Ever since the extremely disappointing release of Cyberpunk 2077 last year, there seems to be a certain negative connotation attached to any game willing to describe itself as part of the cyberpunk genre. It’s an unfortunate situation to be in quite frankly, and it seems unlikely that this stigma will go away anytime soon.
But that also means that any title that manages to overcome this hurdle has to be something truly special. It has to live up to the expectations that people have from this genre, while still managing to be a great video game on top of it. Granted the bar isn’t incredibly high at this moment in time, but we all understand the gist of the situation anyway.
And this dear readers is where The Ascent makes its entrance.
The Ascent Story
The story of The Ascent begins in a world known as Veles, which is ruled by powerful megacorporations that control all aspects of life. The biggest of these corporations is known as the “Ascent Group”, which is also the employer of the player’s character. As one of the many indentured workers under their control, you toil away in the bowels of the city as little more than a slave. Locked into servitude, all you can do is uphold your contract or die trying.
It’s from here that the events of the game begin, as the Ascent Group suddenly collapses and Veles descends into anarchy. And to maintain whatever is defined as a sense of order in this dystopian world, the player must become a hired gun. Their goal is to stop the hordes of violent gangs and rival corporations looking to establish themselves on top, while also trying to uncover the mystery behind the collapse of the powerful Ascent Group.
So as far as cyberpunk premises go, The Ascent immediately knocks it out of the park in terms of the setting and feel of the world. One of the core tenants of this genre is the exploration of the dangers of unfettered capitalism and how companies exploit people for profit. And in that regard, the game makes an incredible first impression.
The problem however is that The Ascent doesn’t move beyond this point in any meaningful way. The main narrative is shallow and uninteresting, even as it explores some of the tropes and subjects synonymous with the genre. The writing is pretty subpar as well and the game is generally uninterested in telling a particularly unique story. What’s here is okay at best, but I won’t pretend that it’s anything special.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it once again. I do not want stories in games to constantly be subverting clichés or creating completely unique scenarios, but I do want them to be competently written. I want them to be confident in the execution of their ideas, and unfortunately that’s not what I found here.
Trust me when I say that The Ascent absolutely nails the cyberpunk aesthetic. The locations and backdrops here are some of the most grotesque depictions of a dystopian world that I have ever seen in a game, and I mean that in the best way possible.
During my playthrough, I constantly found myself entranced by the vibrant and bustling world of Veles. Its neon cityscape, with all of its defects and imperfections, seems to have been ripped out of some of my favorite science fiction novels. The city streets occupied by the common folk are dirty and crowded, the bright store signs are distracting and the inhabitants are alien and freakish.
But when you go into the more upper class district where the rich live, it’s all clean streets and NPCs dressed extremely stylishly. The game is really great at expressing the living conditions of the different classes that exit within the world, and the art design does wonders for the atmosphere.
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The game also nails the feeling of gritty realism that goes so well with a setting like this. Yes, we’re in an advanced futuristic world with aliens and cybernetic enhancements, but the tech still feels practical and believable. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but overall the game sticks to the parameters it sets for itself.
Every single aspect of this world seems to have been created with the utmost attention to detail. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this might actually be one of the most well realized cyberpunk worlds I have ever seen in a game, and I am in absolutely awe of the technical skill at display. Bravo to developer Neon Giant for their hard work.
When The Ascent first starts, players are allowed to customize and create their own character. The tools and options are not all that extensive, but it serves the purpose of allowing the player to build their own unique avatar.
Immediately after this point you are dumped into the world and the game properly starts. The opening section is pretty slow and arduous, but it does a good enough job of acquainting you with the basics of combat.
The game is played from a top down perspective similar to what you might see in a series like Diablo. But instead of magic and melee attacks, your primary source of dealing damage are firearms. As a twin stick shooter you move your character with one analog stick, and your direction with the other.
Most of the time you’ll simply change direction with one stick and hold down the fire button until all of the enemies are dead. But there is an aim mechanic where you can raise you gun and attack enemies that might be on elevated platforms or if you simply want to inflict increased damage with headshots.
There’s also a cover system that allows you to hide behind structures to shield yourself from enemy fire. It’s not a set mechanic with a dedicated button, but it instead makes use of the crouch button to allow you to duck behind items in the environment. From here, you can use the aim mechanic mentioned above to periodically duck out of cover and fire your weapons. And then there’s the dodge action. It’s exactly what it sound like, as it allows the player do jump out of enemy fire and move quickly though groups.
In terms of guns, there’s a decent selection of handguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, etc. available for the player to use, but they aren’t procedurally generated or anything like that. You can buy these from shops in the game world, but there’s also a random chance that enemies might drop them upon death. These also have set stats and they can be upgraded further with the required components at the Gun Smith.
It also helps that each of the weapons in the game feels great to use. They are weighty and responsive, even if a number of them are virtually indistinguishable from each other while firing. Players are also encouraged to keep a few different types on them at all times, since specific guns work well on specific enemies.
Leveling up in The Ascent rewards players with skill points that can be invested in a number of different passive skills that improve your character overall. These include improvements to aiming, critical hit chance and evasion among a number of other buffs. You also have access to some Tactical options like a deployable turret, area of effect healing and a few different types of grenades. Each of these are on a set cooldown timer that recharges as you damage enemies.
And finally there are Augmentations, which are essentially abilities that are acquired when you install cyberware into your body. These range all the way from a powerful ground pound, to a homing missile attack and even a deployable combat buddy that can assist you in combat. You can use two of these at a time to enhance your playstyle greatly.
Because enemies constantly appear in swarms during combat, and it can regularly get extremely hectic, players will have to stay on their toes at all times if they want to survive. Each of the weapons, Tacticals and Augmentations can then be used together in hundreds of different combinations to create a set of builds that work for you in every conceivable scenario.
What I’m basically trying to say is that combat is really difficult. But when you get into the flow of things it becomes incredibly fun and rewarding. It’s undoubtedly the best part of the game.
While playing though the campaign, players will visit a multitude of different locations and talk to a number of different quest givers and other NPCs as they advance from one quest to the next. This is pretty standard fare for RPGs, but the problem here is the quality of these quests.
Most of what you’ll find in this game are uninteresting objectives that revolve around generic tasks that involve either killing someone, accessing a database or retrieving some sort of item. Most of these eventually turn into combat encounters and repetitiveness begins to set in fairly quickly.
Now I understand that the basic structure of this game makes this inevitable. But this world clearly has potential, and I really wanted to interact with it outside of combat.
The Ascent also has this issue where it makes you walk extremely long distances between objectives for no reason. You’ll start a quest, and then following the marker to the starting point will take you anywhere from 4 to 5 minutes of constant walking with no interesting detours in between.
I didn’t mind this at first because I was enjoying the sights of this beautiful world. But over time it became incredibly annoying and I simply couldn’t beat to stand it anymore. It also doesn’t help that when you die, the game sometimes sends you back to a checkpoint that is an unreasonable distance away. So when you respawn, there’s this long lifeless path you have to walk simply to get back to where the action currently is.
And while we’re on the subject of annoyances, the developers really have to tweak some of the combat encounters. Now I like a good challenge as much as the next person, but there are some absolutely unreasonable spikes in difficulty in this game. You know something’s broken when you can take out a boss on the first try, but the group of enemies right before the arena were able to one-shot you multiple times.
Performance And Visuals
There are a number of issues with the game on Xbox Platforms. For starters, both the Xbox Series X and the base Xbox One suffer from the exact same framerate drops and screen freezing. Neither of these are particularly egregious because they don’t bring the game to a complete halt, but they do happen regularly enough that it’s hard to ignore.
Additionally, there are a number of bugs that made me have to reboot the game multiple times. One time I entered an open arena and nothing at all was happening. At first I was confused as to what was going on, but upon restarting the game I realized that a glitch had stopped the boss from spawning. This was one of the more prominent issues, but apart from that I saw many other bugs like my character’s aim being stuck in one direction or enemies completely brushing off damage from my explosives.
This game has some issues for now, but it’s not so bad that you can’t actually play thorough it. It’s going to be annoying, but you might also get lucky and not encounter any of the bugs I saw. When testing the game out on multiple platforms, I didn’t always encounter the same issues multiple times. So make of that what you will.
As far as visuals are concerned, the game looks absolutely fantastic. The Ascent truly shows off it’s gorgeous lighting and stellar graphics on the Xbox Series X, but the Xbox One is no slouch either. The textures are noticeably blurry in some areas and backgrounds don’t look that great, but that’s to be expected of older hardware.
But the fact that this game still manages to look as good as it does on the older Xbox is nothing short of impressive. I feel confident in saying that fans who have not been able to upgrade to next-gen yet will still have an incredible time with The Ascent. No hurries though, because I would definitely wait for an update or two to sort out all the technical issues before jumping in.
The Ascent Verdict
The Ascent is a fantastic twin stick shooter that has an extremely satisfying combat system that will keep you engaged throughout the 12 – 16 hours it takes to complete its campaign.
Veles is also an incredibly beautiful location, and the developers have not missed a beat in bringing this dystopian world to life. Seriously, the art direction of this game is amazing.
However, if you’re expecting to find a rich and engaging story, this is not the cyberpunk game for you. The plot only exists to propel you from one combat encounter to the next, and that’s honestly going to be enough for a lot of people. The game also has issues with pacing, and most of its gameplay becomes excessively grindy towards the final hours.
But as a complete package though, The Ascent is a great game. It’s problems are hard to ignore, but I can’t pretend that I didn’t have an amazing time with it. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I’ll be going back for another playthrough soon.
- Incredible Gun Combat.
- Beautiful World.
- Decent Build Variety.
- Accurate Cyberpunk Dystopia.
- A Bit Too Grindy.
- Difficulty Spikes Out Of Nowhere.
- Bad Narrative.
The Ascent Rating – 3.5/5
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