The Surge is certainly a step above Deck 13’s previous outing Lords of the Fallen, but it still lacks the refinement and balance of From Software’s beloved franchise. It’s clear that Deck 13 really wants to make a really good rendition of Dark Souls to call their own, and as The Surge shows, they’re almost there. Almost.
What their latest game misses in polish, which it tries its best to make up for with a gritty atmosphere. Set in a not so distant future where Earth’s resources are scarce and the environment is going to shit, we play as a disabled man who’s a new test subject willing to put himself through an experimental procedure that can give him the ability to walk again — by bolting an exoskeleton directly and painfully into his body. Things go wrong as expected, and we find ourselves among the rejected and discarded in a wasteland, forcing us to fight our way out and find our just what is really going on.
It all boils down to making the same progression as you would in a Souls game, except that in The Surge, maps aren’t seamlessly connected like they are in all of From’s games after Demon’s Souls. Loading screens pop up as you transition from one environment to the other. But you’ll still run into other elements common to Souls, like locked doors that only open from the other side and act as shortcuts, hard to reach collectibles and a generous amount of enemies that lurk in shadows just waiting to ambush you.
Knowing and making peace with the fact that The Surge just isn’t up to par with any of From’s games, I did my best to enjoy it as much as I could, even though it went out of its way to oppress me. From the overly aggressive enemies that seem to pop out of nowhere, to the unclear pitfalls that are textured the same way as the ground I would otherwise safely walk over anywhere else in the game, sluggish controls (that granted, are way better than Lords of the Fallen’s, but are still slow to respond), there’s not one part in this that I didn’t have to make an effort to overlook and just keep going.
On top of all of those problems, the worst issue that a Souls-like could ever sport, the straw that broke my camel’s back, something that really should be first on the polish list to any game that deals with combat: terrible hit detection. Outside of boss fights, it’s possible to target specific body parts and go for unarmored weaknesses, which plays into one of the parts of The Surge that I really like, the mechanic of hacking off limbs and other body parts in order to acquire new loot. It’s a creative excuse for the game’s gore, and also plays into the notion that every single encounter can be unique the way you approach it. It works fantastically well. When it’s time to face one of The Surge’s gigantic mechanical bosses, the game’s combat devolves into battles of attrition, since you can never be sure if one of your attacks is really landing, or worse, why you are able to unwittingly come out unscathed of some blows and not from others you clearly dodged.
The Surge has plenty going for it. It checks all of the boxes that a Souls-like should check, like different gear sets attuned to varied playstyles, the leveling up system that allows you to save points for later use, and let’s not brush aside the tense moments that come when doing a corpse run under a deadline. Sadly, it stumbles way too much to equate it to From Software’s care and craft. This is most definitely the closest that Deck 13’s gotten to crossing that gap. But there’s still a long way to go.