Future is hell.
The Surge 2, much like its predecessor, is a hodgepodge of influences and ideas, from Dark Souls and The Division to Borderlands. The protagonist – this time, a customisable one of your choosing – wakes up in a medical ward, their last waking memory being of a plane crash. Going from bad to worse, they’re in a prison. Going from bad to a little better but still pretty bad, a mysterious machine creature raids the prison, allowing you to make your escape.
Outside of the prison, things still aren’t too good. An outbreak of a nanite virus has led to a quarantine of Jericho City. This setting is quite a contrast from the somewhat claustrophobic and samey factory of the first game. That said, it’s not exactly a sprawling open-world metropolis. Rather, much of your time will be spent navigating back alleys, facility corridors, barricaded streets and underground passages.
As a setting, the city is a mixed bag. It looks good in places but doesn’t feel like a living, breathing world – even taking into account the fact that it’s post-apocalypse. Some parts are a soulless concrete jungle, and others are a tad too brown, but these are interspersed with cyberpunk neon, cultish adornment from the bizarre nanite-worshipping religions, and some beautiful post-apocalypse porn of crumbling buildings.
It goes all-in on that signature Souls-like level design that is full of secrets to uncover and winds around itself, with a host of doors, elevators and even zip lines that can be opened up as a shortcut back to a medbay safe zone. By the time you’ve unlocked them all, some medbays can potentially link to as many as seven or more paths. It’s genius, and a little witchcraft-like, how such an intricate urban labyrinth has been constructed.
The problem with this elaborate level design, however, is that The Surge 2 stubbornly rejects maps. A map technically exists, sure. But not within your menu – you can only access it by squinting at posters mounted on walls across the city. They’re devoid of any detail and completely useless for working out how to get to where you need to go. This is one of those games you do not want to shelve halfway through and try to pick up again a year later.
The combat feels like a successful evolution from The Surge. It strikes a nice balance between weightiness and responsiveness, with hits feeling satisfying. It’s still faster than its Souls inspiration, perhaps even more so in this installment.
The finishers are the real icing on the cake this time around. One of The Surge’s defining mechanics was the ability to focus on certain armoured body parts and chop them off when you’d dealt enough damage to them, recovering that armour part. This returns, but now with a selection of glorious slow-mo dismemberment animations to sweeten the deal. It’s overly gratuitous, sure, but they never get old.
For a Souls-like, The Surge 2 makes you feel pretty powerful. You’ve no shortage of ways to get an advantage over your enemies and avoid damage. You can sneak and backstab. Parry and counter-attack. Knock enemies to the ground. Target weak points. Even fire from a safe distance with your drone.
It’s also surprisingly easy to heal. Attacking enemies builds up battery charges that can be spent on your healing implants. And these charge pretty quickly. I opted for weapons with a 100% bonus to charge rate paired with a couple of different healing implants. Prioritising slower charged attacks further increased my charge rate. This let me heal frequently, allowing for a more gung-ho playstyle than you’d expect of the genre.
Combine this with the ability to grind through the levels, craft and upgrade high-defence armour and augment yourself with other useful implants and there’s plenty you can do to mitigate the challenge of The Surge 2’s levels. That said, it didn’t stop the odd boss battle or tougher grunt from handing my ass to me at times.
Other than the old favourite of enemies hiding behind corners ready to pounce, it avoids overly cruel trial and error. There are few deadly environmental traps, and even falling off a ledge or drowning is generously resolved with a respawn back on solid ground. The Surge 2 can still be difficult but it’s rarely unfair.
While the action and level design are strengths of The Surge 2, I can’t say the same for its story. What you’re fed in dribs and drabs is serviceable, including The Division-like flashbacks. But the characters and their dialogue are largely forgettable, with the tone striking an odd balance of sorta serious while still not taking itself too seriously – but not exactly being very funny either.
I did run into a handful of technical issues on the PC version. For starters, it never opened properly in full-screen mode. Once, I seemingly encountered a memory leak issue where the framerate became progressively worse until I restarted. A crash to desktop forced a more abrupt restart another time – thankfully, not long after an autosave. And finally, another time I booted it up, the screen was a mess of static and artifacts.
Thankfully, none of the issues I encountered was permanently game-breaking. A minor annoyance was that my character would occasionally get stuck on terrain when lunging forward with a charged attack, leaving them vulnerable. But on the flip side, enemies would also sometimes become stuck themselves, which I was all too happy to take advantage of.
Of course, your mileage may vary and the day one patch will hopefully make the game more stable than my pre-release build. But I’d approach with caution, aware that you may not have the smoothest experience.
The Surge 2 nicely scratches the itch for open-world action. Its less punishing flavour of Souls-like is easier to stomach, and it’s worth checking out for the gratifying combat and clever – albeit confusing – level design. Just don’t expect it to set the genre on fire or captivate you with its narrative.
[Reviewed on PC]
James, our deputy editor, loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or metroidvania. In addition to making sure everything on the site is as good as it can be – scouring for typos, tweaking headlines, finding the fanciest images – he’s also in charge of the reviews section.