One of the best Dark Souls clones of recent years gets a sequel and a new sci-fi setting but how close does it get to the real thing?
Dark Souls III was released only a little over three years ago now and yet somehow it feels like an eternity since FromSoftware announced the end of the franchise and implied that any future games would be spiritual, rather than literal, sequels. That seemed like a very sensible decision at the time, because as good as the third game was there was a sense that Dark Souls had been taken about as far as it could go. But now its gone we cant help but wish for more, which is where games like The Surge 2 come in.
To what degree FromSoftware will return to the SoulsBorne formula in the future is unclear. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had many similarities in style but purposefully positioned itself as something different. And while the secretive Elden Ring is being described as a natural evolution of Dark Souls, theres no sign that itll be out anytime soon. Which means that, at the moment, the only option for a similar experience is clones, of which the original The Surge was one of the better examples.
The first Surge game also had the gimmick of a sci-fi setting, rather than a fantasy one, although it was a grotty looking dystopia rather than anything grander or more optimistic. The original game was influenced by the look of Matt Damon film flop Elysium, with everyone either having a similar kind of exoskeleton or full-on Borg style implants. The sequel continues that theme, although it struggles to build upon it.
Despite the sci-fi setting most of the combat in the original game was melee-based, and therefore still very similar to Dark Souls. That was great for those that really did just want more of the same, but it seemed like a disappointing waste of potential. Unfortunately, thats not a fault the sequel is interested in addressing and while the location for most of the game has changed from industrial wasteland to a whole city the basics remain largely the same.
The Escape from New York style plot involves Jericho City (which, naturally, has a giant wall around it) being overrrun by robotic lifeforms and the whole area been quarantined off. But despite a promising set-up the story isnt very engaging and even with a larger number of non-player characters it never really grabs your imagination.
Instead of playing a pre-set character you have a lot more customisation options this time, with multiple combat styles and more weapon types. However, the main gameplay loop still feels almost exactly the same as before, as you try to scrounge together enough tech scrap (souls, in other words) to upgrade your armour and weapons and prepare yourself for the various boss characters.
Medbays function exactly like bonfires from Dark Souls and while they all have sci-fi names most of the weapons are essentially just high-tech swords, staffs, and axes. Technically youre installing cybernetic implants to upgrade your abilities but in practical terms it wouldnt have made any difference if it was just called the Enchanted Girdle of Vanger.
None of that should suggest that the combat isnt still fun, but the fact the original made such limited use of its sci-fi setting was already disappointing and seeing no significant advancement in the sequel is dispiriting. The biggest change is that the simple parry from the original has now been replaced by one you have to manually control, which is an interesting challenge. Although the visual cue as to what direction an attack is coming from can be frustratingly inconsistent.
There are other small refinements, such as the ability to instantly switch between multiple loadouts, depending on the enemy youre facing, but nothing approaching a big new idea. Especially not when one of the other new additions is a graffiti-based communication system that adds Dark Souls style notes and annotations from other online players. In the end the games most unique feature remains the ability to dismember enemies in order to both fight them and be guaranteed useful salvage when theyre defeated.
The biggest issue for The Surge 2 is that it feels like a step back from the original. The combat is slightly more involved, but the boss battles are disappointingly similar and no longer require radically different tactics to complete. The camera also gets confused a lot more easily, particularly in boss fights.
In theory, the city setting is more varied than that of the first game but it rarely ever feels like it. The ruined architecture and underground tunnels are largely the same wherever you go and when you do reach somewhere thats different – like an unexpectedly leafy nature preserve – it suddenly drives home how non-descript the game has been up to that point.
The visuals also have problems on a technical level, with a lot of screen-tearing, glitchy textures, an uneven frame rate even in performance mode, and a general lack of spit and polish. Both technically and artistically the game just isnt that interesting to look at, and thats a problem when the setting is supposed to be a large part of the appeal.