Overall - 85%
The Ascent delivers on every promise. The combat is fast-paced, challenging, and explosive. The environment is gorgeous, gritty, and dark. Everything about the cyberpunk theme screams out for attention. If you're a fan of twin-stick style shooters and the thematics of the cyberpunk universe, The Ascent offers an exciting and rewarding adventure that is worth every second.
Neon Giant, a development team of 12 industry veterans, introduce their debut title with the release of the cyberpunk-themed The Ascent. Set in a corporate-dominated metropolis, players take on the role of an enslaved worker in an RPG/stick shooter hybrid that offers futuristic body modifications, a neon-filled cyberpunk world, and challenging combat.
Fans have long wanted more developers to explore the cyberpunk theme and Neon Giant certainly have the pedigree to make a meaningful and worthwhile dive into the unique setting, but does The Ascent offer enough to warrant a deep dive into this dark, dystopian world?
The Ascent Review
Straight off the bat, The Ascent is set to impress. Immediately after loading the game, you’re introduced to a visual feast of a cyberpunk-themed world. Running through the winding tunnels of the first mission, the lightning and environment comes to life. Steam pours out from every vent, giant fans above impose a dominating shadow below, and machines and alien creatures go about their business making repairs and patrols. From start to finish, the aesthetic design of The Ascent is both unique and immersive, true to the cyberpunk setting and filled with character.
Unfortunately, there is a level of disconnect between the incredibly impressive environments and the main character. It feels out of place, and it often gives the impression that it’s running on a layer above the rest of the world. While the lighting in the environment is fantastic, it doesn’t interact with the main character model, delivering a lack of detail and interaction with the environment that feels very jarring when compared to the otherwise jaw-dropping environments. It’s certainly not a game-breaker, but once I noticed it, it constantly drew my attention.
While it is difficult to criticize The Ascent’s AAA-style world building, it does suffer from a level of familiarity throughout. The team at Neon Giant clearly made a huge effort create a level of verticality that gives the impression of a near endless and sprawling metropolis that stretches from the very depths of society to the very skies above. However, as is often the case with the cyberpunk style, it does all feel very familiar. Many of the areas have distinctive aspects, but the general gameplay of running back and forth between quests does feel a bit repetitive – at least, in a visual sense.
And that’s very much what the game is about. The questing system is immediately recognizable, split between main quests that progress the story and side quests that offer rewards and additional insight into the world and its characters. Both aspects of content delivered with the questing system are worthwhile. The main narrative is dark and brutal in places and the rewards offered with the side content greatly add to the already in-depth levels of character customization, but the constant tracking back and forth delivers a frustrating level of fatigue toward the latter stages of the game. Fast travel is an option, but it’s limited to either a very expensive taxi-style system or limited train stations scattered throughout the game world.
When you’re not running back and forth completing quests, you’re shooting things – and it is glorious. The Ascent’s combat is a twin-stick style shooter that utilizes a variety of different weapons, character abilities delivered via body augmentations and modifications, and environmental hazards that are both visually gorgeous and mechanically sound. I wasn’t able to get any time in a co-op setting, but The Ascent offers both online and offline co-op with couch play an option.
The Ascent’s combat is easily its most impressive aspect, which is even more impressive when considering the rest of the package. There’s a great variety of enemies, from small machines that chase you down for melee attacks, to giant aliens that throw bombs and launch rockets. Every encounter was an adrenaline fueled challenge of managing your characters various abilities whilst constantly analyzing the environment to spot enemies crawling up from below or dropping down from above, making split second decisions on whether to use the cover-based system or maneuver to a more advantageous position. I wasn’t expecting much of a challenge with The Ascent – I’m confident with this style of combat and rarely have a problem – but there were many fights that I failed over and over again.
This was largely due to the lack of attention I had given to my characters progression. When you level up, you can spend stats in a variety of different fields. Increasing crit rate, accuracy, health, energy; there’s a nearly limitless combination of stat upgrades that you can use to craft characters with different strengths and weaknesses. Accompanying basic stat upgrades are several other mechanics that combine to deliver a surprisingly deep and detailed character progression system.
The gear system is simple in design. With it, you can find weapons, helmets, chest pieces, and armor for the legs, but it’s not simply about finding the strongest piece of gear available. Each enemy you encounter has different offensive and defensive stats. Some will attack with fire while being weak to energy attacks. It’s easy enough to kill the most basic of enemies without paying much attention to these aspects, but once you get to the more difficult enemies, attempting to take them down without appropriately equipping your character will likely end in failure.
This intriguing approach to weapons and armor definitely adds a strategic layer to the combat but it does become somewhat cumbersome as the game progresses. Weapon and armor upgrades are persistent, meaning that upgrading one and finding it later, provides the upgraded version, but this results in an increasingly full inventory as you cling to every possible weapon and armor combination to face the challenges ahead.
The Ascent delivers on every promise. The combat is fast-paced, challenging, and explosive. The environment is gorgeous, gritty, and dark. Everything about the cyberpunk theme screams out for attention. If you’re a fan of twin-stick style shooters and the thematics of the cyberpunk universe, The Ascent offers an exciting and rewarding adventure that is worth every second.
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