The Surge 2 is a direct continuation of its predecessor, taking place in a dystopian future where the world's resources have been largely depleted, leading to an environmental and social crisis. Along with convenience, technological advancements and automation brought people despair. The world's aging population, now cramped in overcrowded cities, became effectively redundant and unemployable, suffering from rampant poverty and disease. Those who remain in the workforce are either members of the intelligentsia or those who are willing to sacrifice a part of their humanity and don exoskeletons to improve their efficiency in the workplace. Enter CREO, a multinational corporation offering a cure-all - Project UTOPIA, which promises to fix the world's ails with a healthy dose of nanites... except things go horribly wrong. You, along with other hopefuls, were on a plane during the release of Project UTOPIA's payload, and its systems were very quickly overwhelmed by the nanite swarm. The craft crashed on the outskirts of Jericho, killing everyone on-board... everyone but you. You awake in the medical wing of a prison facility and quickly realise that you must've been out for quite some time. The prison is completely overrun by crazed inmates. The nanite swarm has already wrecked havoc in the streets of Jericho, infecting its denizens with a mind-breaking disease dubbed "DEFRAG". You grab the nearest makeshift weapon, a set of defibrillators, and brave your way to the exit... you have to escape this nightmare, by any means necessary.
The first thing you'll notice when you start the game compared to the original is that now you have the option to create your own character. The available options are modest, but more than sufficient - the editor doesn't drown you in sliders and instead offers you basic presets to quickly cut through the creation process and get to the meat of the game, and oh boy, is there a lot of meat to slice. Your awakening in the prison facility bears a resemblance to Bloodborne's introduction in many ways. At the start, you're a mere squishy human and you have to rely on the element of surprise to dispatch your enemies, but as you progress through the first area you quickly get your hands on the gear necessary to survive in the harsh streets of Jericho: your very own RIG exoskeleton and a combat drone. From this point onward the game becomes a blood-drenched exercise in acquiring increasingly powerful equipment as you uncover the city's dark secrets, and it's hard not to enjoy. You have a simple yet satisfying formula.
While the customisation of your character's appearance is somewhat limited, the customisation of your loadout is the exact opposite. The previous installment introduced an interesting mechanic to the "Soulslike genre", the limb system, which allows you to target individual body parts of your enemies, damage them and ultimately slice them off with bloody and brutal finishing moves. The Surge 2 continues this tradition and puts the mechanic to excellent use. Each new enemy you face gives you a good reason to toy with them like a cat would with a mouse, dismembering them methodically. Why? Because the game rewards you with RIG schematics for each new body part you successfully slice off, and there's a lot to collect. Before long you will find yourself transforming from prey to hunter, stalking specific enemies in order to dismember them and take your brand-new schematics to the nearest medical station, The Surge 2's equivalent of Soul's bonfires. Repetitive? Maybe, but it never gets boring.
With the increased selection of weapons and armour comes more choice, and with more choice comes more impetus for slicing and dicing, as well as a wider range of customisation. Armour sets in The Surge 2 provide not only the full set bonuses we're accustomed to, but also partial set bonuses, giving you an actual reason to mix and match gear pieces as opposed to going for the latest and greatest set you come across. There are also new weapons to collect, ranging from my favourite sword-type weapons to heavy-hitting hammers. In addition to your short-range implements of destruction your character also has access to a drone which received a much-needed face-lift since the first game. As opposed to being a simple weapon it now also helps you in other tasks, allowing you to open magnetically-shut doors with EMP blasts, or tagging walls to leave hints for other players, similarly to how the messages system works in From Software games. Compared to Dark Souls I actually found the notes to be quite helpful; I encountered far less "trolly" messages which put you in harm's way for laughs, so after dealing with my initial and well-justified mistrust I came to rely on them to find secrets and avoid traps.
If there's one thing that I enjoyed more than anything when playing The Surge 2, it's the blood-pumping combat which is significantly more fast-paced and brutal than in similar games. I'm a big fan of plowing through swathes of enemies and the game delivered in that respect, it was precisely what I expected it to be. If you fancy the Souls-style gameplay model, but don't like the constant cheap tricks and traps these games throw at you, The Surge 2 might be what you're looking for. There's still the odd ambush here and there, but the game is far more fair in this respect. It makes you "feel powerful", and it does so very quickly with its rapid progression system. The develpers at Deck13 knew precisely what they did right in this title and they were tripping over themselves to give it to you - god bless them because it's good. The Surge 2 is in many ways the polar opposite of the previous Focus game I reviewed, GreedFall, in the sense that it's also lacking in many respects, but puts gameplay front and center, and that fact alone makes it slice straight into your heart like a Vibro-cutter blade running at full tilt. It's The Surge all over again, except improved in nearly all areas. Nearly.
Overcome. Upgrade. Survive. That's it.
I cannot overstate how enamoured I am with the game's combat, but in some aspects The Surge 2 doesn't quite make the cut. One thing that immediately comes to mind is the setting, Jericho City itself. In comparison to its predecessor, the game no longer takes place in the narrow corridors of the CREO plant. Jericho is a large metropolis, or at least it used to be before the nanite swarm and rampant anarchy turned it upside-down—that fact alone brings a lot of verticality to the game with its introduction of sprawling multi-level environments. This sounds like a good thing on paper, but I considered it a negative personally. Part of the charm in the original, The Surge, was tied specifically to its dark, industrial setting. It lent the game an atmosphere of claustrophobic horror that the sequel is almost devoid of, and although some areas hearken back to the game's roots with the odd sewer or rusty warehouse, most of the action takes place on well-lit streets, which was a bit of a bummer.
Another thing that affects the atmosphere is the enemy roster, most notably its nature. Previously the mental state of your enemies was ambiguous. You weren't really sure if the "people" you've come across in the CREO facility as Warren were alive or dead, zombies or insane people, or perhaps they were just controlled by the nanites against their will; The Surge 2 dispels the ambiguity. While DEFRAG does affect the sanity of its hosts, the primary motivation of people in Jericho is survival, and they're more than willing to kill just to get their hands on the remaining scraps of resources. This changes the tone of the game and makes them seem less sinister, they're sympathetic, in a way. The fact they're struggling just like you are almost made me feel bad for dismembering them. Almost.
As a result of those changes the game loses some points in terms of atmosphere, although to be fair, it's uncertain how DEFRAG works. Perhaps at CREO it had time to fully incubate whereas the population of Jericho is freshly infected and not yet fully under the nanite's influence, however judging by the state of the city that seems unlikely. While we're on the subject of the enemy roster, it could use a little bit more variety. Most of the enemies you face are other humanoids, and this is particularly apparent in the bosses department, especially early in the game. With a body-and-mind-bending nanite infestation that's capable of controlling both flesh and machine alike, the creators had an almost-infinite creative license to implement any creatures they wanted and, admittedly, they dropped the ball.
Graphically the game looks spectacular in trailers, but that level of detail doesn't translate to the console release, and I've played the title on a PlayStation 4 Pro. The game looks adequate and certainly a step up from its predecessor, but a lot of the visual fidelity was lost in translation. One thing that particularly annoyed me was visual tearing on the screen that occasionally spoiled an otherwise fluid experience, and I'm not one to nitpick graphics. Hopefully those issues get resolved with future patches and the game gets to display all of its gory details in the best possible light. Fortunately, the audio presentation stands tall and ensures that your blood keeps surging in spite of the occasional graphical hiccup.
Plot-wise the game isn't much to write home about either - your fairly straightforward mission takes you from one area to the next, introducing you to the various power players in Jericho. The hero, through no fault of his own, gets entangled in a power struggle between two of the major factions in the city: the A.I.D forces that are attempting to eliminate the nanite threat, and The Church of the Spark that wishes for people to embrace them as the next step in human revolution. As you might imagine, both have more sinister true agendas, so instead of trusting either you rely on hallucinations and premonitions to guide you through your adventure. In the original game the stakes were high; success or failure spelled either the salvation or damnation of humankind. In the sequel the stakes are, predictably, much lower. Everything has very clearly gone wrong already. That's not to say that everything you do is in the service of your great escape from the city, but the protagonist could use some better motivation besides survival and curiosity. Here's the thing though... none of that matters.
A Symphony of Violence
The game, at its heart, is a glorious spectacle of blood and gore. Its fast-paced gameplay more than makes up for its various shortcomings, proving once again that gameplay is always king. Simply looking at the various trailers in preparation for writing this review made me feel that warm and fuzzy feeling of anticipation in my stomach - I really just wanted to play the game again instead of writing about it, which is a testament to its fun factor. Is it perfect? By no means. The plot is simplistic, the graphics aren't top notch, the bestiary needed more work, and the atmosphere shifted tones, but the essence of the game encompassed in its brutal combat has improved in every way. It is, as Focus advertises it, a symphony of violence that I truly enjoyed sinking my teeth into, and I can thoroughly recommend it. The way the game flows is great and unique to the franchise. It kept my blood pressure surging, in a good way, and I hope it can do the same for you.