"...given the areas where The Surge 2 is lacking some polish or uniqueness, I would recommend it more for dedicated fans of this type of game rather than as an introduction to Souls-like games for the more sci-fi minded."
The Surge 2 is a science fiction take on the increasingly popular "Dark Souls" formula for action RPGs. For those unfamiliar, this subgenre emphasizes methodical and careful combat that punishes the player for recklessness even against basic enemies. The Surge 2 mixes this system with a dark future where a city has gone mad in a nanite-based disaster. The gameplay is solid except for a few oddities, but there's lack of refinement in other areas and little that makes the game stand out.
The main plot of The Surge 2 begins with the customizable player character in a plane that crash lands in Jericho City, which has recently fallen into peril due to a local nanite disaster which has left the city in ruins: where government agents, cultists, and rogue machines vie for dominance. Your character begins in a prison (a possible homage to Dark Souls?) but is soon able to break out with the aid of some exo-armor — the upgrading of which is the main driver of character growth in the game. Upon entering the city, you are quickly thrown into the action as you are directed to various locales to combat cultists, drug dealers, oppressive government forces, and the ever-increasing threat of rogue nanite-driven machines. You are driven forward by visions of a little girl named Athena who was on the plane with you, which drives your character to find out more about themselves as well as find Athena.
Later portions of the story bring some revelations about the situation you find yourself in and the scope does escalate towards an eventual climax, but I feel the story lacked impact overall. Many of the characters and factions seen in Jericho City are nothing new (e.g. shady government projects, doomsday cultists) to this type of setting. The science fiction elements are not used, I think, to the full extent they could have been as the nanites are essentially abstracted into just a powerful technological force and not explored with any kind of nuance as to what they can or cannot do. Much of the plot is revealed through audiologs (in the same vein as a game like Bioshock), and while this does add some interesting tidbits or side stories, it was not enough to salvage my investment in the plot, which essentially just directs you from area to area in succession. Overall, I felt that the main thing driving me forward was not the story unfolding but me seeking out the next gameplay challenge.
The Surge 2's gameplay is one aspect that drew me in and ended up being the main source of my enjoyment. The core combat system revolves around using various combinations of attacks, blocks, and dodges to contend with challenging enemies, all of which can easily kill you if you aren't careful. Your character has a stamina bar that essentially only regenerates when not performing combat actions, so wild swinging or panicked dodging will only leave you exhausted and vulnerable. Instead, methodical timing is paramount, as well as learning enemy attack patterns. This is especially necessary to take advantage of directional blocking, a system in The Surge 2 where precise timing and parrying can stagger enemies and allow you to launch a powerful counterattack. Some of the most satisfying gameplay moments I had involved learning a boss' attack pattern and expertly blocking three or four attacks in quick succession. You are also encouraged to attack various parts of enemies (head, arms, tentacles, etc.) in order to find weak spots, of course, but also to ultimately cut them off with finishing moves in order to collect materials to construct and upgrade weapons and armor for yourself. The controls for combat were solid and generally fine with some practice, though I did find some odd control hiccups outside of battle: when I needed to press a button to pick something up I found it had to be very deliberate and would often have to go back and try a second time.
Though the combat system was enjoyable, when I looked back on my experience I found something about it slightly odd. Not the system itself, but rather how my character was fighting. There was a good variety of weapon types in The Surge 2, ranging from punching weapons to unwieldy but powerful hammers, all with sci-fi accoutrements which lend themselves to a wide variety of combat styles. However, the way this plays out in combat seems mismatched with the setting. It essentially comes down to one person in armor (you) fighting another, swinging melee weapons, blocking, etc. It has a feel more similar to medieval combat than anything else. Though you can use a drone occasionally and fire lasers, grenades, or stunning pulses, it doesn't amount to a lot in making the game's fights feel like they belong in a futuristic city, aside from the occasional enemy that has a cloaking system or laser cannon. Another snag was the inconsistent difficulty in the game. There were one or two bosses in the mid game that bordered between challenging and a bit unfair, such as where you fight an enemy who can cloak and drop mines in a very small area. Other bosses later in the game were actually not hard once you got a relatively simple pattern down, and I found the last boss quite easy. On top of that, I did run into some glitches: my character dying and reloading still lying on the ground dead, as well as later getting pummeled by enemy fire while defenseless in an area transition animation, which left me at half health for a boss fight.
The Surge 2's character growth system doesn't rely so much on collecting experience (called Tech Scrap) but on upgrading equipment. As mentioned earlier, you can collect schematics for various types of armor and weapons by severing enemy parts, as well as getting raw materials for constructing and upgrading. Equipment can be upgraded from rank I all the way up to X based on the materials used, and the system is relatively simple — killing higher level enemies gives you higher level parts. Various set bonuses are available to further customize your combat style as well. You can use the Tech Scrap to upgrade basic stats such as your health, stamina, and battery efficiency for a battery which is charged by combat actions and can be used to restore health, boost defense, and other boons. The last vector of character growth and customization is the use of implants, which I found to be the most fun. There are quite a few of these, and they can do anything from increasing elemental resistance to reviving you if you die (under certain conditions). You are limited in how many implants you can equip both by the number of implant slots, as well as how much power each one takes, both of which increase as you level up. Core power is also used by equipment, so balancing your build to make most efficient use of that power is key. Though the upgrade system can be simple, I found it functional enough and I did get to experiment with a variety of strategies and adapt to certain fights.
Also similar to Dark Souls, The Surge 2 employs a system where fellow players can help each other. There are a few elements to this, including the ability to pick up batteries or scrap from dead players, killing "revenge" enemies that dispatched of other players for extra loot, and most importantly leaving graffiti tags. I found the graffiti tags especially useful as other players could warn me about pitfalls or lead me to hidden items with just a few emoji-like symbols. This did lend some additional color, literally and figuratively, to a sometimes-bleak world.
Graphically I found The Surge 2 to be somewhat disappointing. Aside from some relatively involved and dense areas with a lot of grass and greenery, many of the environments looked like they could almost have been done on the previous generation of consoles. Many areas had an appropriately drab look, given the setting, but combined with a lack of sharpness, that was a bit off-putting. Not only were the areas visually unimpressive, but they also became a small hindrance to gameplay at times with routes being unclear, poor lighting making it difficult to navigate some areas even with brightness increased and my exo-suit's little "headlight" on, and falling into tiny pitfalls that were not clear from the environment. The character models were also a bit ugly, which in some cases fit the mood or character, but in other cases just made the game look unpolished, especially when an in-game cinematic lets you get a closer look at them outside of the frenzied combat.
The Surge 2 is not a title where music takes a leading role in enthralling the player in the experience, but rather lends to the atmosphere. I thought that most of the audio I heard was appropriate for the game. I enjoyed the title screen theme, and felt it did a good job embodying the dark sci-fi tone the game was going for. Much of the other music used some of these same motifs, with some tracks coming off as more generic than others, but overall I think the sound design was solid. The only issue is that the music is often pushed pretty far into the background, and in the intensity of some of the encounters or while focusing on your objectives, you may not even notice it. I think some parts with louder musical cues would have helped the game show off its soundtrack more, though you can always listen to it outside the game to check it out in full. The other elements of sound design, the sound effects and voice acting, were mixed. The voice acting was surprisingly solid, as characters had unique voices and were over the top when they needed to be.
All in all, The Surge 2 is a thoroughly average title in the small but growing Souls-like subgenre. You will certainly get enough game for the price (my run took about 25 hours with only about half of the sidequests completed) and overcoming some of the challenges thrown at you can be fun. That said, given the areas where The Surge 2 is lacking some polish or uniqueness, I would recommend it more for dedicated fans of this type of game rather than as an introduction to Souls-like games for the more sci-fi minded. I think the developers are definitely getting most of the core mechanics down and have some fun concepts here that could be refined into a better future product.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.