The Surge: A Walk in the Park Review
One of the best things about gaming is that so much work invariably goes into each release that developers sometimes get burned out and start coming up with crazy ideas to switch things up, and setting a Souls-y game like The Surge in a theme park gone horribly awry is definitely a crazy idea. After all, the base game is grim and serious, and the few friendly characters you meet are slowly corrupted as the story progresses to further add to the uncomfortable feeling of being totally alone. Fighting a bunch of theme park mascots who shoot lasers out of their eyes while being directed over the radio by a refreshingly uncorrupted ally, then, is about as far as you can get from the tone of the base game. Granted, you’re still wandering around a lot of vents and dark underground areas while crazy people in exoskeletons jump out, but there’s also a significant portion of the game that takes place in and around outdoor theme park rides and attractions. A Walk in the Park is a slightly hesitant but undeniably enjoyable step in a direction the burgeoning genre has yet to explore, and one that hopefully sends a message that games like this don’t need to be crushingly dark (tonally and visually) to be enjoyable.
A game of Carbon Cat and Iron Maus
A Walk in the Park is first accessible via train from The Surge’s second area, right down the stairs from where you first meet Irina (you’ll eventually have to return to the base game and play up to Research & Development to access the second part, though anyone on New Game + will have access to both halves of the expansion without the need to leave), and the area is now plastered with advertisements for “Creo World,” a company-themed amusement park featuring mascots such as Iron Maus—previously seen on comics that were strewn throughout the base game—and his nemesis, Carbon Cat. Naturally, the sudden surge that caused all of the chaos in the base game had a similar effect on the amusement park, so the security forces and robotic mascots have gone haywire and killed all of the patrons, several of whom left behind audio logs.
Rather than these logs being overwrought and serious, however, they often prove to be one of the most amusing parts of the game. For one thing, the popularity of the comic characters is exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous, and hearing the pre-surge logs of people boasting about how much fun they’re having while you’re surrounded by the subsequent carnage is always an amusing disconnect. Then there are the post-surge logs where everyone’s unbridled enthusiasm is suddenly replaced by paralyzed disbelief, but even these manage to have slight elements of humor to them. The same goes for a bitter employee’s reoccuring logs where he insists on calling all of the patrons “sheep.” Granted, this isn’t the kind of humor that’ll have you laughing, but it’s endearing that A Walk in the Park recognizes the inherent absurdity of its premise.
There are also a few logs that consist of recorded conversations between main character Warren and his girlfriend, Elizabeth, during a previous visit (or perhaps multiple visits); these aren’t intended to be humorous, but they serve to fill in Warren’s back story and give him a greater sense of presence in the world while introducing a sympathetic new character who could potentially help drive the plot of a future sequel.
Finally, there’s Largo, the friendly voice over the radio who directs you around the park to look for his fellow Search and Rescue members. He’s one of two friendly characters you can meet in the expansion, though it bears mentioning that nothing ever comes from any of this; the expansion being integrated into the base game means that it can’t reveal anything huge about what’s happening, and its few story threads end unceremoniously before much has been resolved beyond one or two immediate threats having been taken out. The expansion’s ending isn’t much of an ending at all, really, as you’re handed a crudely-drawn map that hint-hint-nudge-nudges you back to the base game.
Drone upgrades, small spaces, and new enemies
All of the good and bad facets of The Surge’s gameplay remain intact here, so A Walk in the Park isn’t going to do anything to change anyone’s mind about the game. There are a few minor tweaks that I came to appreciate, however, with the biggest being the implants that increase drone attack damage. Stacking several of these along with implants that increase the amount of energy gained through successful attacks (so that one or two attacks is enough to use the drone) can make a hit-and-run play style much more viable than it used to be. There’s also a new drone attack that surrounds an enemy in fire, though I didn’t really find a use for it; fire doesn’t do anywhere near as much damage as the drone’s normal laser attack, and it had a bad habit of missing, sometimes hitting Warren instead of the enemy. That happened more than you’d expect.
One of the things that started to grate on me was A Walk in the Park’s insistence on throwing enemies at you when you’re in awkwardly small spaces. Granted, this can be effective at creating tension when the area is empty enough that you and enemies aren’t constantly getting stuck on things, but there are a few points where that does become a problem. A Walk in the Park (and the base game, now that I think about it) is at its best when you’re given difficult enemies in a wide open space that allows for lots of movement, and thankfully, both of the expansion’s boss fights take place in open areas that feel great to maneuver around. Still, there are enough small areas full of enemies to become frustrating, and dying because of weird level geometry sucks.
Fortunately, the small handful of new enemies are usually placed in larger spaces, with the frustratingly claustrophobic encounters being mostly relegated to a number of encounters against generic exoskeleton enemies. There aren’t that many new enemies, to be honest, but the amusement park mascots who shoot lasers out of their eyes are great fun to chop apart regardless, and a corrupted version of them faced later on might be my favorite enemy because of how crazy the fights become.
The visuals are colorful, but the music is still pretty forgettable
Visually, things look great. The blue lasers of enemy mascots, the red of the roller coaster, the sunny environments covered in bloodstains that the underground sections tend to loop back to—all of it works, though there’s still a bit too much traipsing through vents for my tastes. Setting that aside, though, the outdoor sections here are much more enjoyable than those in the base game, and the various attractions are all distinct enough from each other that it’s unlikely that you’ll wind up getting lost. Then there are the little touches that speak to how comfortable Deck13 is becoming with their FLEDGE Engine, such as the Ops area (which there’s only one of) being balanced precariously on a ledge and tipping whenever Warren walks toward its edge. As for the music, I didn’t care for it. Yes, it helps build atmosphere, and there’s a steel drum song you hear a few times that’s kind of interesting, but I couldn’t help but find myself wishing that they had more fully embraced the absurd and included upbeat music rather than the usual pads.
*A PS4 review key for The Surge: A Walk in the Park was provided for the purpose of this review