Jericho’s different areas, meanwhile, feel mostly divided by color and lighting rather than the actual design of each area – the port is rusted and wet, the hospital is spooky and dark, and everything has toppled piles of gray concrete everywhere. There are some mid-game situations that bring about some significant alterations to each area, but that doesn’t save them from still feeling relatively samey. The main exception to this rule, apart from the more claustrophobic sewers and tunnels underneath the city, is Gideon’s Rock, a nature preserve designed to… well, preserve nature – but, like… the last of it. Its lush wooded hills and rocky canyons are a welcome break from the fairly repetitive city streets and rooftops, even if it caused some of the more egregious technical issues during my playthrough on PlayStation 4 Pro.It’s not that The Surge 2 is buggy or broken – all 20+ hours of my initial playthrough and the several hours I’ve spent in New Game+ ran smoothly and (almost) without issue. I noticed a few spots where, even in the PS4 Pro’s Performance mode (which is meant to maximize framerate over resolution and fancy effects), things would momentarily hitch when a lot of action and environmental effects were on screen, but those were too few and far between to be a serious problem or cause me to die when I shouldn’t have. The same can be said of the occasional camera getting stuck behind a wall or object during a fight. What was surprising – to me, at least – was the frequent screen tearing in the more complex environments (like Gideon’s Rock) and some consistent, very noticeable level-of-detail pop-in problems on character models, particularly my own. While the screen tearing was decidedly less noticeable in Quality mode (which prioritizes resolution over framerate), the texture issues persisted throughout both.
Mechanically, however, The Surge 2 succeeds – its combat is still a fun blend of strategy and tense, palm-sweating action, and scraping together enough XP (aka Tech Scrap) to craft a new armor set that unlocks a unique buff or finding a new cybernetic implant that perfectly complements your loadout is still a satisfying grind.
The routine from the original remains almost entirely unchanged in The Surge 2: leave a safe zone or medbay, hack your way through a bunch of enemies to find [Objective X], maybe (probably) kill a boss, then find a new medbay or backtrack your way to the old one to bank your scrap, level up your exo-rig’s stats, or craft/upgrade gear using the parts you scavenged while out and about. The more enemies you kill before returning to the medbay, the higher your reward multiplier ticks, netting you extra scrap for each kill, which makes staying out in the world a risk well worth taking – but if you get killed before you can make it back you’ll need to move fast to get back to where you fell and reclaim the scrap before a timer expires and it disappears.
And this is still really enjoyable. Like I said of the original, it’s a smart blend of Souls-ian strategy and arcadey hack & slash action, and the additions that developer Deck13 has made are almost universally for the better, due largely to a couple of particularly noteworthy changes. The first is the wealth of new enemy types it introduces, all of which add interesting new challenges to combat encounters (particularly in groups of three or more), from “raging” enemies who can’t be stunned to shield carriers who can only be hit once or twice before their shield is broken. The second is that the standard all-purpose Parry function has been replaced with a directional one. While it took some time to get used to – which I eventually did, thanks largely to an optional cybernetic implant that indicates the direction of an incoming enemy attack – it added a new layer of challenge and complexity to each encounter.The implant itself did, at times, behave a little wonkily – it didn’t seem to be able to keep up with a particularly quick flurry of enemy attacks, for instance – but after training with it for a while I learned to internalize it and was able to replace it with one of the more versatile implants, like one with the ability to deal bonus damage to humans or robots, or automatically uses a health kit if an enemy attack would’ve killed you. Each implant uses a certain amount of “core power” in your exo-rig, and every time you spend tech scrap to “level up” your exo-rig, you increase that core power and can equip more resource-intensive items (which, as you might imagine, led to a fair amount of agonizing over how to maximize my equipment and implant combo).
It was incredibly helpful, then, that The Surge 2 introduces the ability to create loadouts and swap them at will. I still had to spend some time math-ing out which implants I can afford to equip with each set of armor, but having the option to jump between three sets of armor, weapons, and implants almost entirely eliminated the tedium that was the constant need for inventory management in the original. Now I can have two loadouts for exploring the world – one for fighting humans (which I’ll add is weird, both because of their complete lack of self-preservation instincts, and that it makes my character seem like much more of a sociopath than the zombie-slaying Warren of the original), another for machines – and a third specifically designed to tackle massive single-target bosses.
All these additions to the already-solid formula made the moment-to-moment combat enjoyable right up until I hit the last boss fight, even if some of those battles weren’t as thrilling (or satisfying) as in the first Surge. In the original, each boss felt like a more thorough test of your skills than the one before. In The Surge 2, it’s more about making the same strategy work for every boss: deflect at the right time, counterattack, don’t get one-shotted in between. There are still the optional dismemberments on each boss that can net you unique new weapons, which provides some additional challenge, but as was the issue in the original, these weapons were often laughably underpowered compared to the weapon I was already using.That said, getting weak weapons is decidedly less of an issue overall this time. Partially because some (though not many) of the late-game drops actually do have stats that are comparable to your equipped gear, but also because the significant increase in the sheer variety of weapons actively made me want to experiment with different types as I found them (for a while, at least — I’d ultimately fall back on two or three standard weapons rather than grind for the parts to upgrade new ones). Of the four new weapon groups, I immediately gravitated to the versatile Double Duty class. They range from a sledgehammer with a fire axe strapped to it that deals a satisfying crunch to futuristic zweihanders that split apart to deal shock damage, and can be used for either slow, powerful hits or split into two halves for a quick flurry of blows. I eventually abandoned them as I found more powerful weapons like Wolverine-esque Valkyrie that better fit my quick-attack play style, but I thoroughly enjoyed them while they lasted.
Another welcome inclusion are The Surge 2’s new social features. The most useful is undoubtedly the drone attachment that allows you to spray graffiti tags around the world, similar to notes in Bloodborne or Dark Souls, that can alert players to the presence of hidden enemies or treasure. Other additions, like Revenge Enemies appearing in-world that have proved particularly troublesome for other players, or placable banners that net you scrap rewards for keeping them hidden, are fun ways to keep you connected to the community and engaged in the world.The Surge 2 also leans a lot more heavily into the RPG side of things than its predecessor, though some of the additions feel almost superficial. I appreciate that it allows me to customize my appearance, which I almost always prefer in an RPG – especially when my character never speaks, as is the case here – but I don’t necessarily see the point in having me choose a backstory if that information isn’t going to be integrated into the plot or decisions in an interesting or meaningful way. I opted for the “Mining Wars Veteran” background, thinking that someone who served on the “evil corporation” side of a violent workers revolt (on the Moon, of course, because it’s the future) and now finding themselves a “hero” would provide ample opportunities for interesting conflict in The Surge’s corporate dystopia, but it never amounted to anything more than my own headcanon and an errant line or two from the occasional shopkeeper.
On the upside, interactions with those shopkeepers and other NPCs are all far more substantial than before. Almost every vendor, survivor, or other character you can interact with has their own side quest with its own rewards and/or consequences. Most of these revolve around collecting items from around the world or crafting them a specific set of armor, but the few that I saw through to completion for their full chain all wound their way back into the events of the main story, though not in a particularly meaningful way. Still, it was fun to have the actor who played the in-universe superhero Iron Maus in The Surge’s equivalent of the MCU tag along for a while, or run into characters who had survived the story of the first game.Its something of a bummer that I didn’t find the main story of The Surge 2 to be particularly engaging. It does a much better job than the original in making sure its events were delivered in a more digestible manner than “trying to listen to exposition while avoiding being murdered by robots,” but those moments were mostly predictable, and the ones that weren’t did little to pique my interest. I won’t get into specifics due to spoiler concerns, but ultimately it felt like the story was trying to raise the stakes too high when compared to the relatively small scale of the original. Yes, there were far-reaching consequences in the first game, but it still felt very self-contained since it was mostly focused on simply surviving The Surge and escaping the CREO complex. The original also featured some excellent environmental storytelling and attention to detail, from clever sendups of startup/tech culture to moving vingettes that heightened the tragedy or horror of the accident, but that was in much shorter supply in its sequel’s new post-Nanite-apocalypse setting.