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"The Surge 2": Denied Innovation


Attempting the bare minimum with the minimum of motivation so I do not feel maximum of disappointment.


Welded into Memory

Streaming for a length of time that has probably surpassed five years, I have come across the opportunity to experience a myriad of games, allowing me to develop a penchant towards specific franchises and their respective titles. Among the countless titles existent at the time of this writing, there are some that have managed to glue themselves to memory, leaving a sense of longing after I would inevitably reach an ending.

Typically, such feelings are quenched through attempts of replaying said game, action which in some cases is considerably aided by mechanics such as NG+, abbreviation that stands for New Game Plus, which allows the player to experience the game under conditions of increased difficulty among other aspects. Such aspects are unfortunately barren when it comes to their capacity to motivate me to reimmerse myself between the walls of the digital space in a futile attempt at resurrecting the feeling of the initial experience. This reality happens to be so due to many variables that ultimately build the game itself but among all those aspects, one stands above all as the pivotal point of disinterest, which is story. As much as I would enjoy a game, once I experienced the game and the its story once, playing through it repeatedly will never bud the exact feeling experienced initially, this of course is a personal preference.

I realize I have ventured into digressing so allow me to revert back to the main line of today's narration, the franchise of games known as the The Surge and its successor, The Surge 2.

A Classic Style with a Modern Look

The series, developed by the studio under the name of Deck13 and published by Focus Home interactive, manages to bring the unique flavor of the Dark Souls franchise into the future, giving life to a concept that felt refreshing. Must admit that I am very biased, as the modern society approach of the series compelled me to remember it for a few years prior to experiencing it directly.There is no drought of games that have ventured to take a drop of the Dark Souls formula with the intent of creating another offspring that would eventually grow to become itself a monstrosity that would take the world by the throat and proceed to ravage its entrails. A prime set of such titles that happen to come to mind at the moment would be Bloodborne, Sekiro:Shadows Die Twice and my personal favorite aside from The Surge and its sequel, Hollow Knight. There of course exist titles which have tried to incorporate the magic formula but I dare say weren't as successful with the implementation among which are titles such as Code Vein, Mortal Shell, etc.

In spite of my predominantly biased view over the world of Souls inspired titles existing today, they all have their strengths and should not be declared as either exclusively bad or good. I tend to strongly believe that, to each his own and for me, The Surge represents a game which persuaded me to venture within its walls more than all the other games mentioned today.

The reason why I have mentioned the first game from the franchise is due to a relatively strong discord that has managed to take root inside my head once I picked up the sequel to the aforementioned title. This represents the motive behind why I felt compelled to write this article in the first place, and thus allow me to jump into this session where I will dissect my brain and present you with the reasons of vexation that have stemmed from the comparison of these two sibling titles.

Reluctant Acceptance

I shall start by pointing out the aspects that I have found to be decisive in stating that the first game felt greatly superior to its younger brother. Once again, I must repeat myself and say that all of this is simply my own option as to why I believe that the first iteration of the series felt like a better experience as a whole and that doesn't mean that the second game irrefutably failed to provide entertainment.

Sacrificed Visuals

With that said I will start by saying that as a streamer, I tend to stream most of the games that I attempt to play and this one wasn't an exception. Compared to its older brother, The Surge 2 was a giant hassle to capture using OBS Studio, due to changes in approach, specifically because of the Vulkan API, choice that was made due to its increased capabilities to allow the accommodation of larger areas. I must admit that this type of information exceeds my expertise so I will refrain from going deeper, and I will just say that for me, this was a huge detriment to the experience. Having been accustomed to the visuals of the first game, the initial impression of the second game came filled with complaints on my part due to the huge difference in how the game itself looked through my eyes. It really made the beginning relatively difficult to bear, fact which through prolonged exposure started to dim down in significance as I ventured deeper. In spite of growing to accept it, my initial reaction still remains deeply ingrained as a shock that left me slightly frustrated.

The realization that the visuals were going to be unpleasant was almost instant, as colors looked overexposed to a degree they caused fatigue to my eyesight. The glossy colors from the first game were gone and that for me was an aspect that was absolutely crucial to why the first game was such an enjoyable experience. Lighting was also an issue as daytime looked similar to looking through a smeared window. One last aspect that needs to be mentioned is the visual noise making the graphics look subjectively grainy, making everything look like someone pushed the saturation a few levels too high.

Faulty Instruction Manual

In this section I will bring up the menu system, seemingly normal throughout with typical options to change graphics, visuals and button layout. Among these typical options existed some new ones that tied themselves to some new mechanics that were introduced as a new feature of the second iteration. These options were very confusing to me and it seriously hindered the game-play for me due to me misunderstanding how they worked.

Because of this, I failed to deactivate them and struggled more than necessary for more than half the game. By the time I realized how to use them and that deactivation was my solution I had already went through more than 60 percent of the game. The blame definitely falls on me and I accept part of it but it is frustrating because such a feature wasn't something that was available in the first game and its implementation wasn't at all necessary.

The option in question was the limb selection system, which was now affected by mouse movement and this would have needed to be turned off in the menu in order for the mouse to not switch limbs in combat based on the opponent position and movement. I simply didn't understand why I kept changing target when in the first game the selected limb would remain the same. Long story short, the deactivation of that option made the game far more enjoyable.

Speaking of options for mouse affected behavior, another option that caused me enourmous headaches was the block mechanic which could also be affected by mouse gestures. This was my biggest nightmare by far as the introduction of a parry/block system was my worst nightmare since I profoundly believed the game could not be finished without the adoption of this new feature. Luckily such a thing was far from truth but not far enough, as it was pretty obvious that the developers tried pretty hard to implement this mechanic deeply into the combat system, showing obvious benefits if adopted to the detriment of a more evasive style which was unfortunately my main approach. Despite a slight favoritism towards the new mechanics and faults on my part and that of the menu system, I managed to discover ways through which I could make the game playable and enjoyable for me, albeit at the price of many hours of troubleshooting against a seemingly rigged system. This entire article is a huge complaint so bear with me.

The menu inside the game which aided as the chip management system took some getting acclimating as this was also changed quite a lot, the only similarity between it and that of the first game being the relative layout. For some odd reason it make as much sense as the one from the first game, but alas I managed to somewhat make sense of it and manage it at an okay level. A reason for my slight ineptitude stemmed from the visuals which were once again causing nostalgia for the first game and second, a slight increase in the contents within the menu. A higher number of elements introduced in the game needed to be accommodated inside this menu which in return made it seem slightly disorganized compared to the layout and management of how its first version functioned. Ultimately, it did its job so I have no further complaints regarding anything connected to the menu system.

Bloating Mechanics

This section will be comprised of a few ideas mentioned in the paragraph prior and some new others in order to display the frustrations I encountered with a couple of implementations that though useful in minute amounts were ultimately despised.

One such mechanic was the one I have previously mentioned, the block/parry system. This hit me like a brick especially when engaging bosses and some minions that posed a bigger threat, other than your random thug. The adoption had obvious benefits against such foes, advantages presented in the form of shields to the side of the health bar, their number varying from enemy to enemy. The number implied the exact number of blocks that had to be applied to said enemy, which if successful would provide an enormous window for attack.

Safe to say that it also brought with it a huge risk, which in most cases wasn't worth taking, especially if the player, in this case me, wasn't adroit in using such mechanics. I also have to mention that blocking just didn't feel as fun for me as being evasive did, which in the first game didn't feel as denied as it did here. In order to be able to use the same tactics as in the first game I had to experience at least half the game or close and only then had I managed to build a character that was capable of executing the required tasks and overcome any trial.

Due to this mechanic, a chip was designed to be used in conjunction with it and despite its simplicity it never proved useful to me, ever. Many bosses ended up being complete nightmares to deal with because you had to discover alternative ways for them to be dealt with other than blocking and retaliating accordingly. As a game inspired by the Souls universe, this should be a given but there was utter discomfort when dealing with many of the bosses, due to them being rigged towards being blocked instead of evaded. At the end of the day, the game isn't impossible to finish by being evasive but it does take more of your neurons to the morgue if you wish to tread on this path.

The biggest change in mechanics of game-play was by far the usefulness of the drone module which compared to the first game where it simply served as a glorified key, now it was given weapon capabilities among others. I cannot say that this change brought something that I personally requested, but it seems to have been something that other players had, to a degree, and it did seem like it was an area that could be easily tapped for more innovation. Not much hate towards this since there is no doubt that it proved to be a beneficial tool when dealing with various enemies throughout the game, regardless of size and level.

Of course, the biggest pet peeve that went through my mind when using this new tool was the thought of being crowded by its features. It happened on more than one occasion that death came knocking on my door while I was struggling to select weapons for the drone in order to use it in a pinch. The only times it felt safe to use its capabilities were the very tiny windows when the enemy was either preparing to attack or was finished with one. The last thing that could honestly be the most important aspect of using this new feature was button mapping, and by this I am referring to extra buttons on my mouse which to be honest made using the drone insurmountably easier. Dodging seemingly endless combos while trying to look for buttons to use the drone, all with one hand was a grueling task but luckily those side buttons made everything much easier though I still had to enter the menu to change from one tool to another. Adding this was innovative but honestly I could've lived without a Swiss Army Knife attached to my back; useful but the bloating was unnecessary.

Walking on the same path of scrutinising mechanics, I want to mention the introduction of what I guess you could call, the social approach. Presented in the form of logos, graffiti and emojis, other players could communicate with me in the hopes of helping each other out with various quests and tasks or to simply congratulate you for overcoming a certain boss fight among other things. For someone who thoroughly enjoyed the single-player, story driven first game, having this feature introduced felt like the game had strayed from its roots to become another copy of that which had inspired it, Dark Souls. I didn't use it much but I must admit I found it useful, as I did with the drone but since this game had no such feature in its first iteration, it felt as if someone was intruding inside my private business, helping but also, backseating?. I am definitely nitpicking but I really loved the first game and this one felt far too different from that initial experience making me feel bitter, so here I am.

Metal and Violence

The last subject I wish to touch on is combat, weaponry and things in-between. I really cannot fault anything regarding this department so I will just nitpick here and there for things that once again brought some form of discomfort.

First thing that I want to tackle is the weapon upgrade system and the difference compared with the first game. The Surge implemented a system based on proficiency which benefited from extended usage of certain weapons but I admit it had its drawbacks. Essentially, the first weapon you found in the game, if used for a longer time would somehow become a better weapon than other found maybe later in the game. I must specify that this proficiency level increased based on the style of the weapon that the player would use, in my case being the single-rig type which is among the first types that can be encountered in-game. Luckily for me, my love for the single-rig class was at first sight and so I am slightly biased towards it being unfair since you needed time to upgrade your level which in the case of weapons found later in the game proved disadvantageous. This might have been balanced with a higher level weapon later in the game but in the end the proficiency level for certain styles affected combat greatly, I believe.

Compared to that, the second game discarded the proficiency aspect and instead streamlined it by making it a per weapon system, which means that each weapon could be leveled up based on resources alone. Thus, each player would be able to upgrade all weapons according to personal affinity, enabling the usage of multiple weapons across the board instead of locking someone inside a single system which for me seemed forced but understandable.

Though I can see its benefits for someone whom desired more variety in combat from the weapons provided, I personally hated having to troubleshoot weapons on bosses and enemies in order to exploit their weaknesses with traits specific to certain weapon types. It seemed simpler to stick to a single type system and I am a simple person and thus, having to constantly switch between weapons in order to adapt felt like a hassle but that is mainly due to me being converted and biased towards the single-rig system used in the first game. Frustration ensued when I tried to apply the havits picked up in the first game and was utterly decimated, realizing that the same approach will not yield the same results from game to game and also, from boss to boss. Eventually, I did find a base style to run with but unlike the first game where I had used a single type weapon on all bosses and throughout the entirety of the game, The Surge 2 required me to jump between weapons constantly. I would have never guessed that I would finish the last boss with a weapon I had never previously used or even slightly leveled so yeah, that speaks volumes for the new system.

One simple remark about the combat in general would be the aspect of limb targeting which I touched upon in the first paragraphs of this article so I will spare anyone of repeated content. Bosses felt unbalanced but in retrospect, well laid out out in accordance with the story of the game, the game thus proving itself almost insurmountable somewhere in the middle and somewhat disappointing in the end. All in all, despite any gripes I might've developed along the way towards certain bosses seeming almost impossible to defeat, this is after all, a game that inherits the Dark Souls formula and thus any difficulty experienced is somewhat justified. Having finished the game proves that it is doable even if you cannot follow the somewhat paved path that the developers attempted at creating so I will refrain from anymore comments in this regard.

Etched in Steel

Ultimately, The Surge 2 is an attempt at innovation which despite my monotonous gripes and complaints, I believe has been more or less achieved. I can see that the developers tried to reinvent the first game and bring it closer to a system that was and still remains a classic for many. Simply because I did not find it to be fully enjoyable does mean that I will deter someone from experiencing it themselves if they happen to inquire my opinion. I grew to like it due to it being so unique despite its roots to the first iteration, becoming an experience that at the end of the day didn't cause boredom but on the contrary compelled me to dive further inside. The only thing that it had in common with the first game that also helped with accepting the differences was the story which despite taking a different shape maintained a strong connection, creating an immersive flow to the whole experience. Give it a try and see for yourself if my words speak true or are simply the biased perspective of a salty amateur.

Gratitude from the Scrapyard

Thank you for reading and I hope this was somewhat enjoyable for those of you who ventured and read everything.

© 2021 Bogdan L