Platform: Xbox One, PS4
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Deck 13
Fortunately, or unfortunately, The Surge 2 did not have a whole lot riding on it at release. The first game was relatively well-received when it came out in 2017. I said that The Surge felt like a ?learning experience? for the developers back then and genuinely looked forward to what they ended up releasing next. Fast forward to 2019, and we have The Surge 2, which ends up being a worthy, albeit not better, successor to the original. Fundamentally, The Surge 2 remains the same as the original, with the rest, fight, rinse and repeat action of all the Souls-like games in the last 10 years. You rest at Medbays, go out and fight some bad guys, then either make it to a new Medbay or return to the original to rest and spend your XP before setting out again. This now tried and true formula works, as I have come to expect it will. The Surge 2 does a better job of making a more deeply designed world, with areas looping back onto themselves as time goes on like the original Dark Souls, making it much less linear in design than the original game.
Unfortunately, that depth of design does not carry over to the actual story, which ends up being narrow and quite frankly, a bit boring. The addition of side quests does little to add to the world in any meaningful way. NPC interaction is a mixed bag, with some well-acted characters bringing important bits of dialogue and some with truly laughable voiceover and nothing important to say. In my roughly 18 hours with the main campaign, I found myself looking forward to the end more and more as things went on. Not because I was looking for closure to the story, but because I was ready to see what I needed to see then move on to my New Game + run to get back to grinding out better gear.
This is where The Surge 2 really steps things up from the previous game. Gear is vast and varied, with an abundance of new weapon types and class options. The Surge 2 has introduced a ?loadout? option, which basically allows you to save a particular set up of armor, abilities, and weapons to be available to quickly swap to when you want. You can have 3 different loadouts saved in your Medbay, so swapping playstyles and gear sets to tackle an area has never been easier. Your Tech Scrap (XP) gain begins to multiply if you are out in the world long enough, so there is even more incentive to explore and push the limits and risk losing your gained XP. If you do die, there is now a timer that counts down the time you have to reach your dropped Tech Scrap. Killing enemies increases this timer, but it adds yet another level of depth to the gameplay formula.
Death will certainly find you in The Surge 2, but maybe not as often as you would think. I found the game to be easier than both the Souls series and the first game. The initial learning curve might be a bit higher, with the new directional parry mechanic playing a huge role in your success or failure, but once you have a firm grasp on that, bosses become a relatively simple, if sometimes unnecessarily drawn-out affair. Some of the bosses have multilayered health bars that border on ridiculous. The fight itself is pretty simple, but it just becomes a tedious encounter of dodge, parry, dodge, parry, avoid getting hit at all costs, parry over and over for 10 minutes. These are not overly interesting encounters, and despite some interesting new additions, I found the boss battles of the first game to be superior in both design and execution.
The world of The Surge 2 seems left behind as well, as the focus on combat and gameplay takes center stage. Each of the areas, aside from a few less than fully realized departures, feels very much the same. On the surface, the world seems populated and meaningful, but once you dig past the surface, you realize it is shallow. There are NPCs, but they don’t interact with each other. Actions do not change how the world around you operates. The depth of character and story found in the world are all superficial.
With those complaints aside though, let?s talk about the combat. Combat in The Surge 2 is outstanding. If all you come into this game for is dismembering people and robots, all while cybernetically enhancing your character to do so more effectively, you will have all you could want and more. Where The Surge managed to shine and establish itself as more than just a Sci-Fi Dark Souls knock off, The Surge 2 elevates itself even further. Combat is visceral and crunchy. Hacking off limbs for upgrades, which you then use to improve your character’s ability to hack limbs off is an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop. This loop adds a level of difficulty to the boss fights if you choose to buy into it. Cutting the limbs off bosses during the fight will get you a new, unique piece of gear. This makes the fight harder and more of a trick, but unfortunately the risk outweighs the reward in most cases. If you want to collect the weapons and gear, go for it, but they are rarely useful by the time you defeat the boss.
The directional parry system and vastly improved movement system make The Surge 2 a much more fluid experience than the first game, and gameplay remains enjoyable all the way through. I never felt like I was held back by controls or movement, or was at a disadvantage. My only real complaint with the combat is that the back half of the game started to feel easy and repetitive. A lack of new enemy introduction and a weak boss lineup, coupled with the inevitable mastery of the combat system leave the latter half of the game feeling like a repeat of the first half, only easier instead of harder. Sure, the enemies have the arbitrary ?difficulty? increase in the form of increased damage and health, but at this point, you are such a badass killing machine it doesn?t matter if something takes two extra hits to kill, you could hit him a dozen extra times before he could get off an extra attack against you.
If you are looking for a truly challenging experience, you won?t really find it here past the opening hours, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Although relatively easy, the gameplay loop remains satisfying and effective even as the game itself becomes a bit repetitive. A weak story and uninteresting side-quests and characters keep The Surge 2 from reaching true greatness beyond the original, but it is clear that the developers ARE learning and improving. Although it may not be a better game overall, the combat improvements go to show just how good a future title could be.
Focus Home Interactive provided us with The Surge 2 PC code for review purposes.