Here’s my “dark gaming secret” that isn’t really that dark or much of a secret: I hate the Souls genre. I have tried so hard on several different occasions to get into it. I’ve played Dark Souls, Nioh, Lords of the Fallen, Salt & Sanctuary, and even Bloodborne. Yet I’ve bounced off of nearly every single one after a few hours little more than confused and annoyed. (I finished Lords of the Fallen. Don’t ask.) I keep trying to get it. I want to get it. So The Surge 2 is my latest attempt. Will it finally be the one?
You start the game by creating a character. You won’t be assigning stats, it’s more just for flavor and picking one of six possible backstories that don’t really seem to come up in the game as far as I can tell. Personally, I went with a very badass lady who was a former gun smuggler. No matter what you pick, you’re on an airplane that crashes into Jericho City. The only survivor of the crash, you wake up in a hospital to find all hell has broken loose. There are giant nanomachine monsters, a mysterious plague, gangs gone wild, and a wall has been erected around the city. Now you need to figure out what happened and get out.
While the idea isn’t bad, The Surge 2‘s story is mostly generic and totally forgettable. I realized pretty quickly that I had forgotten a good chunk of the characters’ names, and before long I also realized I didn’t care much. Most of the time I’d listen just long enough to know where I needed to get to next, and then I stopped paying attention to the conversation. There was something about a… possibly psychic(?) little girl that became a nanomachine monster? I don’t know, and The Surge 2 gave me no reason to care.
I Don’t Want to Live in a Spider Robot
The absolute basics in The Surge 2 aren’t that different from any other Souls game. There’s a vaguely openish map that you’ll constantly be finding new ways to explore, and combat that requires you to manage a stamina bar that you use for both fighting and dodging. The sci-fi setting feels unique still, if only because the only other Souls-like I’ve seen try it was the original Surge, so there hasn’t been much competition there yet. In addition to this, The Surge 2 also manages to feel unique thanks to some clever ideas.
Much like the first game, you can target specific limbs on the enemies you fight. At first, the obvious strategy may seem to be to always go for the head, since that’s a squishy bit. However, by doing so you’ll be missing out on a ton of useful gear. If you want gear in The Surge 2 then you need to literally cut it off of your opponents. Instead of light and strong attacks, you have horizontal and vertical attacks, each of which varies by weapon type and are effective in different situations. For example, I noticed a pair of fist-like weapons were fantastic against heads and chests, probably thanks to the blunt force. However, if I wanted an arm, switching to an electric sword and using vertical attacks was a better option.
I also needed battery charges, both to perform the finishers that would remove limbs and use various injections I’d find over the course of the game. Battery charge served as a way to keep aggressive, because the most reliable way to gain them was by hitting enemies, and they’d deplete if not used. You can convert some of these charges into pre-prepared injections, which allow you to heal or temporarily buff stats. I came to appreciate this system thanks to the simple fact that it was nice to have a way to actually get more healing items without respawning all the enemies in the area.
Sorry Man, I Need That Limb
Death has its own unique twists too. Like many Souls games when you die you drop all your tech scrap, which serves as the game’s XP, and need to collect it without dying again or you’ll lose it forever. However, as long as the tech scrap is on the ground it can help you out. When you’re near a cache of scrap you dropped, it will slowly regenerate your health. Picking it up will also bring you back to full health. More than once I realized I was going to lose a fight and made use of this system, dying in a convenient spot that I could exploit for regeneration purposes during my next go. Of course, this is a high-risk move as losing all that scrap would be a terrible waste.
None of this means The Surge 2 is going to be a walk in the park though. It still contains the kind of challenges I would expect from the genre. Enemies are rather tough, and each fight was thrilling and kept me in check. I had to be just aggressive enough to build battery charge without being so aggressive that I got myself killed in the process. Several times I’d think I can breeze through a fight only to make a stupid mistake and end up dead. More than once I’ve had to sit down, rethink my build and strategy, and have another go at it.
However, sometimes it wasn’t entirely my fault. The Surge 2‘s lock-on system is simply not up to the task at times. You’re supposed to use it to both lock onto enemies, and then use the right stick to target individual limbs for you to cut off. However, on more than one occasion I couldn’t select the limb I wanted to hit and found myself floundering around struggling to get what I needed. Worse, if there were multiple enemies then the game seemed to have trouble locking on to the one I wanted. Sometimes it would skip obvious targets to go for people in the background. Once it even targeted someone three floors above me for no discernible reason.
Worse, some encounters got cheap in that sort of way that didn’t really feel “tough but fair.” Tutorials are written on the walls, but placed in places where enemies can ambush you while you read them. More than once enemies would burst out of boxes or rise from underwater in ways that felt like cheap “gotcha!” moments that you’ll only know about after they kill you at least once. One particularly annoying enemy, an eight-foot-tall robot that wields a spear, was able to hit me without actually hitting me. Several times I saw its spear stop before my character yet I’d still take damage.
Ain’t No Party Like an End of the World Party
Thankfully, some excellent boss fights help make up for this shortcoming. Nearly every boss in The Surge 2 was a good time that I enjoyed going at. One early-game boss sees an overweight man who can’t leave his giant spider-bot. You can’t hurt him, but you can cut off his cooling tanks, giving you a way to overheat and overload the robot. Another, against a human enemy with a cloaking device, is just a fast and frantic battle that required me to dodge pistol fire from unexpected locations. By the end I couldn’t think of a single boss fight I didn’t enjoy.
While the game has some excellent boss fights, I wish the enemy variety was up to the same par. The game’s favorite enemy type is “some dude,” all of whom tend to act almost the same. Sometimes they have guns or shields, but that doesn’t really make for much of a difference in combat and is usually negated in a single dodge or charged attack. A few times there were robot enemies or nano-monsters, but it seems like that’s the exception rather than the rule. It especially becomes weird when you enter a park area and get to hear an automated announcement about the robotic animals, but you never see any. This would have been a fantastic chance to get a few weird enemies in, but it never happens. I personally feel cheated on missing out on the chance to do combat with a malfunctioning robotic tiger.
Despite this, the combat never really loses its edge, nor its fun. Getting to use a directional parry to stun an enemy, then literally punch their head so hard it flies off their body, is always extremely satisfying. Likewise, the relief of getting through a difficult section or surviving an ambush with your life and tech scrap intact is just amazing. It also helps that the world of Jericho City is fun to explore. It’s the perfect size that I never felt under or overwhelmed, and there’s plenty of neat little side passages that I was able to discover and use to find my way around. Besides, any game that lets me use zip lines through a destroyed city is a winner in my book.
There is also a slight multiplayer component to The Surge 2, although your game won’t be getting invaded and, thank God, you can actually pause the game at any time. Like many games in the same genre, you can leave cryptic notes for other players to find, this time in the form of up to three symbols. You can also place banners around the level that stay active in other player’s games for an hour and the fewer players that find them the more scrap you get when it comes back. Sometimes you’ll find corpses of other players you can loot for parts, and occasionally you can find “revenge enemies” that killed players and, if you take them down, grant you a bunch of bonus materials. None of this is particularly unique, but it’s all well done and I always appreciated finding bonuses or banners.
Perhaps most important, for the first time, I actually felt like I understood the Souls genre with The Surge 2. It’s the first one that made me actually feel anything other than annoyed and confused and that I wanted to actually stick around to see the end of. It still has issues, and I’d love to see more enemy variety, but I can safely say that I’ll be back for whatever Deck 13 has planned next.
The Surge 2 review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.