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.
Halfway through the game, I started getting sick of the game. Now, this is normal for me when I play a game, especially a Souls/Souls-like game. It’s the downside of ingesting a game until it bleeds out of my eyeballs. I clearly remember the first time I played the original Dark Souls. After the infamous duo, everything went rapidly downhill. I didn’t want to play the rest of the game. And, it’s pretty much accepted that the second half of the original Dark Souls doesn’t hold up to the first half, do not @me, Souls fans, because you know it’s fucking true. When I beat *spoilers* Gwyn, I chose to link the First Flame, and watched the credits roll, I didn’t feel jubilation, elation, or any other kind of positive -ation. I was relieved, and I was glad to see the backside of Dark Souls. I put it in the done folder, and I thought I was through with it forever. Ha! I will get to that more in a bit.
One thing I quite like about The Surge is that you had to go back to one early area–Central Production B–several times because doing later parts unlocked new areas. What I didn’t like is that it wasn’t always clear what I was meant to do when I finished an area. Yes, yes, I know esoteric and Souls go together like hand and glove, but usually in a Souls game, you at least know what you’re supposed to go. And, because it’s not exactly linear, sometimes you have several places you can go. Yes, there are areas that you can skip or not even know exist, but in general, all the places you NEED to go are fairly easy to spot. There is one major counter-example in Dark Souls II, but, again, not a Miyazaki* game. In The Surge, I had to check the wikis more than once after finishing a section because I had no idea where I was supposed to go next.
Here’s where we touch on the story. The story is…meh. The premise is serviceable. You start on a train into CREO, a company dedicated to using technology for the betterment of the world. Yeah, like we have never heard that one before. Like it’s not the basis of a zillion sci-fi novels/movies/TV shows. Yes, there’s the board that even for all their good intentions, ultimately do more evil than good. They are positioned to be the big baddie, which they are in the metaphorical sense, if not the literal one. *mild spoiler* When the train stop, you get off the train, wait, what? I’m in a wheelchair, which is an interesting choice. Not being able to sprint is frustrating, which is a good thing. Here’s the thing, though. It’s just a shtick. The first thing you do after getting off the train is to roll to a place where you choose either ‘Lynx’ (dex) or ‘Rhino’ (tank), and then you have the mechanical pieces grafted onto your body. You’re supposed to be sedated, but it doesn’t take. As a result, you get thrown into the garbage heap, and you wake up to a drone trying to drag you somewhere. And, of course, you can walk. *unspoilered*
I’m Warren, and that’s not changeable. Normally, I like being able to customize my character, but it doesn’t matter in this case. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about him except he’s in a wheelchair–and he loses that in five minutes. I find out later that he’s not even an employee to begin with, but that’s much later on. There are a few NPCs you can do quests for, but none of it is that interesting. There’s a character, Irina Beckett, who is clearly supposed to be Solaire, but isn’t. There’s Alex and his daughter, Maddy, and it’s a cute questline. I’m glad it’s there, but I missed a few steps and still managed to finish it, even though I had to look up how to do the final step. However, I don’t think the experience would have been any different without the NPCs.
There are audiologs, which I don’t like. In general, I mean. Not because it’s video game-y, even though it is, but because I don’t want to have to listen to someone talking at me for minutes if I can’t skip through them. It’s the same with a wall of text. If I can’t click ‘next’ once I’m done reading, I’m not down with it. I read fast, yo. Like super-fast. I ain’t got time for those three or four wasted seconds.
I mentioned this in the first post, but the level design is both good and bad at the same time. I like that there areas are connected, even if it’s by a train ride, and there are plenty of shortcuts to link sections together, but that in and of itself is a problem at the same time. In Central Production B, there are three main shortcuts back to the Medbay the first time you visit. Every goddamn time, I can’t remember which is which. I mean, I know where each goes immediately, but I don’t know what’s behind the first room. And, there are three shortcuts after beating the first boss of that area, which always confuses me as well.
One of the best things about shortcuts in Dark Souls, especially the original one, is that you traverse each area, and it seems unending. So long. So arduous. So fraught with terror. Remember the first time you frolicked through The Undead Burg, the aqueduct specifically, and you saw the locked door at the end of the aqueduct? You proceed through The Undead Burg, and probably forget about this door. You kill the Taurus Demon, get burnt to a crisp by the Hellkite Dragon, then probably kill the Bell Gargoyles, then make your way to the Capra Demon.
YES I’M SPOILING THE ENTIRE FIRST HALF OF DARK SOULS DEAL
Now, if you’re like me, you probably struggled through the Lower Undead Burg, getting your throat slit by the Undead Assassins and your face eaten by the Undead Attack Dogs, then you see that white fog, and you’re like, “Let me the fuck in!” and promptly die to the Capra Demon and his two Undead Attack Dogs because FUCK THAT BOSS ROOM. Anyway, there’s a stairway to the right that if you use takes you down and around and up and through, past the Undead Merchant Female, and, what? a gate door that you open? What is this devilry? You’ve probably guessed that it’s the locked door in the sewers that leads back to Firelink Shrine. The joy and amazement in realizing this is big. This is a Miyazaki game at its finest, and this is sorely lacking in The Surge.
One of the best parts of a shortcut is feeling like you earned it. The second is that it’s distinctive enough so that you can fucking recognize it when you see it. I’m not exaggerating that a certain shortcut I used a couple dozen times, I still had trouble finding it from a few rooms back. After I finished the game, I watched a few videos about the game, and one thing that was mentioned is that you’re supposed to run by the mobs because they’re so hard. You can fight them because they give you scraps and body parts (and weapons), but, apparently, it’s a legit strat to race past every enemy in sight.
That’s not how I roll, at least not the first time I do a room. I like to clear a room, and in this game, I liked collecting the scraps and body parts, so I usually would clear a room, even if it was my umpteenth time through the room. A few times I tried the running strat, and the problem with that was that I didn’t know where the fuck I was going. See, if you’re going to run, you gotta have an end goal. Run like the wind, but run with a purpose. I can’t tell you how many times I would loop around because I kept going through the same shortcuts. Another gripe about the shortcuts–there are a few that are pointless. They loop to each other, which, to me, defeats the purpose of a shortcut.
You may have noticed that I have said nary a word about the bosses of this game. This is true. It’s deliberate because, and I hate to say this, the bosses are underwhelming. First of all, the bosses aren’t the point of this game. There are five bosses in the main game and two in the DLC. Now, I’ve mentioned that I was seriously over-leveled by about halfway into the game, which took out much of the tension in the boss fights. However, it wasn’t just that they weren’t that difficult. The last boss was difficult for me, but not in an interesting way. Most of the bosses were not creative. In the main game, three are straight up robots. They have different moves, but nothing too outre. The other two are human/robot hybrids in one way or the other, and–by the way, the overwhelming majority of the enemies are humanoids, and it gets boring pretty quickly. Like I said, I was hooked on accumulating body parts (something I would never admit in my real life), but other than that, they were humdrum. Also, I stuck with the Liquidator gear for the rest of the game because I didn’t want to give up the core power needed for the heavier gear. I did switch up weapons, but I mostly used single-rigged for the rest of the game.
Back to the bosses. The first in the DLC was humanoid and whatever. The second was more interesting and probably my favorite of the game, and if you meet the special win-condition (which I did), you get a sweeter version of the boss weapon. In general, though, my way of winning was simply outlasting the boss. As I said, I was over-leveled, and I stacked up the healing injectables like they were blood vials in Bloodborne. I would stab myself with it whenever I needed it, and it kept me going. The final boss was disappointing. Here’s one thing about the later Soulsborne games that I didn’t really think was great. Every boss had two phases if not three. One boss out of seven or eight, that’s a surprise and cool. Every fucking boss? Tedious. Soulsborne games get away with it because the bosses themselves are amazing. Not all of them, but enough so that I can forgive the two-stage gimmick.
Who among us can forget the music swelling as The Nameless King drops down on The King of Storms? That boss was nearly the death of me, but, man, it was an epic fight. Or how about Lady Maria of the Astral Clock Tower? LOVE her and her music. Fume Knight/Sir Alonne from DS II DLC. Gael, the final boss of the Dark Souls trilogy, is an incredibly epic fight. Even though the Soul of Cinder wasn’t the hardest boss in the series, it was an apt end to the trilogy (I consider it the canonical end), and when Gwyn’s music kicks in in the second phase, well, it gave me chills. We’re not even talking about the original DS which has so many incredible bosses.
So. 40+ hours into The Surge (yes, I did a LOT of grinding, and this includes the DLC), I walked into the final boss area, my loins properly girded, and, by the way, I knew it was the final boss because I cheated and looked up how to finish the last part of the game. There were a few areas I used the wiki to make my way through them, and I’ve never done that with a Souls game. But, goddamn all those corridors looked the same, and I was tired. I was thisclose to the end, and I just wanted it to be over. So, yes, I cheated. I looked it up, and I did what was necessary to make it to the final boss.
I went in, and this boss promptly one-shot me. What? Huh? One-shot at this point? Really? Now, granted, I was very glass-cannony with my health because I decided having multiple heals was more important than having more health in general (‘coz I’m gonna get hit). So my overall health pool wasn’t huge, but I was way over-leveled, and I should not have been able to be one-shot by the last boss. It made the boss feel cheap to me. I got the first phase down in about a dozen attempts, but the second phase, a fast humanoid (my Achilles heel), really did its business on me. It had one combo that if I got caught in it, would stun-lock me and sap all my stamina, and I wouldn’t be able to heal. Again, I didn’t think that was a fair combo. I got it down to one more hit once, and then it killed me.
I was mad. I ain’t gonna lie. I breezed through most of the game, dying more to the enemies and bullshit terrain issues–by the way, the jumping in this game is horseshit. There is no way to tell if a jump is safe or not because distance doesn’t seem to be the determining factor. There was a jump that looked to be about ten feet, and I died. Then, there are jumps you’re supposed to make that look to be fifty feet or so, and no problem, no damage! Well, a tiny bit of damage, but not much at all. That little bit of water on the floor that you probably could touch with your hand? DEATH.
I thought about quitting the game without killing the final boss because honestly, I didn’t really care. I didn’t care if I killed it. I didn’t care. At all. The only reason I didn’t stop, however, was my stubborn pride. I had beasted through this game, barely breaking a sweat, and this was going to be the end? It was not. I hunkered down and learned the second phase of the fight. I looked at the wiki (yeah, no shame), and then I applied what I learned. Wanna know the secret to the second phase of the final boss of The Surge? Here it is. Let it do all its stupid shit it wants. Avoid the shock-wave attack. When it comes to attack you, block the attack and punish with ONE hit. Back off, rinse, lather, and repeat.
That’s it! That’s the secret. Be extra-careful of that stupid combo attack because I died to that several times. In the winning run (yes, spoiler, I beat this damn boss), the second phase only did the combo attack once. The truism I came up with while fighting bosses in Soulsborne games holds up here. Luck plays a big part in whether I win or not. More specifically, my winning runs inevitably has the boss not doing that one attack (and there’s always one) that I can’t handle or only doing it once or twice.
Once I applied the finisher on the final boss, I felt relieved. I was done with The Surge. I could uninstall it with gleeful abandon, except, damn it, they gave me a boss weapon for beating the final boss, damn it. So I did few rooms on NG+, and there’s a special adversary right at the start who could two-hit me. That was fun, especially when I was trying out the new (twin-rigged) boss weapon.
Anyway, after I cleared out a few rooms relatively easily, I called it quits and uninstalled the game. I enjoyed my time with The Surge more than I thought I would, and it’s a solid game. Play it if you’re craving a Souls-like game that is familiar with a few bells and whistles, especially if you can get it on sale. It’s well-worth the time and money you’ll spend playing it.
*Do NOT @me about DS II. I have clearly stated that I think it’s a good game–a very good game, indeed. There are some parts of it I like better than the original, including fast travel from the start. But, it is clearly not a Miyazaki game. That’s all I’m saying.