Somethings are so up my ally that it’s pretty much impossible for me not to get excited for it. For example: this game. It’s a Devolver Digital published, brutally violent, story driven dark cyberpunk action game. Add in a Heavy Metal soundtrack and you might as well call this “That Game That was Made just for William”.
Now, i’ll be the first person to admit that just becuase something looks like it’s my thing doesn’t mean it won’t suck, but i’m holding on to hope here. Devolver tends to have an eye for quality, so anything they publish is worth at least a look. So yeah, this looks really, really good and i want it.
By William Shelton
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Obtained By: Review Code was Provided
If nothing else, The Surge provides the single best case study as to why gaming needs a stronger AA market. The game does a lot that I like and there’s a lot I want to applaud it for. But in the end there’s an overall lack of polish that makes actually recommending the game challenging. In a year that saw the similar but superior Nioh, I can’t recommend The Surge at it’s $60 price point. But I do think it’s worth a look.
If you couldn’t tell by the Nioh comparison, The Surge is a Soulslike action-RPG, which tells you about three quarters of what you need to know. Slow, weighty, animation driven combat; Metroidvainia style levels that incentives exploration and finding short cuts, you lose EXP/currency upon death, exc, exc. What you probably won’t be expecting is that this game has probably the best opening out of all the Soulslike games to have been released. And why would you: Deck 13’s last game, Lords of the Fallen, opened with a boring cinematic with no real bearing on the plot. The Surge’s opening, however, actually takes it’s cues from Half-Life. You sit patiently on a train as a video gives you an exposition dump. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but I felt the moment was close to perfection. The scene makes a pretty authentic case for the company the player character is about to work for, and there is an air of optimism that you know is going to soon be lost, and it’s all the more saddening because of this.
Once you get control of the character, you find they are wheelchair bound. While I’m sure the game will receive some criticism for how it ignores this after the games intro, I feel the reveal itself was expertly crafted. From there you go to getting the Elysium style exo-suit that will allow you to progress through the game and…here I’m kind of conflicted. The character is told an anesthetic will be provided for the surgery, but there isn’t, and you watch as all the pieces are bolted on, blood spraying every were while the character screams in torment. One one hand, this tonal whiplash serves the game well, establishing the right mood for the rest of the game. On the other, I really hate it when science fiction plays on this kind of technophobia. The dev team thought up a technology that can give a man the ability to walk again, then frames it as this horrifying thing that shouldn’t be touched. I’m sure most of this was to get players ready for the game to come, but with how much effort went into the rest of this scene, it sucks they stumbled here.
I’ll also admit this section could have been stretched out for a bit longer too. What’s here does manage to be really effective, but not having the players interact with any other living people before everything goes to shit wasn’t the best call. If the game had taken the time to establish some relationships with the NPC’s players found along the way, I think it would have been much more effective as a whole. If the game wants to have the story so front and center (even going so far as to have dialogue choices), then giving us some info about who these people are and why we should care about them is kind of important.
While everything interesting about the games story might have petered out after the opening moments, the gameplay managed to mostly hold my attention throughout. The games biggest success is it’s dismemberment mechanic. Unlike in other Soulslike games, you can’t just wait for armor or weapons to drop. Instead, you have to fight an enemy with the armor piece you’re looking to obtain, then weaken that body part in combat before being allowed to dismember the opponent in order to grab the schematics. Once you have those, you can build new armor pieces in the Medbay, the games safe zones.
This took some getting use too, as you have to lock on to an enemy, then manually target which part of the body you want to attack, but I soon found my self really enjoying how it all worked. It added a tactical edge to combat, as you could only get one new peace of armor from an enemy at a time, and there’s no knowing if the next time they will have the same load out. On top of that, you can attack unarmored body parts for extra damage. While I think there is something to be said about the depth Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Nioh get out of a relatively simple combat system, I can’t say I disliked the added complexity The Surge added to it’s one on one fights.
But once the game adds in another combatant things start to go down hill, and The Surge loves ambushing the player. Because of all the extra work involved in locking on to an enemy, there is no easy way to simply switch between two or more. So in order to switch targets, you have to unlock from one, manually move the camera onto the other, then lock on again. And that’s just the beginning of the game’s issues.
All of the games enemies have little cool down for their attack, and the animations for them rarely convey enough information to begin with. So getting hit in The Surge is almost an inevitability. Non-human enemies are even worse, as they tend to be designed in a way that makes reading their movements almost impossible. Only adding to this frustration is a number of glitches and some really bad design choices. More often than I can count the AI for enemies just seemed to turn off altogether and they just let me whale on them until they died. One enemy, when using a back flip attack that is meant to knock the player into the air, simply launched out of the game world entirely. And the second level is filled with robots you can only meaningfully harm from the back, but placed in tight corridors, making getting behind them a pain as I’d get stuck between them and the walls. This could have easily been fixed by widening the environments or making these enemies either smaller or slower so the player can more easily get around them.
Up grades are also handled pretty poorly. As you make your way through the game you collect “tech scrap” which can be used to increase your suits power and upgrade your weapons and armor. Increasing your suits core power allows you to use more armor and implants (swapable bonuses like health injections, increased stamina and more) as well as give you the ability to access more areas of each level. However, as you aren’t leveling up the character himself, the only way to increase attack or defense is to upgrade your armaments. And this gets annoying fast. For each piece you need scrap and an extra component. For armor this just means continuing to dismember enemies where you’re looking to upgrade. You want to boost your helmet? Chop off some heads! However, as you upgrade you need higher level materials, and I have no idea where to find them. To be fair, I’ve only made it to the third boss, but I’ve yet to find a single enemy that dropped level 3 materials for anything; weapons or armor. And speaking of upgrading your arsenal, I have literally no idea where I got the right pieces for that. You can’t target the enemies weapons, so where you’re supposed to find the upgrade materials for them is lost to me. Yet every so often I’ll find I have the means to upgrade something as if it’s just been added to my inventory out of the blue.
All of those issues aside, I do think the moment to moment gameplay manages to be pretty solid. That’s good to know, because finding out where you’re supposed to go in this train wreck is even more complicated than in any of the other Soulslike game I’ve played, so you’ll spend a lot of time in that gameplay loop. Unlike Dark Souls, each level only has one Medbay, and all the short cuts you find lead back to it. While this seems like it should make finding your way around easier, what it really ends up doing is creating confusion as you have to remember which of the interconnecting short cuts lead to where. So many of these shortcuts criss-cross through each other that at any given moment I couldn’t remember where I was trying to take a short cut too. It’s hard not to find fault with the games overall aesthetics here too. While Deck 13 did pretty much everything they could do with “post apocalyptic industrial area”, there really wasn’t much there to begin with. So areas lack any real identity of their own, which only makes getting lost that much easier. This has the unfortunate consequence of it never feeling like the player is making much progress. No matter where I go I’m always right back where I was.
And then there are the boss fights. My god, does this game have awful boss fights. First off, simply finding the boss is often a chore in and of itself. Not just because of the issues I mentioned earlier, either. When I first stumbled upon the arena for the first boss I said to myself “yup, this looks like a boss arena”….but it wasn’t. I moved through without even an enemy encounter. “Okay”, I thought, “maybe this was just to give me some breathing room”. It wasn’t until hours later, when I went back there by accident (I had no reason to be in the area anymore, or so I thought) that the boss appeared. Then the bosses themselves are a combination of the games worst traits. They do large amounts of damage with almost no cool downs for their attacks, the robotic nature means it’s hard to tell if they are moving or attacking, and they tend to move in such a way that the camera can’t keep up, forcing me to take a moment to readjust, a moment the bosses tended to use to wreck my shit. And the second boss has a number of one hit kills it can just keep using due to that lack of cool down I talked I about, and I’m told only gets worse later on in the game.
Thankfully everything else is at least on par. It’s visually bland, but it doesn’t look bad. The game could use a bit more light, as dark areas are nearly impenetrable even with a flash light on. More diverse environments could have helped a lot too. The dev team clearly tried, with a major part of the third level taking place in a greenery, but it never manages to be enough in my opinion. Sound is also pretty generic, with human enemies making basic zombie-like noises while mechanical ones have no real personality to their audio design. That’s not necessarily bad, just unremarkable.
I wanted to like The Surge more than I did. And to the games credit, it is a marked improvement over Lords of the Fallen. For all of it’s faults I do think it’s enjoyable enough to warrant a look….when you can find it half off or used. If Deck 13 keeps up the rampant improvement, it’s not hard to imagine their next game being something truly special. As for The Surge, I can only recommend it if you’re like me and you really enjoy Soulslike games and want to at least try all of them that come out. It’s far from perfect, but I don’t quite hate it. I’m disappointed it wasn’t better, but had it not been shackled to the AAA market, I think it could have been a much easier sale.
I believe it was Stan Lee who once said “Every Comic is Somebodies First Comic”. He said this too illustrate the importance of writing comics in a way in which new comers can become long time fins. It is more or less that reason why most games open up with a tutorial: So that anyone who plays, even if they never touched a game before in their life, can learn how to play. A good tutorial can make a game.
This is not a good tutorial.
Yes, it teaches you what you need to know, but the set up feels patronizing. And before going farther i want to point out that maybe that’s the point, and in context that will make since. Maybe that is exactly how the game wants you too feel. But going off this video, the set up just doesn’t make any sense. What exactly is to be gained by doing studies where a grown man….movies boxes? The last bit, with the questions, was okay if a bit trite. I mean, that was the same kind of stuff we talked about in my philosophy 100 class. Other than that, everything here feels like it’s talking down to the player.
Compare that to one of my favorite tutorials: the first level of God of War 1. I still hold that the first God of War was a masterpiece, but a large part of that was in how it taught you to play. By the end of it you killed a fucking hydra, you felt as bad ass as Kratos was said to be. In fact, the guys at Extra Credits did a great video on the topic. I’ll Link it HERE if i can find it. If not….there wont be a link…obviously.
I’m not using this to make a statement on the game itself: i’m still looking forward to it and am really excited to see what the final product is like. The game proper might be one of the best this year, we wont know until it’s released. All that being said, this is still a shit way to introduce the game.
If you ever wanted to try your hand at CCP’s Space faring menu based “Eve Online”, but found the $15 per month to be out of your price range, then they have something that might interest you….for a while. Come this November Eve Online will introduce a free to play model of the game that will give players access to some of the games most popular features. The important part of that sentence was “some”, however. in order for players to get the most out of their experience you are going to have to pay the pre-established subscription fee, as some skills will be locked out for free to play customers and the ones available will only level up so much.
Frankly, this system sounds like utter shit to me. The idea of combining a free-to-play and subscription based game seems like it’s going to end up with the worst parts of both. I also can imagine how much this is going to help CCP as the nature of EVE Online always meant it’s going to be a niche game, so trying to open that up to more players like this can only really survey to make the game worse for its existing player base. Or at least that’s what i’m expecting.
When i finally got the Pre-Alpha demo of Nightdive Studios System Sock reboot running it ran at a full 5 frames per second, meaning i simply couldn’t play it. This was devastating as i was really looking forward to the game but once again my cheap store bought laptop just didn’t cut it. Thankfully it turns out that Nightdive will be bringing their vision to the PS4 as well. According to a quote on Polygon this decision was made “After [Nightdive Studios] saw the overwhelming demand for PS4…”. Nightdive also announced the launch window on Playstation.com for early in 2018. Personally i’m looking forward to this one and am glad to know i’ll actual be able to play it when it comes out.
And if you are interested in helping back the game, The Kickstarter is still up for another week.
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Kojima Productions
Obtained By: Purchased
I haven’t beaten MGS5 yet. I tried, I really did but i’ve only made it to 51%. I knew I wasn’t going to finish anytime soon so I wasn’t really in a rush, but as I sat down to a new session and looked at the three main missions I had to sit through, all of them repeats of early exploits, it dawned on me that I really didn’t want to beat the game. I simply wasn’t having fun any more. While the first half of the game had it’s issues, the second half is an astonishing feat in pissing away all of a players goodwill.
The game opens with Big Boss waking up after a nine year coma following the events of Ground Zero’s (which I didn’t play). Before the boss can heal (after nine years he should need months of physical therapy) a group of mercenaries lead by two supernatural pains in the ass commanders. You are lead out of the medical facility by a helpful gent with his face bandaged (and yes, I am very well aware of who this is) and swiftly meet up with Revolver Ocelot. It’s right about here where the game starts going off the rails. You start the game doing odd jobs while kidnapping recruiting new members to Big Boss’ mercenary outfit, while every so often the game reminds you that Skullface, the man responsible for Big Boss’ coma is still out there and that you need to get revenge. The problem was that there was never much of a flow between these two plot elements. Even after big, event-like missions involving Skullface the games status qua doesn’t change in any meaningful way. Hell, the Skullface story-line is done halfway through and you still just go back to doing basic mercenary work for most of the game. I know the overlong cutscenes were always a major criticism of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, but I always kind of loved them and would have much preferred that over the “get a little bit of story every few hours” approach that was tried here.
And what would an MGS5 review be without yet another complaint about the audio cassettes? I didn’t mind these at first as they allowed players to keep playing while still experiencing the story, but they soon became annoying as the tapes overpower the game audio, making it near impossible to hear what’s going on around you, killing any real chance at a stealth run. Because of this I found the best way to listen to these was either on mother base while nothing was going on, on while sitting on the between mission helicopter. While the content on the tapes was fine, having to simply sit there and listen to them wasn’t exactly the most engrossing form of narrative engagement.
Those issues are only exacerbated in the second half of the game as story missions mostly just repeat instead of adding anything new. There is a continuing story line and the game is far from finished, but most of the missions I’ve played so far have simply been “extreme” or “total stealth” versions of previous missions where the only thing added is an easier fail state. These wouldn’t have been so bad if there was any kind of narrative context for it, but there’s not. In fact the games tries so little to justify these repeat missions in the larger context of the narrative they they also just copy and paste the after mission report, which saw the characters raising questions that had already been answered hours before. We already KNOW why Skullface, who is now dead, is transporting small amounts of yellow cake, why are you asking about this again! Was I the only one paying attention???
And then there’s Quiet. At first I wasn’t going to talk much about her as so many people have already done this topic justice in more elegant ways than I can, but the absence of any real comment on the subject felt wrong. Quiet is a great character. Not only is she a badass who was a way more competent fighter than any of the buddies, and even myself at some points, but she’s also show to have a deep compassion for those around her. At one point she puts her own life at risk in order to save a child’s memento, and after getting tortured we learn that she never speaks to keep others safe. I love this character, and in a vacuum I wouldn’t even mind the way she’s dressed. While I do wish there was more verity in female game character design, I’ve never believed that meant overly sexual characters need to simply not exist (although I find it hard to say Quiet is “Sexy”. I’m not the biggest fan of the “simply take a characters clothes off” approach to sexiness, but too each their own). My issue is that the reason behind the characters near total nudity simply didn’t live up to Kojima’s statements about how we’d all “feel bad” for speaking out against it, nor does it hold any water with the rest of the game. Many other characters suffer from the same thing Quiet does, yet she’s the only one who needs to be almost nude. Plus, after a few hours with her you can unlock an outfit that is less revealing which, by the games logic, should kill her. If Kojima’s response to the back lash was simply “this is how I wanted the character too look” I don’t think I’d care. Like many other people I would have rolled my eyes and went on, but now it’s impossible too look at the character without thinking she was horribly mishandled.
Gameplay wise things are still pretty mixed, but overall I’d say it lands more consistently on the positive side of the spectrum. The first noticeable improvement is how the game plays over all. The controls has always been a major part of the criticisms of the MGS franchise, and each installment improved upon some issues each time, but none of the games ever truly felt right until MGS4. Unfortunately that game went in a more action orientated direction. While I still enjoyed the game, I was hoping the franchise would return to it’s roots while keeping the smoothness of MGS4’s controls, and that’s more or less what we got here. While there certainly are big action set-peaces, stealth has once again taken center stage. Most of the area’s you infiltrate can be reached from a few different vantage points due to the franchise first open world maps, which emphasis on planing you’re way through while also keeping you on your toes and enemy soldiers can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. This is also reinforced with the “recruiting” mechanic; if you knockout or put an enemy to sleep you extract them and have them work for you. But most of the tools used for this, like tranquilizer guns and Close Quarter Combat, aren’t the most helpful in a full blow firefight so if you want to recruiter (and you will) it’s best to stay low and stick to the shadows.
Aiding you in this endeavor is one of the four new buddies that accompanies you in each mission. Each buddy has their own skills are useful in different mission types, but I really only found myself using D-Dog as his ability to sniff out enemies, plants and wild animals was almost always helpful. A few of the companions abilities can seem little overpowered at first, but it only took a mission or two with each buddy to get a handle on how to use them effectively and thoughtfully rather than simply relying on them.
The one major flaw on the game play side stems from the switch from wide but linear world and level design to an open world. While more focused section (like infiltrating bases) the switch works well, but the moment to moment game play suffers for it. Missions are either so far away that I was left with a ton of down time getting to one place to another or forced to call in a copper and have to sit through two overlong load screens trying to get back into the action. And when taking the scenic rout I often found myself getting caught off guard by accidentally stumbling across an enemy encampment. The enemy AI is also a mixed bag. So long as you haven’t been caught enemies are almost too easy to manipulate and often don’t see things that are directly in their field of view. I’ve taken down multiple foes throughout the same while one or more of their allies were just feet away from me. But once you’re caught you might as well just start the mission over. Enemies have near perfect aim and even when I tried to sneak away they always found me unless I pretty left the mission zone, and even then they had a knack of hitting me with mortar rounds when they shouldn’t have had any idea where I was. Making the choice to restart is also made easier when you consider that every enemy you kill not only lowers your score at the end of the mission, but also means you can’t recruiter those soldiers.
The one thing about the AI I did really enjoy however is how it adapted to how you played. The made each mission feel like the stakes were raising and forced me to think outside the box a good deal of the time. I couldn’t always rely on the dark hiding me as enemies soon carried flashlights. I had to start using more CQC as helmets stopped me from on shot K.O.ing foes with tranquilizer rounds, and then I had to switch back to distance fighting when shotguns entered the equation. Plus I could always send a team to take out storage of certain items if they became too much of a hassle, but I do wish there was a more pro-active way to do that, like blowing up food storage in MGS3. Overall I liked the idea and I hope we see more mechanics like this in more games from here on out.
While there were more than a few genuinely great moments sprinkled throughout, as I played on I began to wish for the linearity of past games. It did almost feel worth is as the game is visually astonishing. There may only be two real area’s (Africa and Afghanistan), I never minded as they look fantastic. The games vista’s are some of the best the franchise has ever produced, and that’s not just due to the technical upgrades. The audio is also pretty good as well. Kiefer Sutherland, the new voice actor for Snake/Big Boss, did fine in the part but he was sadly underutilized. It takes a few hours before Snake even speaks. The rest of the voice cast fairs better, but that;s mostly due to the fact they have something to say.
One day I will probably finish the game, but it’ll be more out of a sense of obligation rather than for any real enjoyment. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is one that means a lot too me, and it’s sad too see the last real installment is such a massive disappointment. If any good comes out of the schism that occurred between Kojima and Konami, I hope it comes in the form of Kojima getting to essentially reboot the MGS franchise and show us how much of this games issues were his bad ideas verses Konami’s meddling.
You want to know my favorite part of this video is? The fact that the game play starts about 40 seconds into the video. As much as i believe in the power of video game story telling, some days you just want to hit start and begin killing stuff, context and cutscenes be damned. And if you’re like me and that’s something you miss, looks like Doom’s got you covered. Once the action starts there’s hardly a break from it in the 18 minute video, and early review impressions lead me to think that’s not going to be any different in the rest of the game. This could easily become tedious, but the game play looks fun and there is sure to be more variety as the game goes on. So long as more demons and more guns are introduced at a steady enough pace, i can’t see myself complaining that the game is “only” about killing demons.
I’m looking forward to this one. Not only does the game play look fun as hell and a far cry from most other shooter released today, but the game almost feel made with me in mind: you killing demons, an agent of superstition, with tools made my mankind’s intellect on freaking Mars. The only eay this could be any more my thing is if DoomGuy was instead a hot lesbian scientist and the end boss was god himself.