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Back in 2017, Deck13 together with their publishers at Focus Home Interactive, released The Surge - a melee-focused sci-fi action-RPG that was very clearly inspired by FromSoftware's Dark Souls series. The game's setting and aesthetics, together with a promise of visceral melee combat, were enough to put it on my radar, but I somehow never got around to playing it. But now, with The Surge 2 on the way, I figured I had to go back and see what the first entry in the series was all about.
Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do
The game opens with you controlling Warren, a wheelchair-bound individual on his way to a new job where one of the main perks is a shiny new “Exo-Rig” that can help him regain control of his legs. The job is with CREO, a corporation that outwardly seems very interested in restoring Earth's barely breathable atmosphere in the not so distant but quite dystopian future.
While Warren is getting outfitted with said Exo-Rig, something goes terribly wrong and after a while he wakes up in a pile of garbage. While stretching his new legs, Warren realizes that a mysterious power surge has managed to fry most of the tech inside the expansive CREO facility and turn its heavily augmented workers into cyber-zombies.
The game's visuals are sharp and quite easy on the eye, so expect to navigate all sorts of factory floors and research labs packed with conveyor belts, thick wires, narrow walkways, and bulky machinery. In The Surge, tech tends to be massive, hefty and look like it weighs a ton, which I liked a great deal. The other side of this coin, however, is that the majority of the base game locations are all part of the same facility and as a result the visuals, while impressive, can be quite lacking in variety.
As you explore, you will stumble onto a few other survivors and with their moral support, as it seems like Warren is the only CREO employee who isn't stuck somewhere or wasn't reduced to a quivering mess, try to figure out what went wrong and if possible reverse the effects of the eponymous Surge.
The game's story is told primarily through conversations with those other survivors and the audio logs scattered throughout the levels. With their help you gradually start to uncover the bigger picture and learn that CREO isn't exactly the shining beacon of hope it pretends to be and instead treats its workers as disposable grunts, while apparently listing “mad scientist” as a prerequisite for any and all of its research positions.
With that in mind, the story goes through quite a few ups and downs, hits you with a number of twists of varying predictability and just for good measure, leaves some things open to interpretation.
Overall, I found the story to be fairly enjoyable, if a bit obtuse. But at the very least, it was unintrusive. The number of cutscenes that take control away from you is extremely limited, the conversations are usually short and to the point, and the audio logs can play in the background while you continue playing. Perhaps my biggest gripe with the story is that the final act feels somewhat rushed, though that also means that the game doesn't needlessly drag on for too long.
Moving on from the main story, the game's side quests follow the Dark Souls formula pretty much to the letter. You meet a number of NPCs who all have something they want from you, you perform their minor tasks, and later on, you get to learn a bit more about them while being offered a new task. It all usually ends in some sort of tragedy and rewards you with a unique piece of equipment. The quests are easy to miss and even easier to mess up, but unless you come into the game with the mindset of doing everything in a single playthrough, it shouldn't be a problem and instead can add some uniqueness to your playthrough.
Throughout this all, what struck me as a bit odd was that Warren, our protagonist, didn't seem too bothered by all the chaos and horrors caused by the Surge. His general attitude throughout the game could be best described as nonchalant with the slightest bit of confusion. Initially, it didn't feel right to me, but after a while, in my head, I traced a parallel between Warren and John Locke from the show Lost, where the fact that they were able to walk again was more important to these characters than whatever else was going on. Having figured that out, I gradually started to like Warren and his stoic personality.
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