When a game like Dark Souls manages to create its own niche in the videogame world, you can always expect copycats to follow. Many have come over the years, but does The Surge stand above the rest?

For starters, this isn’t Deck13 Interactive’s first try at a Souls-like game. They also made Lords of the Fallen, an ill-fated attempt to match up with From Software’s behemoth. The Surge, however, seems to have its bearings much more firmly than Lords of the Fallen ever did. While I never played much of Lords, Surge feels far better from the get go in terms of its combat system. How you fight, block and dodge is much the same as how other Souls-like games manage it, and this game feels just as good as you’d expect, with weapons all carrying their weight in battle.

This game isn’t just repeating the same old style of fighting, as the limb-targeting system plays into more than just gory aftereffects. Certain body parts can be armoured or exposed, and at times it’s a strategic decision whether to go for the weak points for an easier kill, or risk the tougher parts for a chance at extra loot. Doing damage fills an energy meter, which when high enough allows you to perform a finisher on an enemy at deaths door, which severs the targeted limb from the body, and gives the chance to drop crafting parts depending on the damage done to that specific part. (So you can’t just whack the weak spots then switch over; you’ve got to put in the work first)

This system of risk and reward is prevalent throughout the game. At Ops Stations (your safe-zones) you can bank you unused tech scrap, you currency, to use at a later time and avoid losing it when you die. However, if you shun this and just carry it all with you, the game awards a gradually increasing multiplier for that very same currency, meaning that the more you carry, the more you get, but adding to the risk is the timer put on your dropped scrap if you die. Run out of time and it’s all gone. Even though these are considerably small adjustments to a familiar gameplay system, considering that the game follows most of the other standards set by Dark Souls, they add a flavour of freshness to the game, and allow it to stand on its own much more than Lords of the Fallen ever could.

And that’s before you even get into the aesthetics and world design of this game. While it carries a lot less mystery and wonder than Dark Souls, this makes the game no less filled with dread and despair. Walking through the sci-fi nightmare of insane augmented humans and machines attacking their masters, seeing the aftermath of some horrible disaster, this dystopian world will leave you tiptoeing through certain areas.

The Surge offers the goods to those willing to take the chance, but will not hold your hand. As is expected of this type of game, the difficulty will break the backs of those looking for an easy ride. From the moment you encounter your first augmented human, the kid gloves are off and you’re thrown into the lion’s den head first. And this is long before you encounter the first boss of the game.

Sadly, the boss battles are where a game like this should shine, but instead it falls hard. My encounter with the first boss of the game gave me more caution than anything else, as the fight felt somewhat gimmicky in how it worked. And then you find out just how few bosses there are in this game. If you’re going to make the big encounters so few and far between, they need to be utter excellence, and unfortunately they barely cut it as standard boss fights for this genre. A massive shame for a game that has so much going for it in all the other categories.

It’s a shame for a game that seems to have promise. With Dark Souls (and From Software by extension) seemingly away from the genre they created for the time being, the field is open for newcomers to prove their worth such as Nioh did a few months back. And the signs of a great game are here. But to be let down by such a key component of the genre is an error too critical to ignore. If you don’t mind the lack of enthralling bosses then this game is still built on solid foundations. But if you came for the big hunt, then hunt elsewhere.

++Great core gameplay
+ Interesting world design
--- Uninteresting and scarce boss battles