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The Evil Within 2

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The Evil Within 2 is the sequel to 2014’s The Evil Within. The original game was helmed by Shinji Mikami, director of beloved video games Resident Evil 1 & 4, so naturally anticipation was extremely high. The result was a wildly uneven game that brought the horror hard and fast, but lacked a logical narrative thread that would have made the experience something more than a series of loosely linked horror vignettes.

The Evil Within 2 directed by John Johanas and written by Trent Haaga (who we chatted with recently) seeks to address the lack of story cohesion while still providing a solid, scary horror experience and happily succeeds for the vast majority of its playtime.

Three years after the events of the first game, protagonist Sebastian Castellanos has become a bitter, self-destructive drunk. He’s no longer a cop and spends most of his time getting pissed and lamenting the disappearance of his wife, Myra and death of his daughter, Lily. One day his old partner Juli Kidman appears with an offer too good to refuse: enter the world of STEM (basically The Matrix) and save his daughter, who isn’t actually dead after all (phew!) but is lost within STEM’s virtual realms (bummer!).

It’s a classic, albeit slightly shopworn premise, but it does mean once Sebastian enters STEM the game doesn’t keep trying to pull the ‘this is reality… or is it?!’ trick the first game overindulged in to deadening effect. Naturally STEM is a scary, violent and horrific place and the game’s first half plays a little like The Last of Us meets Silent Hill, featuring tense treks through monster-filled neighbourhoods, with little ammunition and death potentially around every corner.

The term “survival horror” is much abused in modern games, but in the case of The Evil Within 2 it’s apt. You will be struggling to survive, relying on stealth, cunning and nerves of steel. I lost count of the number of times I’d sneak up on a group of enemies only to see my plans go tits up because one of them saw me, and I had to run, hide, set traps or die. In the 20ish hours it’ll take you to complete The Evil Within 2 your nerves will be getting a serious workout, especially if you explore the surprisingly large hub areas and take on some of the excellent side missions.

Gameplay wise The Evil Within 2 plays very much like the original, for good and ill. You’ll creep along in a third person POV, crafting ammo and healing syringes, stealth killing when you can – shooting when you can’t. The handgun handles like a slippery piglet, even fully upgraded, and in the end most battles were so messy I’d resort to using the ever reliable shotgun. This isn’t a bad thing per se, and in fact adds quite a lot to the tension of the piece, but if you’re looking for precision shooting you may be disappointed.

Boss fights feel a little lighter on the ground also. The first game would often reuse the same bosses over and over to obnoxious extremes, but the handful of boss fights in the sequel feels a little light nonetheless. Also, and this is extremely nitpicky, but Sebastian has what must be 74,000 lines that are variations on “what the fuck?” or “what’s going on?” Seb, mate, you’re in the horror Matrix – this was pretty clearly explained at the start – weird shit’s gonna happen, how about you get on with it, eh?

The Evil Within 2 is a solid, scary, tense and ultimately unexpectedly emotional experience, with a great central yarn at its core. It builds upon the foundation of the original, giving players a reason to care, while also providing numerous occasions for one to brown one’s trousers in fear. Fans of survival horror who feel ill served by modern AAA games take note: you’re not going to want to miss this one.

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South Park: The Fractured but Whole

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South Park: The Fractured But Whole is the follow-up to 2014’s The Stick of Truth, although you don’t need to have played that game to enjoy the new one. Fractured But Whole tells the tale of you – the new kid – who has moved to the quiet redneck mountain town of South Park. A wave of crime is sweeping through the titular town and it’s up to you and Cartman’s superhero group, Coon and Friends – to save and the day, and more specifically, a fearsomely ugly cat, Scrambles. There’s a hundred dollar reward in it, you guys. A hundred bucks!

Whereas The Stick of Truth skewered fantasy movie and game tropes, The Fractured But Whole has the superhero genre dead in its sights and there are some really funny observations. An ongoing gag about making a shitload of money through Netflix, prequel movies and tie-in TV series’ is consistently solid. Of course the game features a lot of callbacks, references and in-jokes for fans of the TV show so expect to see Raisins girls, City Ninjas, sixth graders and crab people…. Crab people. Look like crab, fight like people.

What’s most surprising about TFBW is the depth of the RPG elements. You’ll level up your character with multiple classes, equip relics and better gear and engage in some unexpectedly nuanced combat played in a turn based style. On the other hand you’ll also unlock the ability to solve puzzles with your arse – using an array of farts including the ability to stop time and shoot a hapless gerbil from your rectum. This mixture of solid game mechanics and toilet humour may cause tonal whiplash in some players, but if you’re in the mood for a 20 hour episode of South Park you’re in for a treat.

Storywise the game goes from normal to nuts in the first 15 or so hours, peaking with a sequence that somehow manages to mash up racist cops, Black Lives Matter, H.P. Lovecraft and one of his beasties. This is actually the peak of the game, a total celebration of the profane and arcane. Unfortunately the game keeps going afterwards, and the final 3-5 hours are a bit of a grind, with some fights dragging on way too long. It’s a pity that such an initially charming game ends on such a sour note, but the time that precedes it really is a lot of fun.

Ultimately South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a clever, funny, involving RPG dripping with personality and lashings of bent humour. It stumbles in its final act but the journey there is so delightfully dubious you’ll likely forgive its shortcomings.

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Middle Earth: Shadow of War

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At the deep, nuggety core of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is one simple concept: killing orcs. Yes there’s a lengthy, and somewhat tortured, story campaign, yes there is bulk loot collecting and RPG elements and yeah, naturally, there are lots of nods and callbacks to the Lord of the Rings movies/books (oh hi, Gollum!) but ultimately SoW is all about killing orcs in elaborate ways. You’ll kill them with fire, you’ll kill them with swords, you’ll kill them with spiders and big caragors. You’ll kill them in castles, you’ll kill them in on hills, you’ll kill them en masse, mate, oh fuck yes, you will!

Happily when it comes to dispatching orcs Shadow of War’s gameplay is fluid, responsive and enjoyable. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel first used in 2014’s Shadow of Mordor, but it adds enough new elements and mechanics to feel more engaging then a simple retread. Most impressive of all is the Nemesis system, which makes a triumphant return. For the uninitiated this system means every time you die the orc who killed you gains social status and becomes more powerful. Conversely some orcs survive their apparent deaths or humiliations and will return, bigger, badder and holding a drake-sized grudge.

These weird vendettas held against you by characters with name like Dush the Obsessed, Gurk the Angry and Trevor Maggot Pants (may have made that last one up) gives SoW a dynamic, exciting sense of tension. The same, sadly, cannot be said for the story which is all over the place. Talion remains duller then unsalted tofu and wraith partner, Celebrimbor, is still one Joy Division album away from being the bloke in his 40s who takes the whole goth thing just a little bit too seriously. They’re joined by some new characters this time, such as sexy Shelob (finally a spider character you can masturbate to!) and Bruz the Chopper, an ocker orc who is easily the most interesting character by a fairly huge margin.

You’ll occupy five large landscapes, collecting collectibles, brainwashing captains, taking over fortresses and, yes, killing many, many orcs. You can probably knock the main campaign over in 30-40 hours (which by AAA game standards is pretty damn generous) but then the game pulls some bullshit which you may find difficult to forgive. The last act, titled “Act IV: Shadow Wars”, turns the endgame into a grindfest. All those forts you spent so long taking over? Well now you’ll need to defend them against legions of tougher orcs, through some twenty increasingly difficult levels. It’s doable, but tough, and the Sauron-like spectre of microtransactions enters the proceedings because how much easier would it be to just buy some powerful orcs to buff your forts? Why not head to the online market place and buys some, my preeeecious?

For a lot of people this won’t be a deal breaker, it certainly wasn’t for me, I had a great time with this game, but there is a certain cynicism to the exercise that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Pay to win is a shitty design choice, especially when it locks you out of the game’s final cutscene. My suggestion? Don’t buy orcs, take a little longer and earn them by enjoying the game’s many combat options. Or just stop playing at Act IV and watch the “true ending” on Youtube. It’s a rough business that we even have to deal with this kind of nonsense, but that’s gaming in 2017. Proceed accordingly.

That one nasty little microtransactional caveat aside, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is a bloody belter of a game. The Nemesis system alone makes it worth a visit, and the sheer joy of chopping up literal armies of orcs is potent and exciting. In short: ignore the cash grab and focus on the killing and you’ll have a good time.

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Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

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Of all the many things Dishonored 2 did right, and that list is long and impressive, it didn’t quite give enough narrative time to one of its more interesting side characters, Billie Lurk (Rosario Dawson). Happily Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is here to redress that balance and run a victory lap, reminding us how damn good this series really is.

Death of the Outsider begins right after Dishonored 2’s ending. The players who opted to kill Billie Lurk at the end of that game may be slightly confused, but those people are monsters and we shall talk of them no more. Anyway, long story short: Billie has been tasked with finding the Outsider – the living God/man who controls the Void from which all supernatural power flows – and end his eternal life. To do this Billie will need to use her own powers – transporting herself vast distances, mimicking the faces of others and astral traveling into new areas to mark enemies and secrets. In other words it’s Dishonored business as usual and that’s a good thing, for the most part.

Over Death of the Outsider’s 7-10 hour runtime you’ll sneak around banks, museums and cultist’s lairs, either going full on stab-happy or silent but deadly. This time around killing folks doesn’t change the ending, which means cathartic murder goes unpunished, but the lack of a “good ending” for low chaos runs is a little disappointing. Another minor letdown is that you can’t upgrade your powers in any meaningful way. Yes, you can find bone charms that buff certain characteristics, but it’s a poor substitute for genuine stat building. One addition that really works, however, are the contracts you can take from the black market. These add multiple smaller goals (including killing a mime!) and really gives you a reason to explore every nook and cranny of these large, detailed maps.

While Death of the Outsider never quite attains the genius level of its bigger siblings, it’s a solid, undeniably satisfying adventure with some cool characters and world building and an ending that manages to stick the landing. It’s not a perfect ta ta for now to Dishonored but is sure to give fans something to chew on until Dishonored 3 creeps out of the shadows.

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Destiny 2

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The original Destiny was revered developer Bungie’s (Halo) ambitious attempt at an shooter/MMO hybrid. It was insanely expensive, with reports suggesting a budget of around half a billion (!) dollars and released with much fanfare; however the early days of vanilla Destiny were not happy ones. While the game performed well commercially, critics were less kind. The story was painfully thin and forgettable, the systems of looting and upgrading badly explained and the game’s campaign could be knocked over in a scant three hours. The critical drubbing was reflected by an increasing audience backlash, as players found the experience ultimately a bit repetitive and empty.

Over the following months and years vanilla Destiny was improved, slowly and falteringly, until The Taken King expansion turned the game into what it should have been the whole time. It just took over a year to get there! The fact is, Destiny – as it was initially released – didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Destiny 2, on the other hand, has no such identity crisis. This time around there’s a robust, albeit slightly generic, campaign with likable characters and playtime of 8-10 hours. There are planets to explore, public events to join, Lost Sectors (space dungeons) to delve into, Adventures (side quests) to take part in and classic endgame content like Strikes and, of course, The Raid. On the PvP front the Crucible returns, with several new modes and a more focused 4v4 paradigm at play. So, the big question, is it any good?

Yes, it’s fair to say that Destiny 2 is very good, but that statement comes with a caveat. Although the advertising claims differently, Destiny 2 is a lonely old slog by yourself. Oh sure, the voice acting is uniformly decent and the locations you visit feature gorgeous, eye-melting sci-fi vistas but the single player experience can feel a little lonely. Destiny has always been about forming a fireteam and blasting the crap out of aliens, robots and alien robots with your mates, and the sequel is no exception.

Another big factor is that post campaign these games are all about grinding for loot. Imagine Diablo in space, with guns, and you’ve got the basic idea. So while you’re certainly able to play the game by yourself, it lacks the weird mixture of camaraderie, jealously and friendly one upmanship group play allows. Happily Bungie has made joining a clan easier than ever, and also tacked on guided games – where you can meet some fellow nerds and hope they can carry you through the hard stuff.

While the shooting is as peerless as ever, and the graphics and story much improved over the original, Destiny 2 still has its flaws. The new mod system is dense and confusing, and when you finally do understand it – a bloody pain in the arse. Get ready to lose a whole bunch of glimmer (in game currency), time and sanity trying to craft that elusive final bit of gear to hit the level cap. Mission variety is another sticking point, as ‘waiting for your ghost to finish opening a door while wave after wave of enemies attack’ seems to be the order of the day yet again. Occasionally the game attempts something a little different, but those flashes of inspiration are few and far between. Also the campaign’s villain, Dominus Ghaul, becomes less as less interesting and threatening as the story proceeds and in the end just sort of… stops. Also, and this is possibly the most galling flaw, there aren’t any new alien races to shoot. If this game is truly a sequel, and not the ‘1.5’ reddit so often snarkily dubs it as, where are the new alien races, Bungie? Carn.

Balancing out those problems, however, are the Strikes (which are almost all superb) and the Raid. The Leviathan Raid is one of the series’ best, a punishing version of It’s a Knockout in space with clever use of group dynamics and an unforgettable final boss fight. In fact included with this review is the clutch play of all clutch plays as my group finally bested the gold-gilt fatty in a sloppy climax that involved just two surviving players (MightyTiger242 and skaterguy845) resorting to using supers, their last few rounds of ammo and even punching to triumph.

And that, right there, is how and when Destiny 2 works. When you’ve slogged through adversity and triumph on the other side. That weird bond your forge, through mutual goals and lack of sleep; and the seething jealously when everyone else gets better loot then you.

Ultimately Destiny 2 is a slick space shooter with satisfying gunplay, a decent story and engaging endgame content for days. As a single player shooter, it’s adequate, but as a group online experience it’s unmissable. Flawed but fun, Destiny 2 is a the best kind of engaging timewaster set to vampirise your social life and make a dark mockery of your responsibilities. Use it with care, Guardians.






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Agents of Mayhem

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Your enjoyment of Agents of Mayhem really boils down to one question: are you a fan of Saturday morning cartoons? As a youngster – or, hell, a full grown person – did/do you thrill to the slightly generic, safe violence of G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Transformers? If no, then Mayhem will cause you to roll your eyes and sigh loudly, a lot. If yes, then we have much to discuss.

Agents of Mayhem is set in a futuristic Seoul, South Korea. MAYHEM is actually an acronym for Multinational Agency Hunting Evil Masterminds, and it’s up to you – playing as twelve different heroes (fourteen with pre-order) – to stop LEGION aka League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations.

If the above paragraph sounds like insane nonsense to you, congratulations – you are correct. Agents of Mayhem is a powerfully silly story, but where it shines is with the heroes themselves. You can team up said protagonists into groups of three and switch them on the fly. Personally I enjoyed a team consisting of Daisy the alcoholic derby girl with a Gatling gun, Oni the insane, serial-killing former Yakuza who fights with fear and a silenced pistol and Braddock, a tough-as-nails former military lady who brings the pain and airstrikes. However most combinations can be effective, and unlocking each of the new characters and experimenting with them is a great deal of fun. The variety of characters you can choose from is such that even if you find half a dozen of them annoying – and you will probably will – there are likely just as many you’ll kind of dig.

The first ten or so hours of AOM are fantastic, you’ll unlock characters, defeat boss enemies, investigate underground bases and slowly take Seoul back. The problem is at around the halfway point the game stops evolving in any meaningful way. It’s still fun, mind you, but the repetition becomes a little deadening after a while and Volition’s trademark humour becomes less edgy and more annoying-younger-brother-on-a-sugar-high as time goes on.

Enemy variety is also a little disappointing, as you end up fighting the same faceless, generic robo-soldiers over and over. If one were to be particularly kind one might suggest it’s a knowing homage to the cartoons that pulled similar crap in the 1980s, but even if that’s the case it still doesn’t make it any more engaging.

Those caveats aside, Agents of Mayhem is a lot of dumb fun. The run-and-gun gameplay is an absolute joy and triple jumping around the huge (albeit somewhat lifeless) map never stops being a blast. Like the disposable Saturday morning cartoons it seeks to emulate, Agents of Mayhem is a slight, goofy good time that offers colour and movement but it’s unlikely to leave a lasting impression.







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Diablo III: Rise of the Necromancer

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A corridor full of slavering monsters greets me as I enter the dark crypt. They’re not much for formalities and charge forward, an ungainly horde of teeth, claws and homicidal intent. I sweep my hands over the ground, raising bloody spikes from the floor to impale my foes. They die badly, screaming and baying. Another wave of enemies approaches and this time I conjure the corpses of the first wave to rise, rise and attack their living compatriots…

Rise of the Necromancer is Diablo III’s first major content drop since 2014’s Reaper of Souls expansion. Gallingly, it doesn’t add any story content, but as the name suggests it does introduce a class new to Diablo III: the Necromancer.

The good news is the Necromancer is one of the best classes in the game, hewing closest to the Witch Doctor in terms of skills, but otherwise quite unique. Turning corpse piles into vengeful spiders or spears, summoning wraiths to do your bidding and literally raising the dead from the bloodied battlefield to fight alongside you feels wonderfully morbid and shockingly powerful. Fans of Diablo’s darker, gothic aesthetic will really dig on this class, and the many combinations of powers you can equip on your way to level 70 and beyond.

The bad news is that there’s no new story content in which to launch your brand spanking new necromancer, making the $21.95 price tag feel a little steep. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a regular Diablo III crew running Greater Rifts you’ve probably already purchased this bad boy and are enjoying it mightily. If, however, you’re looking for the next sizable chunk of content to make Diablo III feel brand new, you’ll likely be a little disappointed.

Ultimately Rise of the Necromancer is lots of fun, but a little slight. Still, this is a game released in 2012 that still manages to feel engaging and addictive, so maybe it’s time to jump back in and desecrate a few corpses.

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Rime feels like a fairy tale, or some half-remembered dream. You play as a small boy who wakes up on the beach of a mysterious island. You have vague memories of a boat crashing into rocks and falling into the sullen depths of the sea but it’s all fragmented, confused.

Once you leave the beach you’ll soon come to a series of puzzles that you’ll need to solve without hints, save for the occasionally cryptic help of a magical fox companion. The puzzles get harder, and the stakes higher, and you’ll slowly solve the mystery of who you are and what secret the island holds.

Rime is an attempt to ape the dream-like quality of the excellent Journey and the clue-free puzzle solving of games like The Witness. It’s certainly a laudable goal, and when the game succeeds it’s mellow and cathartic. The problem is, stretched over a six-hour playthrough it feels a little thin.

Journey succeeds so well because you can knock it over in 90 minutes. The Witness succeeds, and frustrates, because its puzzle solutions are increasingly obtuse. Rime, on the other hand, never really ratchets up the tension. The puzzles get a little harder, sure, but it’s ultimately a series of repetitious climbing or exploring followed by samey puzzle-solving.

It is charming, mind you. The animations, the music, the art style are all top notch… but one can’t help but feel there’s something missing here. Perhaps it’s the slightly clunky controls, or the fiddly camera but ultimately, you’ll probably persevere just to see the ending.

The ending, which we won’t spoil, is sure to be divisive and it certainly makes a statement, it’s just a pity the game before it feels so familiar and executed better elsewhere. Rime is… fine, but a little rote and while it has its charms they don’t extend for the length of the entire experience.

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Injustice 2

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You’ve heard the argument at school, in comic book shops and on internet forums. Which hero would win in a fight? Batman vs Superman, Catwoman vs Wonder Woman, Green Lantern vs a terrible movie adaptation – who will be triumphant? Thanks to Injustice 2, the latest fighting game from NetherRealm Studios, you can answer the question in real time, in your lounge room; pants optional.

Injustice 2 is the sequel to 2013’s Injustice: God’s Among Us, and continues the tale of divided superheroes and villains, and the arenas in which they beat the shit out of one another. The original game was a good time, but if you’d rather gargle a tankard full of razor blades and ground glass than subject yourself to the shrieky, nightmarish experience of combat games online, it had a limited shelf life.

Happily, Injustice 2 offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of content. To begin with there’s the 4-6 hour story campaign, in which you control a rotating roster of heroes and villains, ultimately siding with team Bats or Supes. The story is a bit of a goof to be honest, with some wince-inducing dialogue and outrageously contrived premises for fights. That said it is gorgeously cinematic and features fantastic voice actors like A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund aka Freddy Krueger as Scarecrow and Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs aka Doctor Herbert West (!) as Brainiac.

Once you’ve completed the campaign there’s still plenty left to do. If you’re a glutton for punishment – or just spectacularly good at fighting games – you can head online to punch on with your fellow gamers. If you’re less proactive, but still want some sweet, sweet loot, you can enter AI battles with other players where the game plays out the matches for you – and you reap the lazy benefits.

However the jewel in the crown of Injustice 2 is Multiverse mode. This is a mode that features a number of temporary alternate realities, where you’ll fight various foes, at different levels of difficulty, with modifiers changing the way you play. The modifiers might feature flaming assistance from John Constantine, or perhaps the map will tilt back and forth like a seesaw, or poison bombs fall from the sky. The more you fight the more you’ll level up (towards the cap of 20) and grind for loot, which drops in Mother Boxes of various flavours. Naturally you’ll want to upgrade your preferred characters as you can then take them into tougher Multiverses and get even more fancy defence-boosting-trousers or strength-enhancing tiaras. You can also customise the numerous clothing options of your characters, so get ready to spend a lot of time cosplaying on screen.

Quite honestly this could, and in fact should, feel like a grind but when the combat mechanics are so tight and well-honed it’s hard to complain. The spectre of micro-transactions does enter into the proceedings somewhat, but can be ignored with no detriment to your enjoyment.

Ultimately Injustice 2 is one of the most consistently engaging, enjoyable and surprising fighting games in years. It takes everything that was great about Injustice: Gods Among Us and makes it faster, prettier and deeper. If you’re even vaguely interested in fighting games, DC superheroes or grinding for gear, Injustice 2 will give your free time a highly-addictive kicking and leave you begging for more.

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The Surge

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The “Dark Souls-like” sub genre has been booming of late. Indie charmer Salt and Sanctuary (2D Souls) was followed by the excellent Nioh (Feudal Japan Souls) and now we have The Surge, which could be broadly described as exoskeleton Souls… in the future!

The story opens with a cleverly executed sequence, where the protagonist, Warren, is revealed to be in a wheelchair, quietly maneuvering himself to an augmentation station to have an exoskeleton installed. Naturally the installation doesn’t go smoothly, taking place at the same time as some initially unspecified catastrophe, and the hero of the hour wakes up in a very different world. Certainly you’re now ambulatory, thanks to the exo, but now it seems the machines have risen and are ready to kill their meat puppet masters.

In classic Souls style, The Surge has more of a premise than a story; with details of the world sketched out via environmental cues and audio logs you can find along the way. The game’s opening hours are very evocative as you test the limits of your combat against smaller robots and other exo-suited foes. Horizontal and vertical attacks can be used to defeat enemies and combine for some appealingly chunky combos. You can focus your attacks on limbs, heads or bodies – either going for the weak spot for an easy kill, or ripping off a well-armoured arm or leg to gain a weapon or upgrade. It’s a cool, albeit grisly, way to advance your character’s progress but sadly it’s the only truly fresh idea on offer here.

The rest of The Surge is classic Souls. You’ll explore an area, fight foes, collect Tech scrap to level up or upgrade armour/weapons and, of course, if you die you’ll lose everything and need to pick up your dropped gear up within a short time limit. Problems arise when you start facing bosses, the heart of any good Souls clone. They’re simply not very interesting when compared to the glowering beasties from Dark Souls, Bloodborne or even Nioh. Plus the mission areas, particularly in the first half of the game, suffer from a sameness that makes exploration less exciting. When combined with the game’s seeming delight in making you grind for your supper, The Surge occasionally feels like a slog.

That said, there are joys to be found in The Surge’s dystopian future. When the aesthetic works it feels very compelling, in a strange sci-fi/horror hybrid kind of way. The combat is mostly satisfying, with some spectacularly bloody finishing moves, and the overall experience is engaging, although nowhere near the level of quality of the games it shamelessly apes.

If you want a tough-as-guts Souls-like experience but find dragons and monsters overplayed, and feudal Japan does not appeal, then perhaps The Surge will exo-suit you.