Underneath my yellow skin

First half of The Surge–otherwise known as Junkyard Souls

grind 'em up!
You didn’t need that arm, did you?

In the world of the Souls-like, I have tried many–oh, so many–with dismal results. Most of them lacked a certain something that makes Souls games addictive to me, though it was different with each game. Ironically, the ones that hewed the closest to Souls were the most disappointing because they made me want to be playing a new Souls game. I haven’t finished most of those games. The one exception to that was Salt & Sanctuary, which I thought was a solid game as a caster, but a shite one as a melee character. I also promptly forgot much of it once I beat it, but that’s neither here nor there. Then, there was a Souls-like I really adored, Hollow Knight, that I just sucked at and knew I wouldn’t be able to finish. I still think it’s a great game, and I love the protagonist.

Anyhoo, one of the more slavish Souls-like games was Lords of the Fallen, made by Deck 13 Interactive. It made no bones about the game being a love letter to Dark Souls, and almost everything they did could be mapped onto something in Souls. It should have been my jam, except it wasn’t because one, the magic was shite (at least in the few hours I played). Two, they mistook careful combat for everything being suuuuuuuper slow. Three, the one thing they added is a timer for getting back your Souls (whatever they were called) when you die, and I hated that. A lot. I tried Lords of the Fallen twice, and quit within a few hours the second time because it just wasn’t very good.

Fast-forward to 2017. Deck 13’s next Souls-like game came out, called The Surge. Lords of the Fallen was called Clunky Souls, which was more than apt. The Surge is Junkyard Souls, though they prefer to say it’s Sci-fi Souls. I watched a bit of YouTubers and reviewers when they played it, and it was immediately much more intriguing than Lords of the Fallen, even though I’m not into sci-fi. At all. I’m way into fantasy, but LotF was so generic, it might as well have not been fantasy at all.

I knew when I saw The Surge that I would try it out. I’ve given most Souls-likes a go, and this one had enough going for it that I wanted to at least give it a shot. I also knew I would wait until it went on sale because I wasn’t paying forty bucks for it. The Steam Summer Sale started last week, and both The Surge and Prey (for some reason, they are the same game to me in my mind) were on steep sale, and both had free demos. I installed both, and before I tell you about The Surge, let me tell you about my experience with the Prey demo.

I fired it up and was immediately nauseated. It’s first-person, and I have severe motion sickness. I fiddled with the FOV, and when I tried to go back to the game, it crashed. When I tried to restart, I couldn’t use my controller. Third time, I was able to get it running, but I was still nauseated. I messed with the FOV for a few more minutes, but nothing seemed to work. I went to the Googles, and the Steam forum informed me that it’s a motion blur problem, and that you have to go into the files to fix it because it’s not an option in-game. Which is infuriating because motion blur, apparently, is to make console game players forget that the game is only 30 fps and not 60 fps, like PCs. Ahem.

hammer to the face.
I’ll be taking that head, thank you.

Now, since I did not own the game, I could not go into the files and mess with them. I could have, theoretically, bought the game from Steam, messed with the files, try it out, then return it if it didn’t work, but why the fuck should I do all that just to play a game I wasn’t even sure I would like? That was the whole point of me trying out the demo, for fuck’s sake! I uninstalled it and struck it off my list even though I could play as an Asian woman because fuck that noise. Devs, seriously, put that shit in the settings menu. Make it as easy as possible to change that shit. Motion sickness is real, and it’s not pleasant at all. It’s probably the biggest reason I don’t like first-person shooters or anything in first person, really.

I’m sure my fellow motion sickness sufferers understand when I say that being severely nauseated is a repellent to the thing that made you ill in the first place. There is an indie game called What Remains of Edith Finch? that has been getting rave reviews. I’ve only seen people marveling at how wonderful it is and how touching it is, and I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t impressed right off, I have to say, but there was enough there to keep me moving forward with it. Then came the flying around part, and I immediately wanted to retch. Violently. My head started throbbing, I became intensely dizzy, and I went to the options to see what I could do about it. Not much as it turned out because there’s no FOV. Even if there were, I highly doubt I’d be able to fix what happened.

I asked for a refund, and I tweeted about my experience (but not the refund part). The developer tweeted me and suggested turning on the reticle, that it helped for some people. I couldn’t do that, obviously, since I had returned the game, but even if I still had the game, I wouldn’t have tried it because my reaction was so intense. Just the thought of returning to the game brought the nausea back, and why would I want to risk having that reaction again?

So, The Surge. I hopped into the demo not really expecting much. I’ve been burned so many times by Souls clones, including LotF, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. Let’s talk combat. One of the interesting things about The Surge is that you can target different body parts–head, body, left arm, right arm, left leg, and right leg. If it’s blue, it’s unarmored. If it’s yellow, it’s armored. Unarmored parts take more damage, but armored parts can be yours if you sever them. That’s how you get schematics and materials for your gear and weapons, and it’s a great addition to the whole formula. Right now, I’m rocking the Liquidator set, and I had to grind the enemies that wear it, focusing on, say the body part to get the schematic and the material needed to forge and update that part of the set.

There are three bars. Red for health; green for stamina; blue for energy. The first two are self-explanatory, but the last is a bar that fills when you hit dudes. Then, with a certain amount of energy, you can do a finishing/executioner move (A button) on an enemy which gives you a cool mini cutscene and is how you get the part you need. It’s not guaranteed you’ll get the part if you do a finisher, but it seems like I get what I need two-thirds of the time.

More combat: RB is a horizontal attack; LB is a vertical attack. Tapping the button is a light attack, and holding it down is a heavy attack. There are also jumping attacks and sliding attacks, plus you can parry and attack if you block properly. I don’t mess much with the more advance tactics, but I love the sliding attack to an unhealthy degree. There’s no roll, obviously, but B is a dodge attack. X is heal. Yes, I chose the button mapping that was closest to Souls. Deal with it.

Class-wise, you start as either a Lynx (dex) or a Rhino (strength). I chose Rhino, but it doesn’t really matter except giving you a few pieces of that armor. As I said, I’m rocking the Liquidator set, which is more streamline than tanky. If you wear a full set, you get a bonus, which for this set is added resistance to elemental damage. I have the IronMaus set which is better overall (and has to be worn as a set, and looks ridic), but doesn’t have any elemental resistance. Plus, as I said, it looks ridiculous.

A mouse in his house.

There’s an element to the class system, or rather, weapon system, that I’m on the fence about. There are different classes of weapons. Staff, one-handed, single-rigged, twin-rigged, and heavy-duty. Every time you use a weapon in a class, your proficiency in that class increases. I loved this in Skyrim, and it makes sense. Of course your proficiency in a weapon would get better the more you use it. However, and I’m sure you see where I’m going with this, it pretty much locks you into one class of weapons fairly early in. In the first area, I switched between single-rigged and heavy-duty, but I knew I would have to make a choice pretty soon. I went with single-rigged, and while I’m fine with that, I really wish there was a way to use the heavy-duty as well. I understand why, if they’re committed to proficiency leveling, they wouldn’t want to make it easy to pay for leveling up your weapon, but just make it prohibitively expensive! Ten-thousand souls, er, tech scraps, to level up your proficiency once. I think that would be a fair exchange. Then again, I have over 100,000 scraps banked (more on banking scraps later) and the area I’m currently in (DLC, second time, more on that later as well) is terrific for grinding scraps. I also have all my consumable scraps saved up, and as I recently found out, I can destroy implants and weapons for scrap as well if I so choose (which I won’t because I know myself). I knew you could do that with gear, but I didn’t know it extended to weapons and implants.

Oh, one amusing anecdote. The tutorial is minimal in this game (much like the other game, yeah, you know the one), mostly it’s signs on the wall telling you what to do. Really early on, there was a tip about how to access your backpack (your inventory). I noted it, and then promptly forgot it. I crafted some gear when I could and went about my way. After a while, I reached a section that is underground. The tip was, use left on the D-pad to turn on your lights. I tried, and I got the message I had to equip body gear before I could turn on the lights. What? OK. Maybe I didn’t have the body gear schematic, so I stabbed a dude in the body, got the schematic, and made a body rig. Went to that same area, and I still couldn’t turn on the lights because I didn’t have body gear on. After several minutes, I figured out how to access my inventory, and guess what? I hadn’t put on any gear or switched out from my starting weapon.

Yes, I was doing a starting gear-only run without even knowing it. I felt like an idiot as I geared myself out and switched to a better weapon. It made the game easier, let me tell you. Also, this game is in love with darkness, and after a few more hours, I cranked the gamma all the way up. I normally do this before I start a game because fuck artificial difficulty in the guise of darkness, but I had glossed over the gamma option when I first fiddled with the settings. There are a lot of options, some might say too many. Cranking the gamma was a godsend to my aging eyes.

Moving on. You get a companion drone at the beginning of the second level. You find different versions of drone throughout the game, and I have…five? Six? Something like that. I will admit that I rarely use the drones except to draw out an enemy because I don’t want to waste an implant slot to beef up my drone, and I don’t want to waste energy using the drone. And, speaking of drawing out enemies, most of them have very short tethers. In general, this is good when I want to run past every enemy in a level, but when I’m trying to draw one away from his buddies, it can get frustrating.

Why would I run through a level, you ask? Because the timer thing from LotF is here as well. When you die, you lose your scraps. You have roughly two-and-a-half minutes to go back to where you died to get them back. Killing enemies gives you extra time, but it’s not that much, especially if you have to run through several areas to get to your scraps. Here we run into a few of my problems with the game. This mechanism is one. Another is that there is no mini-map. Now, I can hear the savvy among you say, “Minna, Souls games don’t have maps, either.” This is very true. In general, this would put me off a game, but it doesn’t bother me in Souls games. In this game? It’s a huge pain in my flat yellow ass that all the goddamn areas bleed into each other. The shortcuts are cool and fairly plentiful, but I can’t keep them straight in my head.

In addition, the game isn’t fair at times. One thing about Souls games is that mostly, the enemy placement is fair (except DS II, so I should say Miyazaki games). Yes, there are mobs in Bloodborne, but you can usually separate them if you play wisely. Plus, the quickstep is almost godlike in helping you evade enemies. In The Surge, they throw mobs at you like crazy. Another thing in DS is that if there is a mob, each individual enemy is fairly weak. That’s not the case in The Surge. There are mobs where each enemy can one-shot you, and that elicits deep and exasperated sighs from me. That’s another thing that I dislike about the early part of this game–too many enemies can one or two-shot you. Yes, death should mean something (although, banking scraps makes it less tense. They try to balance that by giving you increasingly higher multipliers the more scraps you have and the more quickly you kill enemies, but it doesn’t really work on me. I bank whenever I have a sizable amount, which is usually any time I’m at the medbay, which is the bonfire of this game), but some of the deaths early on felt really unfair.

OK. This is getting long, as is my wont. I’ll stop here and continue in another post. See you next week!

One Response to First half of The Surge–otherwise known as Junkyard Souls

  1. […] Ian and I sometimes talk about the way we game. He’s a Games Journalist™ now, but even before he had to play a million games a week, he had the tendency to dive into something for a bit, then move on to another game, rinse, lather, and repeat. I, on the other hand, will latch onto a game, then wring every ounce of content I can out of it and then some. ‘Coz I’m Taiwanese, and we’re a cheap people. I tend to have ‘my’ game, playing it obsessively until I finish the game. In this case, it’s The Surge. I wrote about the first half of it here. […]

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