During my hands-on with The Surge, I beat the first boss. It was a legit feat, met with a round of applause from the attending devs from Deck 13. Best known for the Dark Souls -y RPG Lords of the Fallen, The Surge brings a similar level of punishing difficulty balanced with a learning curve gradual enough to keep you grinding and dying, grinding and dying. It's daunting enough that many of the attendees at What's Next de Focus in Paris didn't even try. But I couldn't help myself. The Surge is a phenomenal game and I was hooked.
I’m not a Dark Souls guy, generally not one for tactical melee games, but The Surge does an excellent job of acclimating you to its combat system. Using the right shoulder and trigger buttons for horizontal and vertical attacks leads to a quasi-rhythm game approach in your battles. You can't spam one button over the other, your stamina is a carefully measured resource. Instead, you find a flow of attacks that helps you keep an unrelenting pace that prevents enemy counterattacks. And prevent them you must; it only takes a few hits to kill you and send you back to respawn at a nearby med bay. Unless it’s a boss, then it’s less than a few.
I should probably mention that The Surge doesn’t feature a medieval setting like you’d expect from the genre. Instead, it’s got a sci-fi, near future post-apocalypse vibe. I don’t know enough about the story to know for sure if there’s been an apocalypse, but the protagonist wakes up in an industrial scrap yard and starts smashing hostile drones with a piece of metal, so I can assume we’re at least in dangerous times. It felt a little like a Fallout game, except it's in third-person and you don’t get to hoard every single scrap of trash lying around.
There is still plenty of scavenging though. The Surge has what appears to be an intricate crafting system, although in my hour or so with the game I wasn’t able to get far beyond a few upgrades. Still, even in that short time the bones of the crafting system showed me enough to convince me it’s not a total waste of time, if for no other reason than The Surge actively encourages dismembering enemies in order to collect crafting materials. Many of the foes you face are wearing exoskeletons similar to your own, and a limb targeting system allows you to hack off a particularly useful arm or leg modification and keep the parts for yourself. This isn’t as efficient as bashing an enemy in the head, and adds a layer of risk to every combat encounter. Remember, it only takes a few hits to get killed so do you want to bash past an enemy quickly and preserve precious health, or are you confident enough in your skills to dance around your opponent and knock useful gear out of him?
Enemies in The Surge have a rapid refresh rate, too. On one hand it’s quite frustrating because, when you die, your backtracking leads you past a bunch of things you already defeated and either have to fight again or sprint past. However, it's got a usefulness too. If your character isn't quite strong enough to get past a boss or a challenging section of a map you need only camp in the easier area and farm weaker foes. You’ll gather valuable resources you can use to add more upgrades to your gear and you’ll get some reps in on a combat system that is nuanced enough to reward the practice. Your attack skills upgrade over time, but there’s also the natural learning you do as you get to understand the control scheme.
There are a lot of games with melee combat and crafting and killer robots and post-apocalyptic backstories. So what sets The Surge apart? It’s hard to say specifically, but I work off of gut reaction. You know that feeling you get when you’re playing a game and you don’t want to put it down? The Surge has that. This wasn’t a game I was simply appreciating because it checked the right boxes. This is a game I wanted to rip out of the demo console and take home with me and play until sunrise. That’s a special feeling, and one I’m looking forward to exploring further when The Surge releases in May.