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The Ascent
The Ascent

Genre: Action-RPG Players: 1 to 4 (2 to 4 Online)
Classification: MA15+
Release Date:
July 2021
The Ascent Review
Review By @ 05:17pm 11/08/21
PC
The Ascent has style and futuristic detail to spare, its neon-drenched locales exemplify everything you might imagine when it comes to the ‘cyberpunk’ aesthetic. A sensory feast of bright signs, bustling megalopolis streets and structures, and night markets packed with strange beings and even stranger fashion choices.

From a pure technical standpoint The Ascent also has style and futuristic detail to spare too. When paired with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30-series graphics card the addition of real-time ray-traced reflections, shadows, and ambient occlusion is every bit as impressive as what CD Projekt Red pulled off with Cyberpunk 2077. Albeit with a remarkably small team of a dozen or so developers over at Neon Giant.


With the aid of NVIDIA DLSS (a must if you plan on cranking up the RTX On detail settings) The Ascent is one of the most technically and aesthetically stunning releases we’ve seen this year. Partly because of the ray-tracing and how well it works with the evocative cyberpunk aesthetic. But, mainly because of just how much detail is packed into any given scene. From no two dinged up vehicles or future-rubbish bags looking the same to graffiti strewn walls to cracks and seams covering every inch of the future real estate you get to explore.


The Ascent has style and futuristic detail to spare, it’s neon-drenched locales exemplify everything you might imagine when it comes to the ‘cyberpunk’ aesthetic.



The fully 3D backdrops that showcase a vast multi-layered world, right there, is a true next-gen showcase. The isometric Diablo-style perspective does wonders for scale too, presenting each diverse location with cinematic flare. The Ascent even begins with a real-time fly-through of the mega corporation controlled city in which the action takes place, and it’s as breathtaking as it is almost unbelievable. Visually, The Ascent sets a new bar for just what can be accomplished by a relatively small team.


Pausing to bask in the neon glow of The Ascent’s world is just about worth the price of admission.

It’s worth beginning with that dive into The Ascent’s look because a lot of the appeal here, even when played in co-op, comes from just how spectacular the spectacle-rich action looks in motion. The animation and sound design that builds off of the weapons, gear, and abilities you get to equip offers up a level of satisfaction (and glee) that’s palpable. The fact that the setting calls for a suite of neon lights, rain, and shiny metallic objects as far as the eye can see plays into the sense of tense chaos. And a future where technology and corporations are the only state of being.

The Ascent’s world is fascinating. In this sci-fi world, corporate controlled AI lies within the heart of every city - controlling and keeping the wheels turning. To the point where without the existence of corporations or AI technology, society would cease to function. At least that’s the idea. Throw in hackers, augmented beings, aliens, and gangs, the story follows the aftermath of a cataclysmic event that sees an entire city’s future thrown into question when an AI system shuts down. It’s a great setup, albeit one that is a little bland in its twists and turns and characters.


At its best The Ascent is both figuratively and literally a blast, twin-stick evasion and cover-based shooting where skill and strategy trumps things like level-gating or even where to spend your next batch of Skill Points. Although the design and isometric perspective points to The Ascent being Diablo meets Cyberpunk 2077, the end result is something of a mixed bag on that front. The RPG side lacks depth and sometimes outright clashes with the often challenging twin-stick action.


Although the design and isometric perspective points to The Ascent being Diablo meets Cyberpunk 2077, the end result is something of a mixed bag on that front.



Take weapon upgrades, which are carried out using different tiered components. These are found in various crates and chests, dropped from named Bounty enemies, and are then spent to add some DPS to a particular pistol, assault rifle, or shotgun you like. The problem lies in their scarcity and why you can’t get them from something like breaking down duplicate gear. Instead you sell things, and money isn’t all that useful.

This means better weapons that appear later in the game can lose their allure once you settle on a gun of choice. It fosters build diversity through arbitrary limitations, and clashes with the idea of different damage types being better against different types of enemies. Weirdly, the armour follows a different design approach, unique bits of gear that progressively get better the more you explore and play through the story.


Now, having a weapon-upgrade system might not sound all that bad. In fact, it’s something of an RPG staple in adding variety and progression to combat. But there’s a disconnect in The Ascent, especially when success more often than not comes from pure skill. It’s also weird that weapons you find, if they’re the same as the weapon you’ve upgraded and equipped, have the same upgrades. This disconnect applies to the cybernetic abilities which perform better when they align with where you put your Skill Points. Say body, energy, or agility. Weapons, seemingly, do not.

To summarise it in a way that should make sense, The Ascent features a mix of systems and mechanics that don’t play all that well with each other. Exploration suffers too, with certain Side Missions being locked to the main story without any word as to why. To the point where you might have a low level Side Mission offering a green quest icon on a doorway, except you can’t go through the door because the main story hasn’t progressed to a certain point.

Also a chest you might find might remain locked because you don’t have the Level 2 security Cyberdeck. Where do you get that upgrade? The augmentation clinic? Nope, that's just for cosmetics and skins. The game fails to explain what a Cyberdeck is and how you go about getting a new one.


This is all to say that The Ascent works best as a co-op twin-stick shooter first and foremost, and falters as an action-RPG. As a non-linear slice of isometric exploration and discovery you almost wish it was a linear set of levels to progress through with friends. Yet, despite these shortcomings, and the somewhat spotty performance and buggy nature of the game in general, The Ascent is still worth a look. Even superficially.


To summarise it in a way that should make sense, The Ascent features a mix of systems and mechanics that don’t play all that well with each other. Exploration suffers too, with certain Side Missions being locked to the main story without any word as to why.



Whether that’s on next-gen console hardware or a dedicated gaming rig, isometric co-op action through a highly detailed cyberpunk world like this doesn’t come along often. If ever. The Ascent is something of a dream come true for fans of the neon synthwave aesthetic, the ambient music nails that Blade Runner vibe and tone. And sure, it’s mismash design fails to reach the level of detail and variety you’d want in an action-RPG - there’s definitely room for a far more cohesive and focused sequel to augment or cyber-hack those upgrades in.
What we liked
  • Visually stunning
  • Great use of ray-tracing on PC
  • Each location is packed with detail
  • Twin-Stick action is engaging and looks great in motion
  • The cybernetic abilities and augments are varied and fun
  • Co-op support, both local and online
What we didn't like
  • RPG progression is lacking and each system feels disconnected
  • Weapon upgrade system needs a complete redo
  • Money doesn't factor into much
  • Confusing map and quest design
  • Bland story and characters
  • Technical issues and bugs
More
We gave it:
6.4
OUT OF 10
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