“Bigger. More.” I imagine those two words were the full extent of the pitch for The Surge 2. The original game wasn’t perfect, but it made a case for itself with its sci-fi aesthetic, challenging combat, and unique limb-targeting mechanics. After spending around 20 hours with developer Deck13’s follow-up, I’m stuck in an uncomfortable limbo of appreciation and disappointment. It’s definitely bigger, and there’s certainly more, but there’s still a lack of polish around the edges that stops it from being definitively better.
The Surge series takes place in a dystopian future where technology has run amok and left humankind and our world in ruins, but if you’re looking for a great narrative, you won’t find it here. That’s not to say there isn’t compelling content to be found through individualized stories told in side-quests, but the overarching plot is incomprehensible jargon that seems meant to set a tone more than tell a captivating tale. Having played both games now and listened to many of the collectible audio logs, I still couldn’t tell you much about what happened beyond the surface-level tasks I was asked to complete.
But that’s probably not why you’re here. Combat remains its central pillar, and it’s a damn good time. Locking on and side-stepping around enemies to find perfect openings for combos feels and controls beautifully, and the series’ trademark limb-slicing returns to let you obtain an enemy’s armor or weapon with brutal slow-motion dismemberments. Because of this, there’s a smorgasbord of available weapons doled out constantly, and each type feels far more viable this go-around. You can even set favorites and switch between them on the fly to help you tackle each fight with the best tool for the job.
Meanwhile, full set bonuses on armor gives you incentive to chop off the limbs of anyone wearing it and craft their set, netting you its useful perks. And you’ll need to chop off plenty anyways to find upgrade materials and keep yourself competitive against the hordes of enemies the game throws at you. Additionally, a huge selection of rig implants can be applied and upgraded at a med-bay: The Surge 2’s version of a bonfire from Dark Souls. These diverse augments offer helpful perks like extra damage against a specific type of enemy, improved damage when health is low, or access to injections that refill health.
These healing implants don’t give simple limited-use consumables this time, though. Instead, injection charges are only earned by landing successful attacks to build energy. Once you’ve built enough, you can consume it to heal immediately or to store away a healing charge for later. This means healing is essentially infinite in The Surge 2 once you unlock implants that increase how fast you earn energy or how slowly it decays. Eventually, I was storing up max healing charges alongside five bars worth of energy for adding more any time I needed.
This new healing mechanic is part of a larger focus the game places on more mindful play. The Surge 2 isn’t slow or deliberate like some games in the genre; enemies here are relentless, and if you want to heal and survive, you’ve got to learn how to match their level of aggression while balancing your defensive maneuvers and energy stores all at once. Even the new direction-based blocking requires unwavering awareness to successfully repel your enemy’s often lengthy combos, and the parry system leaves little room for error for those who time it poorly.
I was happy to see that the drone, The Surge 2’s ranged attack option, gets a lot more love than it did in the first outing. There’s a wide variety of types that allow you to compliment your preferred playstyle, and though I never opted to use the beam laser or sniper often, it was nice to know that I had such options available to me. Ammo is consumable but generously scattered throughout the levels and dropped by enemies, and each rest at the med-bay ensures a refill from your stored stocks. Still, this long-range option remains supplementary, so there’s no feasible ranged builds to be made here.
A new EMP drone acquired early in the game proves invaluable in tougher fights, allowing you to shoot and detonate it at will to briefly stagger opponents. Timing it properly allows for some great combo potential, and some of the difficult multi-enemy encounters would’ve felt even more overwhelming if not for such a convenient tool to give me easier openings. It’s also used to open doors throughout the game, some optional and some required, that often lead to loot and quest items.
Speaking of questing, there’s still no interactive map or compass to follow, but you do have a basic quest log that keeps up with who you’ve talked to and what they’ve asked you to do next. It’s all still as cryptic as you’d expect from a game in the Souls-like genre, but it’s enough to give you some clue as to where your next objective may be found. Unfortunately, much like the first outing, navigating the game’s labyrinthine levels to find these objectives proves one of its most frustrating aspects.
Where games like Dark Souls present players with dark catacombs, eerie forests, majestic castles, and dank swamps all filled to the brim with their own types of enemies and visual flourishes, The Surge 2 takes place entirely within the ruins of Jericho City – a grey and brown network of interchangeable alleys and streets. There are landmarks that can help you distinguish between certain central hubs, but you can rest assured that each connecting segment of the dilapidated city will have a multitude of looping paths filled with crumbled buildings, metal structures, and mostly human enemies that are largely identical to ones you’ve faced elsewhere.
This lack of aesthetic individuality to zones regularly makes navigating the main city a chore. Things fare slightly better when the game directs you to one of the unique one-off areas, but with city areas blurring together, figuring out how to navigate your way to or from new places remains an exhausting process of wandering around aimlessly seeking a door or NPC you saw two hours ago. Since the game doesn’t feature fast travel to previous med-bays, opting instead to loop the entire city together through a multitude of shortcuts, it eventually becomes clear that The Surge 2 isn’t a very big game – it’s just a small game with a cluttered layout.
It’s not a very pretty game, either. Below-average texture quality and poor anti-aliasing gives it a very last-gen feel even when using the boost mode on a PS4 Pro. You would at least expect presentation to get a boost from the underwhelming visuals, but I experienced hands-down the worst screen tearing I’ve ever seen in thirty years of gaming, sometimes reaching a point that my screen just looked like a perpetually flickering collection of lines. It’s possible we’ll see much of this smoothed out in patches, but as of now, The Surge 2’s presentation quality is often abhorrent.
Even with these troublesome presentation problems and its few aggravating design quirks, I couldn’t put the game down. That’s because, like any good Souls-like game, The Surge 2 checks the most important box required to enjoy it: it’s fun as hell to play. Overcoming that boss that just won’t stop pummeling you, finding new weapons and armor to try out, and experiencing the high of finding a cool new shortcut that loops you back somewhere you haven’t seen in hours – it’s all here in a way that only this genre can provide. The Surge 2 isn’t likely to win any awards, but it just might win over your heart.
A PS4 code was provided by PR for the purposes of this review
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The Surge 2 builds on what made the original a sleeper hit, but it regrettably maintains some of the visual and design foibles that deserved to be improved on in a second outing.