'The Surge 2' Doesn't Hold Your Hand (Unless It's Chopping It Off)

The Surge 2 is very, very hard. But that doesn't mean it can't be very, very good. At a time when the gaming community at large seems to be debating (see: screaming on twitter) the merits of highly difficult games, The Surge 2 will clearly fall into the category of git gud or die trying. I tried, and died, a lot in my one-hour demo. But unlike other Souls-like games, including the recent hit Sekiro, this latest effort from Deck13 includes a much more tangible sense of progression. You can improve tiny bit-by-tiny bit and slowly conquer what was once unconquerable. Whether this grind can also support the kind of momentum needed to engage players in the long term remains to be seen, and certainly isn't something I could glean from a one-hour demo. But what I did play, I liked (kind of).

TheSurge2 hands on impression preview 1
Tactical combat means hack-n-slash is replaced by swing-n-think. Deck13

A bit of backstory. The Surge 2 takes place in Jericho City, a more dynamic urban environment than the factory players explored in The Surge . A.I.D., a paramilitary authority, has issued a quarantine to contain a technovirus infecting machines/people. It's a little vanilla cyberpunk/dystopia at first, but the lore of this world allows for the creation of some spectacular enemies. Strange beasts made of nanomachines stalk you alongside a variety of high tech mercenaries, all of which are very lethal. But one of the things I enjoyed most in my demo was how consistently the game managed to surprise me with an enemy type that was outlandish and terrifying.

Fueling the terror is your own incompetence. My demo began, according to the devs, at a point roughly 3-4 hours into the game. So not so far advanced that I was totally in the shit, but not so early I had no skills or durability. However, this meant I had some trouble understanding what was at my disposal. My first dozen or so attempts to venture into the world saw me dying at the hands of two run-of-the-mill guards posted a few yards from the entry point. Once I got into my inventory and selected the appropriate weapon for my playstyle (a massive warhammer-type weapon) I managed to make some progress. But that didn't mean I wasn't intimidated once the enemies shifted from human guards to nightmarish robo-beasts.

TheSurge2 hands on impression preview
Small gains can add up to big rewards ... if you're patient. Deck13

So what makes The Surge 2 so difficult? Like any Souls-like, it runs off of what the devs describe as "tactical melee." You aren't button mashing. Your strategy is to target specific body parts on your enemies, and with practice you'll learn to spot unarmored or weak points, and then make a few careful strikes. You have a stamina bar, and once it's depleted you're slower and weaker and more vulnerable to attack. So it's very much a dance of target, strike, dodge, repeat. Once you get an enemy reeling you can apply more pressure, and if you've comboed effectively you are able to perform a finishing move that eviscerates/dismembers your foe depending on what you're targeting.

But it's more than just gore. Specific parts drop specific loot, so decapitating someone can yield helmet upgrades, for example. One of the shining examples of this is ammo. Your character can launch a drone that shoots enemies from afar, as long as it has bullets. When you run out of bullets don't expect to see a plethora of ammo crates lying around. Instead, you'll notice that most A.I.D. troops carry an ammo pouch on their left leg. Cut off the leg, get ammo. It's that kind of thoughtful detail that has me excited about the game.

The gameplay loop itself is a bit grindy but there is actual progression occurring even if it doesn't feel like it. Say you only manage to kill one enemy per run, which happened to me quite a bit. It still drops a little something. Those little somethings add up. After a few runs I managed to gather enough scraps and schematics to craft some chest armor, which greatly improved my chances. By the end of the demo I had gone through all the guards that had given me so much trouble, and even a few of the scary robo-beasts, too. I didn't feel good at the game, but I felt like I was getting better. And that's enough to keep me playing for a long, long time.