Building on the mechanics and extremely satisfying combat of its 2017 prequel, The Surge 2 is a great example of how a series can refine what makes it so special while also adding some newer and more complex features to its established formula. And while it might have further polished its core gameplay loop, it leaves a lot to be desired in some of the other aspects of the game.
To start with, The Surge 2’s plot is a direct continuation of the story of the original game, and follows your custom created character as the sole survivor of a plane that crash lands in the new location of Jericho City. You wake up some time later in the police department to realize that the city has descended into ruin, and that a strain of sentient nanites has corrupted most of the citizens and turned them into mindless killing machines. It’s quite a serviceable premise as far as settings go, but there’s honestly not a whole lot here that is truly unique.
There’s a lot more interaction involved this time around with NPCs, and the game generally goes harder at pushing the narrative aspect of the game. But it’s just not all that good, and most of the characters you encounter are just lifeless husks. I tried to immerse myself, but apart from a handful of audio logs that piqued my curiosity, there’s nothing a whole lot interesting here.
If you’ve been following the story of the original game, you’ll enjoy following the major plot threads, but overall the story isn’t all that interesting and its real purpose is just getting you to explore all of the nooks and crannies of this once great city.
And what a location it is. Jericho City is a fantastically complex and vertical labyrinth, with dozens of different interlinked pathways that connect together locations in a fashion that is reminiscent of the original Dark Souls. Hours after leaving an area you’ll come back to it through another path and unlock a shortcut that you didn’t even notice before, and you’ll be filled with a sense of accomplishment at just how far you’ve come since you were first there.
What detracts from that sense of accomplishment a bit is just how uninspired a lot of these locations can look, particularly the ones that are centered heavily around buildings and roads. Each of the city’s different districts definitely have their own unique flair, but there’s still a sameness to them that’s hard to ignore. Locations that have a more unique atmosphere like Gideon’s Rock, which is an artificial park, are certainly more interesting, but there’s far too few of them in the game.
Combat in The Surge 2 is arguably the star of the game, and it’s a much more refined version of what we saw in the original. Focused primarily on melee combat, it requires precise timing and proper management of your Stamina and Energy Stats. Attacking, dodging, sprinting and parrying are all actions that require Stamina to initiate, and landing hits on enemies and blocking their attacks is how you generate Energy. The Energy bar is further divided up into multiple segments, and you require at least one segment in order to make use of Injectables or initiate a dismemberment.
You also collect scrap as you fight enemies, which is the equivalent of souls in the game. It’s the main currency used to level up stats and upgrade or construct gear. The longer you go without resting at a medbay in between fights, the higher the scrap multiplier builds up, encouraging a playstyle where you are rewarded for taking risks. if you die, you drop all of your scrap and you then have to go and collect it within a specific time limit.
You can make use of light and heavy attacks, called Horizontal and Vertical attacks in the game, as well as charged attacks that can be utilized by holding down either of the attack buttons. There are also plunge attacks and running attacks that you can make use of while falling from a ledge or while sprinting respectively. It’s basically the Dark Souls layout.
Blocking incoming attacks is now much more different than it was in The Surge due to the introduction of directional parrying. Whenever an enemy attacks you in the game, you see an on-screen prompt that shows you the direction that the blow is coming from. Holding down the block button (LB on the Xbox One and L1 on the PlayStation 4) and then matching the direction with your right stick allows you to successfully parry the attack and stagger your enemy, letting you to follow up with a devastating counterattack. It’s a fairly simple addition, but one that provides another tactical layer to the combat.
There’s also a drone in the game that players can make use of for a number of ranged attacks. These aren’t super effective, and you can’t rely on the drone alone as a weapon, but it serves as a very useful tool for luring individual enemies away from groups. It also allows you to one-shot other smaller drones and turrets from a distance, and there’s even a tool for it that allows you to open up doors that you can’t open up otherwise.
Injectables are much more varied as well this time around, giving you a wide variety of healing effects that operate in different ways. Some heal you immediately, some over time and some as you damage enemies. The way they work in conjunction with the energy stat leads to a system where as long as you keep attacking enemies and generating energy, you can keep healing indefinitely.
You acquire weapons and armor in much the same way as you did in the first game: by dismembering limbs from enemies. Any time you encounter an enemy with a particular armor set equipped or a particular weapon in their hand, you can get those for yourself by chopping off the body part that has them equipped by making use of the targeted limbs system.
Simply damage an enemy enough, and you can then use up one energy segment to initiate a gruesome dismemberment execution. These finishing moves are thoroughly satisfying to use on their own, and the sweet new gear you get is just the cherry on top. Weapons drop as they are, but you only get blueprints for armor and you have to take them back to the nearest medbay to construct them.
This is the core gameplay loop of The Surge 2, and it’s really great. Kill enemies, steal their gear, construct it for yourself and then run back out to wreak havoc more effectively. It never stops being fun, and it is consistently fluid and rewarding. The sound effects also add a lot to the combat as metal clashes with metal, and blade meets flesh. They contribute greatly to the overall weightiness of the already visceral combat.
The boss fights in the game are mostly disappointing and uninspired, and a number of them force you to make use of the new parrying mechanic in a way that is incredibly infuriating and tedious. They’re also super grindy, and require you to just keep on spamming the attack button over and over again to defeat them if you can’t completely master parrying. I didn’t enjoy them and I didn’t look forward to them in the way that I would in a SoulsBorne game. This is a shame because boss fights are arguably the best parts of a game like this since they allow you to test out your skills, and this game made me hate having to face them.
In conclusion, The Surge 2 has a fantastic core gameplay loop that is consistently fun and rewarding. The combat is weighty and satisfying, and the steady supply of new weapons and armor keep it from ever getting dull. The limb targeting system and dismemberment mechanic is still this series’ greatest contribution to the genre.
The story on the other hand is pretty dull, and the locations you explore in Jericho City can all feel a little boring after a while. The boss fights are also pretty disappointing, and their failure as balanced and thrilling challenges brings the quality of the whole game down a lot.
But if you enjoyed the original The Surge, then you’ll have a blast with this one as well. It’s faults aren’t ignorable, but it’s still a good game nonetheless. Master the directional parrying, temper your expectations for the story and boss fights, and you’ll have a great time.
The Surge 2 is out now on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by Deck13 and published by Focus Home Interactive. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review code was provided by the publisher.
The Surge 2 Review
Despite some minor issues with it’s locations and some major issues with it’s boss fights, The Surge 2 is a great game with a fantastic combat system. If you enjoyed the original game in the series, then you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.