a couple of swipes at a boss, but despite them slicing your health bar in half, you’re better for it with two more heals in the bank that can be used as you retreat. It’s a genuinely genius idea that throws caution to the wind and allows you to adopt a more freeing, aggressive playstyle.
That, combined with what is still a robust combat system, is the game’s shining beacon. Despite the familiarity, we thoroughly enjoyed our time levelling up, slotting new abilities into our build, and upgrading weapons and armour to make sure we could go toe to toe with some of the game’s tougher enemies. The number of boss fights has more than doubled when compared to the 2017 effort, each employing various tactics and mechanics that makes every encounter fairly unique.
One of the original title’s biggest flaws was its boring, bland environments. Filled with factory-like corridors that all managed to look disappointingly alike, the sequel ditches the aesthetic completely for the semi-open world of Jericho City. It’s a lot better off for it, too, because the hubbub and attractions that come with a city centre make for many more varied locations. The downtown area is in ruins, but just off to the side is a lush forest filled with secrets to unearth. A neon-themed bar separates the two districts, while late-game locations repurpose high-rise buildings as places of worship. It’s a much, much more interesting world to explore but actually navigating it is a lot harder than you might think.
The game seems to be caught in two minds over whether to be accessible to the player or completely vague in its objectives. A log screen details your main tasks and side quests, but they often use location names that aren’t actually on the map. It makes working out where you need to go next a tough task at times, made even worse by the fact that you can’t access plans of the city at any time. The map is only displayed when moving between locations via a load screen or when you come across a physical one on the streets of Jericho City, and even then it’s not a particularly helpful guide.
We were left trawling the roads and side alleys for any sort of clue that would detail where to go next, with only a vague idea of which direction we should be headed. Clues can be found in the objective descriptors, but the map doesn’t follow up by aiding you in uncovering them. We’re not asking for quest markers to be plastered across the screen, but it feels like the two features are almost at odds with one another.
The narrative isn’t one to remember either. After creating your own character, you awaken from a coma weeks after being shot down in an aeroplane over Jericho City. With visions of a girl taken away by the military who was on the plane with you, the only reasonable port of call is to seek her out and find out what has happened in the time you spent on your deathbed.
It just isn’t particularly enthralling, and no number of side quests and narrative beats managed to make us care about what was going on. It’s one of those games that’ll have you skipping through dialogue before you know it as another unimportant NPC gives you an optional task to complete.
While the story fails to capture the imagination, it’s the game’s technical performance that’ll have you asking serious questions. It neither looks nor runs particularly well, with constant screen tearing and a fluctuating frame rate that interrupts the action even on PS4 Pro. Visuals and textures look muddy from a distance, but then nothing looks incredibly detailed up close either.
The Surge 2 is brimming with minor gameplay and technical issues that threaten to spoil the broth on a constant basis, but the game’s combat system and varied locations do just enough to push them to the back of your mind. When the going gets tough, the experience shines with a genius take on health regeneration and brutal, gory takedowns that are just as satisfying to perform as it is to whittle an enemy into submission. It can’t hold a candle to a From Software joint, but The Surge 2 will satisfy those champing at the bit for the next take on the genre.