Yahtzee reviews The Surge.
This episode premiered in the (nominally) post-ZP Escapist Twitch stream and was released on the Escapist website a few hours later.
When Deck13 Interactive set out to make a game to rival Dark Souls, the nay-sayers said it couldn't be done, but Deck13 damn well knuckled down and made Lords of the Fallen, thus proving the nay-sayers right, because Lords of the Fallen was, while superficially Dark Souls-esque, short, boring, and reminiscent of a D&D campaign run by a bloke who collects knives. But nonetheless emboldened, having gotten the straight rip-off out of the way with a dark fantasy game, Deck13 now moves to bring super-hard exploration RPGs to the world of science fiction with their new game, The Surge, thus breathing new life into the word "surge", which was previously of use only to electricians and erotic fiction writers. Seriously, try it: describe any human body part as "surging", and voila, you're writing erotic fiction. "Tenderly, he caressed her surging kneecaps."
Sadly, there's very little erotic about The Surge, which continues many of the trends started by Lords of the Fallen in that the combat's a bit clunky and most of the characters look like they covered themselves in glue and rolled around in a dumpster full of old dishwasher parts. I don't know if The Surge is as short as Lords of the Fallen; I've heard it is, but I couldn't say because I stopped playing at the third boss. In fact, let's not mince words; I think I might hate The Surge. I feel like I've been easier-going lately; it's probably because I have a small dog now, but I forgot how much I enjoy really hating things. It's like putting on a favorite old sweater and smacking yourself in the balls with your childhood teddy.
And The Surge got off to such a promising start, too: we open on a futuristic train with our slightly generic main character, Warren - so called because he likes sticking rabbits up his bum - making his way to his first day at work with some kind of tech company, and when we're given control, we move him away from his seat and see for the first time that he's wheelchair-bound. That's actually pretty neat, storytelling-wise; just a smidgen ripped off from James Cameron's Avatar, but hey, without cutscenes or dialogue, we've established our protagonist is vulnerable and hoping for the better life that this tech company's industrial robot suits can offer. So he probably felt a bit gipped when it turned out all they were going to do was nail bits of scrap metal to his legs.
You see, what follows the prologue is a cinematic in which Warren gets his all his fancy new cyber-bits drilled into his flesh, except they forgot the anesthetic, and he's awake and screaming the whole way through, as the camera zooms gratuitously in on the blood squirting out of his new shoulder-mounted shelf bracket. It's quite harrowing, and I'm not even sure what the point of it is. I'm sorry, The Surge; perhaps there's a bit of a misunderstanding. I came here for some exciting sci-fi action, but you seem to be showing cripple torture porn. "All right, fine. Begrudge us a little fun. Bam! Now you're in a junkyard fighting robots. Go." It's that abrupt!
Maybe if Warren had interacted with another human being during the wheelchair prologue segment, we could have gotten a handle on some context. As it stands, for all we know, the torture porn cinematic and everything following could just be some kind of "How Not to Do It" occupational health and safety video they're making Warren watch. But this is another callback to Lords of the Fallen, isn't it, which also began with a pre-rendered intro cinematic that was largely cock-all to do with the rest of the game. So I guess this is Deck13's design philosophy: "Hey, do you mind watching this video we threw together for a laugh while we finish nailing bread-bins and bits of old pipe to the main character's armor?" I was impressed by how the story successfully created the atmosphere of a new work environment, though, because something's gone horribly wrong, and no one seems to know why or who to blame. But it scarcely needs an explanation; the machines have all gone hostile, standard science fiction plot 14-Alpha. The explanation is, they needed to do that for there to be a video game.
So we begin the usual Dark Souls pattern: gradually advance, explore, unlock shortcuts, and get repeatedly smashed like an avocado in a sprinter's jockstrap, more so than in other Dark Souls-likes, I'd say. If it is a relatively short game, then it may have compensated by cranking the difficulty up even higher than usual, so we have to creep forwards, square foot by agonizing square foot, in case another concealed enemy jumps out from a blind corner and chops your health bar up in two hits. But hey, if it's obnoxious difficulty that makes me like Dark Souls, then surely, even more obnoxious difficulty can only make things better? Don't you try to catch me up with your Earth logic, human!
In the world of difficult games, there exists a hypothetical line, which I like to call the Tropic of Fuckabout. It is defined as the point where high difficulty stops being a stimulating challenge and becomes merely fucking me about. The fact that we and most of the half-human enemies we face are basically scrapyards on legs and that the robotic enemies lean towards being flat, geometric shapes on legs mean it's really hard to read their movements, especially in dark areas, because for some breathtakingly arbitrary reason, you can only turn your flashlight on when you're wearing a piece of body armor, and even then, it's a miserable spot, about sufficient to illuminate two-thirds of the entity trying to shove a pneumatic drill up your nose.
The best approach I found was to wade in and start mashing "Attack", not with a fast light weapon, because I'd always come out of it with some health lost and a foot missing, because apparently, one of the enemy's indistinct movements might have been a stab. I'd use a heavy weapon I could make sure would stun-lock them, and which only have a wind-up time of about 900 million years, and knocks you into long combat animations that might end with you combo-ing right off a fucking ledge into a pile of sharpened supermarket trolleys. None of which are impossible to compensate for, of course; this is all shit that can still be countered with the usual go-to advice for twats, "Git Gud", even the fucking horrible dodge mechanic, where you have to flick the right analog stick. I've said this before, third-person games: leave the right analog stick alone to its happy little world of controlling the camera. You force it out of its comfort zone, and it's just going to piss on the bus seat and ruin the whole field trip.
None of this was enough to bring out that hate I mentioned earlier. Frustration, yes, but frustration doesn't stop me from playing; it just means I'll need two diazepam and a wank once I'm done. The hate only came when I was taking on the third boss: it's a big industrial machine with about nine things on it trying to kill you, fair enough. But for some turbo-cocking reason, every time you attack one, the game auto-targets it, leaving you staring blissfully into its eyes as its eight friends are winding up attacks where you can't see. Get past that, and I can start attacking the core, but if you target it, it fucking switches to a fixed camera, so I could barely see what I'm doing! What's got into you, camera?! Is this about the "pissing on the bus seat" comment?!
Finally, after much frustration and about 900 attempts, I've gotten the core on the ropes and I'm moments from landing the final blow, whereupon I glitch through the floor and fall to my death. No. That's too much. That's gone right over the Tropic of Fuckabout on a jet-ski full of dicks. I'm done. Fuck The Surge, fuck Deck13, fuck anyone who likes it. Blimey, that's filled my schedule out for the week.
- Surging buttocks: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Still don't know what made all the machines go crazy but I'm guessing it was something to do with a surge
- Smack my glitch up