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By Paul Meekin
“How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.” – Taylor Mali
In 2011 a video game called “Dark Souls” was released to the masses. It was a labyrinthian hack n’ slash with a focus on patience and strategy. It became a massive cult hit thanks to the fact it did not hold your hand and challenged you time and time again to get better at the game.
It was punishing and dour and just about the most personally rewarding video game, ever, because it demands you triumph over your own limitations to succeed.
To paraphrase Taylor Mali: “How dare you waste its time with anything less, than your very best.”
The success of “Dark Souls” spawned “Dark Souls II,” “Dark Souls III,” another title called “Bloodborne,” and multiple copycats; the most popular among them a title called “Lords of The Fallen” developed by German company Deck13 Interactive.
“Fallen” was a deliberate copy. Same dark-fantasy aesthetic, same torturous difficulty (and feeling of triumph), same focus on patience and strategy. It was very good, but clearly a “Dark Souls” clone with a couple of things re-jiggered.
But here’s the thing about copy-cats; eventually they become works in a genre. When “Doom” changed the world in 1993 by popularizing the first-person shooter, games that came after it were referred to as “Doom” clones. Now games like it are just first-person shooters.
Which brings us to “The Surge”, Deck13 Interactive’s followup to “Lords Of The Fallen”. While also working within the framework of “Dark Souls”, “The Surge” is a quality work within the “Dark Souls” genre, as opposed to a copycat of it.
But that’s all prologue. “The Surge” is a science fiction hack n’ slash that sees you taking the reigns of an Exosuit as you battle you way through apocalyptic junkyards, laboratories, sewer systems, and more as you try to unravel the mystery of why you’re in this exosuit in the first place, how things in the world could have gone so wrong, and what can be done to survive.
And to survive, you’ll find yourself challenged immediately and constantly. “The Surge” is tough. You need to duck, dodge, attack, dodge again, avoid laser blasts, and keep your health up in order to survive and move forward.
Thankfully, you’ll have some assistance – your exosuit is fully upgradeable to your needs. If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to brute force their way through enemies, you can equip a heavy duty weapon and armor modules that allow you take a beating – and dole one out- at the cost of your mobility. Similarly you can opt for a sleek armor setup and get in multiple quick hits before dodging out of harm’s way.
As you progress you’ll gain new upgrades, weapons, and armors. Face new enemies that require any number of strategies to beat them; from attacking their ‘core’ to slicing off all 8 of their arms, one by one, until you can actually damage them.
The combat, like my college girlfriend, is fast, tight, dangerously insane, and addictive. You have a weak and strong attack, a block button, and seemingly far too little health. Every fight feels like a duel, and you’ll be facing off against multiple enemies at once fairly often, and if this stuff didn’t feel right you would bounce off the game immediately.
But it does feel right, and what Deck13 Interactive does here is pretty special. They iterated on the “Dark Souls” formula by speeding up the pace of combat, adding in one-button finisher moves, and the ability to target limbs. By targeting limbs you’re able to cut off legs, arms, or heads, and contained within are succulent upgrade parts.
And this stuff is satisfying. You routinely triumph over seemingly impossible odds because you up your game. The weapons, the armor, they’re all nice, but they cannot sway an unwinnable battle. Only you, the player, can. I literally called my girlfriend to boast when I beat this game’s first boss, I was so proud of myself.
She was not.
Regardless, “The Surge” presents a quality gameplay loop that will appeal to hardcore gamers, but might leave the casual gamer a little cold. You need to invest the time and need to have the perseverance to see it though. Otherwise you’ve wasted money on a virtual bowflex.
There are also some weird issues with the game, including hidden pit-falls that will cause your character to fall to his death, some odd architecture that will have you fighting enemies on catwalks where hitting the wrong attack button will have your character lunge…and fall to their death, and issues with finishing moves where your character will move to divorce an enemy’s body from his head, and due to the geography…you’ll fall to your death.
For gamers looking for something challenging, that already like “Dark Souls,” this is a quality take on the genre that does just enough differently to keep you engaged. For people who have never touched “Dark Souls,” this is a bit of a harder sell, but if you’re dedicated, love sci-fi, and aren’t a quitter, and consider yourself ‘hardcore’ enough, you might find yourself as ‘blown away’ as I am.
And if you haven’t noticed, this outlet is not a website for hardcore gamers. It’s a website for libertarians. Sure, some readers here are gamers, some of them are even hardcore gamers. But why would I cover such a niche title for an outlet such as this?
Because of the story. Not the game’s story, which is admittedly decent and centers around a single corporation’s ability to take over every aspect of our live – and ultimately ruin it, but rather the story of the game’s development.
The reason I am so in love with “The Surge” is, yes, because it’s an excellent game in a genre I love. But more importantly, “The Surge” is proof positive that supply-side economics and corporate opportunism can, and has, yielded amazing results.
Deck13 started this game development adventure by copying a game a lot of people liked, “Dark Souls”, postulating that those people would be hungry for more games in the genre – ‘clone’ argument be damned.
Because they didn’t need to re-invent the wheel and had a built in audience, I’d imagine their “Lords of The Fallen” had a lot less overhead then most games, and even better, was marketed to an underserved market – if you were out of “Dark Souls” to play, well, there’s literally a new game in town, it’s almost just as good, and it’s really all you got.
The success of “Lords of The Fallen” gave Deck13 Interactive the cred, capital, experience, and know-how to try something a little newer, a little braver. They’re not re-inventing the wheel, but they sure as hell are bedazzling the hell out of it and messing around with the gear-shifter – to, in my opinion, great results.
I’m writing this while fighting a migraine and stomach ache. The only reason I’m capable of putting together words into hopefully coherent sentences is because I took an off-brand medicine called Pain Zapper. I have no idea what’s in it, but since I discovered it two years ago, whenever I get a migraine, I take it, and boom, my headache goes away.
I’ve tried it all; Aspirin, Excedrin Migraine, Tylenol, Goody’s Extra Strength Headache Powder. For some reason, Pain Zapper does it. For me, at least.
Along those lines, “The Surge,” releasing May 15th on Xbox One and PS4 and PC, despite being a derivative of “Dark Souls” does it for me in a way “Dark Souls” doesn’t.
Thus, on the Libertarian Republic Entertainment Rating System©, on a scale of Karl Marx to Ron Paul, ‘The Surge’ gets a Daniel S. Peña. Like Peña, Deck13 saw an edge and exploited it for all its worth – working within a known genre and finding ways to be unique around the edges while remaining familiar enough to ‘Dark Souls’ fans – and succeeding, despite the bigger budgets of the games it seeks to iterate upon.
Heck, if Deck13 keeps this up, someone might just call “Dark Souls” a “The Surge” clone.