Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: The Surge

I don’t play many video games but when I do awards

It’s nearing the end of the year, and you know what that means. Countless top ten lists, best ofs, and other navel-gazing articles/videos. I did my own list last year citing my favorite games of the year, and I’m doing the same this year as well. While I enjoy me a good ‘best of’ list, I like to do things differently. I don’t think there’s an objective best, anyway, so I’m just going to list my personal favorites. As to the title of this post, it’s true. I don’t play many games, but when I do, I play the hell out of them.

The game I was reluctant to play, even though theoretically it was tailor-made for me (maybe because), and it ended up capturing my heart

Night in the Woods

When I first heard about this game early in 2017 when it was released by Infinite Fall, I immediately thought it was made for me. Indie game with a female black cat protagonist? Hells, yeah! Plus, the design is gorgeous, and it seemed like it was narrative-driven. It should be right up my alley–which was why I hesitated in playing it. Plus, it was nearly twenty bucks, and I’m really cheap when it comes to games. I like to pay less than fifteen bucks for a game (which means buying during steep sales most of the time), though I’ve loosened up on that recently.

When I finally bought it and started it up, I was immediately stumped by one of the earliest ‘gameplay’ moments. I put that in quotes because it fit the definition but barely, and it was embarrassingly easy in retrospect to figure out–if you play plenty of games. Once I got past that, however, I was swept up in the game and the protagonist, Mae. She is the aforementioned female black cat, and she captivated me in a way no protagonist ever has. A young college dropout who was consumed by anxiety, depression, and sarcasm, she was me. It was later revealed that she’s bisexual, and I felt connected to her even more strongly than I had before. Add to that her propensity towards inertia and sticking her foot in her mouth by excitably blurting out awkward truths, and I became increasingly protective of her.

I played through the game three times and still didn’t see everything in it. I only played it more than once because I watched Campster’s (Errant Signal) video on it, and I noticed things in his video I hadn’t seen in my playthrough. In addition, he said the game benefited from a second playthrough, and he was right. It was on the third playthrough that I fell in love with the game.

The art direction is fantastic, and I empathized with each of the four main characters: Mae, Gregg (GREGG RULZ OK), and Angus. Whenever I spent a significant amount of time with any of them, I came to care about them even more. The overarching story/mystery is underwhelming, but by the end of my third playthrough, I accepted it as a metaphor for what is happening in the dying Rust Belt town rather than anything literal.

I won’t gush about how lovely certain moments were or how I legit cried at the poignancy of some of the interactions. I’ve written three posts on my emotional connection to the game, and I still don’t think I managed to convey how much it means to me. It might seem ridiculous to become attached to an animated cat-girl who’s sullen, mentally ill, and a brat from time to time, but Mae wormed her way into my heart, and I’m grateful for it. I’m probably going to do a fourth playthrough before too long because there are a few things I know I haven’t seen. If there is one game that I played this year that I would recommend with all my heart, it is this one.


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The Surge–put it in the done folder

making him feel it EXTRA.
Crucifixion never felt so good.

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*

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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.

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