If we’re going to Jericho City, we should start things off with a little bit of the bubbly! Okay, wrestling jokes and memes aside, The Surge 2 brings with it a brand new story, some clever new tricks, and a revamped personality that might be a little more inviting than the previous industrial nightmare. Unfortunately, there’s a little too much variation and it left me feeling as if Deck 13 was a little unsure of some of these design choices.
The Surge 2 starts out as you witness a brutal plane crash that leaves no survivors - except for you, because of course, the main character has to be the lone survivor. This character is unnamed and customizable, but honestly about as bland as you can get. You can make your character look as normal or as weird as you’d like and it doesn’t even matter because the characters mostly confused as to what they want to dress like. Some people look like psychos from Borderlands and Mad Max refugees, and none of it is really explained, cause why would a crazy person set up exploding spiders aimed at you while military and police forces are just around the corner who also consider you both equally threatening.
When looking back at The Surge, the main character Warren wasn’t much more exciting than another protagonist whom people love to hate (looking at you Aiden Pierce from Watch Dogs), but his character arc starts out with a big surprise. Warren was, at least in my memory, the first playable main character who was in a wheelchair. Of course, he’s only wheel bound for the first few minutes of the game before he’s violently affixed to his EXO suit when joining CREO’s forces, the emotional response I felt as I quickly realized this guy was volunteering for something dangerous just for a shot at a better quality of life resonated with me. The Surge 2’s plane crash should have the same type of impact, but it’s so cliche that I barely even gave it a second thought. Warren being the first wheelchair bound hero that I remember playing really caught me off guard from the first playable moment in The Surge and I had hoped to see something similar kick off the sequel.
That said, crash landing into Jericho City does immediately eliminate a lot of The Surge’s fan complaints. In the original game, you were mostly confined to an indoor hell of greys, blues, and yellows - clashing an ultimately forgettable mess of steel beams and metal pipes against concrete walls marked by yellow caution markings. The few outdoor sections are where The Surge shined, and The Surge 2 makes up for that by primarily letting you thrive within the confines of Jericho City, a decently open-world type of metropolitan hub, where you explore the sketchy alleys and all too empty rooftops, only venturing indoors to clear pre-determined dungeon type settings. This makes for a much more interesting experience, and I believe more people will find the city more inviting than the drab and dank warehouse settings of CREO’s past.
Combat in The Surge 2 is largely the same as it was in the original Surge. Each enemy has a targetable set of five body sections - Head, Torso, each Leg, and each Arm, and through targeting specific body parts, you’re rewarded by obtaining their gear. It’s not quite as instantly gratifying as you’re used to in other Soulsborne games, as you won’t actually get to immediately equip anything other than the weapon you pick up. Each limb will give you the schematic for whatever set of armor they were wearing, and subsequent severings reward you with pieces that you can use to craft said gear. As you fight tougher enemies, the pieces scavenged are higher tier which allows you to upgrade your gear from Mark I to Mark IV.
The easiest trick in The Surge was to attack an enemy where they were unarmored, and then quickly switch so you could execute them and sever whatever limb you needed. Deck 13 learned from this mistake, and this time you’ll have to pay closer attention as you have to not only break their armor in order to sever the targeted limb, but you’ll also have to ensure you don’t do too much damage or you’ll kill the enemy and you’ll miss out on getting parts for your gear crafting and upgrades.
Hand to hand fighting is largely unchanged, though it’s considerably more challenging this time around. In most Soulsborne style games, you can often overwhelm enemies with a flurry of attacks that will cause staggering and AI hiccups that will allow you to gain a fairly easy upper hand. While The Surge 2 isn’t free from said hiccups - engineers will often freeze up into a weird glitchy panic if you disable all of their gadgets - Deck 13 added the ability for enemies to basically enrage, which allows them to ignore your damage and unleash their own flurries of carnage that only stops if you back off or simply kill them first. It’s a nice addition, which updates the tried-but-true combat formula. There’s also the added dimension of a multi-directional block function, which will allow you to stun an enemy if you block from the right direction at the moment of impact. It’s like For Honor, but in a game that’s actually fun.
The drone itself plays a much more useful role in The Surge 2, once again providing access to utilities such as breaking EMP door locks, stunning enemies, doing pure damage, spraying graffiti tags (this is like leaving messages for other players in the Soulsborne games), or simply recalling yourself to the nearest medbay for the cost of all of your held tech scrap. Having a little more freedom to use the drone as an actual tool feels more fleshed out this time and improves the feel of combat ever-so-slightly. There are several boss battles where a well timed drone shot or an EMP stun will allow you for a bit of breathing room.
Once again, Deck 13 hasn’t strayed too far from what made The Surge a cult hit. Jericho City has a few places that serve as meeting hubs, things do feel more alive than they did in the original game. However, they aren’t quite as fleshed out as I would have liked. While Jericho City looks similar to some futuristic cities we’ve seen in other games, it’s mostly just some building lined pathways that connect a bunch of different locations. Adding the ziplines makes traversal a little bit quicker, but not having fast travel options makes The Surge 2 feel slightly behind the times. A grappling hook system would have added a lot to the sense of exploration more so than only being able to slide across gaps.
The Surge 2 also includes some performance modes: the Quality option lets you choose higher resolution in exchange for a lower frame rate, but I prefer the faster Performance option as I prefer faster combat. In my opinion, the performance trade-off isn’t worth the negligible visual improvement on my 4K TV. There’s also some texture pop-in issues in both modes. I’m not someone who’s bothered by screen tearing as I’ve played plenty of console games and used underpowered computers, but the screen tears are really way too common in Performance mode. I can deal with it, but if you’re sensitive to graphical anomalies, you should probably opt for the Quality option.
Ultimately, The Surge 2 is a gracious second helping for those who wanted more after they finished The Surge and its DLC packs. Some of the combat enhancements make fighting feel a lot more fun, while aesthetically some of the costume choices made me scratch my head a bit. Severing limbs never felt so rewarding, and being able to zipline later in the game adds a little more fun to a fairly intense environment
- Combat is more challenging than first installment
- Ziplining makes travel a bit faster
- Jericho City is much more interesting than The Surge's warehouse setting
- Performance issues on PS4 mar experience
- Story can be a bit bland and predictable