Evolution really the bed with that one. I have equally unkind things to say about this monstrosity – a boss fight that arrives about three hours into the online casino game and proves the first major hurdle.
It’s designed to test several things: your ability to target five body parts and a chance to put your drone to good use – something I was told *after* being stomped tens of times. I’ll be honest, the closest I got to victory was battering three legs and breaking a mandible – then it puffed poison in my face, and unlike a shifty politician, I will admit that I did inhale. Death soon followed. Big robot bosses are nothing new in the world of The Surge, but it’s an exciting note to start on. Many of the changes in The Surge 2 are subtle, but they make for a better online casino game, so let’s see what is in store… Let’s start with combat. To briefly recap: this is an action RPG in the vein of Dark Souls and other online casino games like that, but with a focus on crafting weapons and your battle rig by chopping parts off enemies.
Want red arm armour? Chop off the red armoured arm. What a lovely helmet? Pull the head off like you were popping a champagne cork. Want an immaculate sense of rhythm.
Cut off these hands. Point is: instead of just killing bad guys, you’re sizing them up for any juicy kit they might carry. It reminds me of being a kid and cutting out pictures of toys I wanted from the Argos catalogue, only here the catalogue is made of human flesh, and instead of scissors, you are using whatever the f**k this is meant to be.
It’s improved here with the addition of tiny depleting shield icon on each limb, showing the exact damage that has to be done before the limb can be chopped off with a finishing blow. Even better: you now get a bonus for owning a partial set of armour – before it only kicked in if you had the helmet, chest piece, two arms and two legs. It means you can farm all six parts for a partial bonus and full set bonus, or mix two partial sets of three for more novel builds. For example, using three Vulture parts to boost tech scrap drops and using three spark parts to reduce poison impact. Of course, wearing a complete set does look a lot more badass – I just wish it would work as a disguise when we met similar enemies.
I mentioned Tech Scrap there – this is the base currency for levelling up your power core, which lets you power more advanced rig parts and slot in upgrade modules, which range from health boosts to item trackers. When you die you drop tech scrap and have to get back to it – unlike Dark Souls and other games like that, it gives you a time limit, which was the one thing I wish they would have changed from before. On the plus side, the medbay where you cash scrap now handles item crafting too – so you don’t have to juggle two separate machines using the same currency. And when crafting, you can now break down better materials if you are missing lower grade ingredients to upgrade earlier kit. And it’s not just how you chop, but who you chop that has been improved.
The Surge 2’s opening hours offer a more engaging threat than the first game. Where that opened with brain dead zombies lurching around in the game’s signature rigs – think forklift trucks, but clothes – the first few hours of the Surge 2 offer a more interesting slice of villainous life. Waking up in a prison hospital starts the game with a dose of irony as you kill jailbirds with a pair of defibrillator pads. I was going to complain about breaking the Hippocratic oath, but I’d be de-fibbing-rillator – yeesh – if I said this wasn’t a fun warm-up.
Get into Jericho City and you see streets overrun with fellow escapees; instantly this human force is more varied than zombies – you’ll find cowards pelting you with molotovs while others get up in your grill, and gun-toting maniacs require a better sense of awareness. Make it to the docks and combat really sparks to life – ironically with the introduction of Spark cultists, insane tech heads who throw out robot spiders like it was the world’s nastiest pokeball, or who place gun turrets that seek out innocent flesh to pepper with bullets. Get a few of these tech freaks together and the battlefield constantly changes, as spiders charge at you and criss-crossing laser sights send you dodge rolling for cover. It’s all easily solved with a massive mallet to the face, but I love the blend of long-range and close-up trouble – it also justifies the level designers giving us open more open areas to fight through. To balance out enemy tech you get a revamped drone.
You had one in the first game, but it was limited in terms of upgrades and drew from your energy – which is earned by attacking. In The Surge 2, the drone has ammo, making it more of a standalone weapon to work into your tactics. It can snipe at long-distance enemies you can’t physically reach… or the old trick of getting an enemy’s attention to draw them away from the pack. More often than not you’re just blasting away at ranged gunmen while dodging the more immediate weapons. As with regular combat, you can target different body parts – so aiming for unarmoured bits will save ammunition. Although, handily, shooting off armoured limbs with the drone still lets you harvest them for blueprints and materials.
If you want to be a dick about it, you can use the drone to whittle down a limb’s health and then waltz tp steal all the glory with the cinematic kill shot. The drone can chew through turrets and spider bots – making it ideal for cleaning out minefields. You can also equip multiple weapons and scroll through them – juicier ammo types, like molotovs, are rare or have to be purchased at the stores, so try to use them judiciously. If I had one criticism of the drone it’s that I wish ammo was a more common, as it’s fun to use.
You can find bullets or restock by cutting off a gunner’s gun arm, but I still found stretches of the game where the drone was out of juice – as a result, you are less inclined to engage with upgrades or using modules that boost drone damage. As much as the drone tears people apart, it can also bring them together… with new online social features. For starters it can tag the environment with holographic graffitti that acts much like Dark Souls’ online messages – simple pictures can be used to hint at secrets hidden in unseen corners or ambushes down dark alleys. People who do this stuff are kinder gamers than I – I get so bitter about nasty surprises I want everyone to experience them. But as well as pretending to be digital Banksy, the drone also lets you play hide and seek.
This is cool: it’s called a banner and lets you place a tiny holographic model of your avatar anywhere in the world. Once placed it will appear in the same location in other people’s games for one hour. If they find your banner they get a small tech scrap reward. The fewer people who find and destroy the banner, the bigger the reward you get at the end of an hour. And it’s not too shabby – i got 4500 scrap because only 14% found my tiny, tiny man. And so the game becomes about trying to hide it in places people won’t find – maybe do some creative jumping to a shady corner, or put it in areas where strong enemies roam.
It’s a fun online feature But who wants to connect with humans when you could be disconnecting bits of humans. Yes, the slow motion finishing moves are back and a lot of them seem new to me, which is a good opportunity for a slow motion montage set to inappropriate classical music. Chopping is easier thanks to a new directional parry. Jab towards an incoming swing and you stumble enemies for an easy hit and follow-up combo.
Particularly useful used in conjunction with the heavier weapons, as you can use the quick parry to enjoy a hefty free hit. Normally the attack animation of Codename Moonlight is so slow that The Surge 3 is coming out by the time it connects. The circular on-screen indicator is entirely optional – it’s actually one of the ability modules you install in your rig. It’s given to you early on to help teach parry timings, but it eats up five slots of your suit’s battery supply.
Early on, this is the difference between being able to equip a couple of armour pieces, so the developers hope you’ll learn to read incoming attacks and not rely on the gadget. But it’s there if you need it – which is a neat solution to the difficulty issue. Instead of tone down the game’s challenge, you opt in to a helpful power. And at the heart of all of the slicing and dicing are the weapons themselves. Big news for people who played the first game: weapon proficiencies are gone, so you’re no longer rewarded for sticking with one weapon type.
I imagine this was done because there are many more weapon classes and why limit people within that? I’ve only had a short time to gather new weapons, but wanted to highlight some favourites. The Double Duty class involves weapons that look like one nasty thing and then split into two equally nasty things – like an axe that turns into two axes… or the Punishing Slashbrand, which is basically what you’d get if you turned JJ Abrams lens flare into a sword.
It lights up the screen and splits in half to split goons in half. It’s pretty and pretty violent. And I adore the punching gloves class, specifically for these Gemini Double things. For starters, they’d be amazing at hammering in tent pegs and tenderising steaks, but more importantly they take your punch and add lots of little punches on the end. It’s a boxing glove that does the boxing for you. Ingenious!
The future can’t get here fast enough. Er, there’s also a hammer class, which lets you recreate your favourite Old Boy scenes. I don’t think I need to say any more. The last big change I wanted to highlight is slightly harder to show in video: it’s a general sense of a fuller, more lived-in world.
Jericho City has the benefit of being a city with more diverse regions than the endless workshops of the first game – in these opening hours we explore the prison, docklands, city streets and enter a non-combat zone where you find NPCs with extra back story, shops and side quests. There’s even a machine you can feed audio logs in exchange for more audio logs. More side quests are a welcome addition and bring much needed character to the world – although I do regret helping the kind lady who turned out to be a cannibal and put me in her meat mincing machine. That was a bad time. The Surge 2 still relies heavily on audiologs to tell a lot of its story, but characters appear more often to fill in missing details and give your quest more purpose.
You’ll see boss characters pop up to bully you and see future characters foreshadowed at a distance. There are also these strange echoes of the past – as you make your way through the city you are discovering events that unfolded while your hero recovered in the hospital. I definitely have a better sense of what I’m trying to achieve in the sequel than I did in the first game. And from a level design point of view, Jericho City is riddled with shortcuts and hidden corners – giving you that constant sense of ‘oh, we’re back here’ – which is a really important part of the magic of exploring these labyrinths. There was a bit of this in The Surge 1, but the way each region loops back to a central medbay seems a lot more elegant here.