Review – The Ascent
Neon Giant is a new indie studio formed back in 2015 by industry veterans behind some of our favourite games; DOOM, Bulletstorm, and Gears of War to name a few. Now their first game has arrived in the form of The Ascent, a futuristic cyberpunk twin-stick shooter that proves to be an excellent debut game for the new studio.
The Ascent takes place in the distant future where the galaxy is controlled by megacorporations. All of a sudden, the Ascent Group collapses and the Archology descends into chaos. Violence breaks out all over in a bid to gain power. You play as low level worker who sets out to discover just what happened caused The Ascent group to mysteriously close.
The story is there to push the gameplay along. Whilst it does have an interesting premise, there’s just not a lot to the story to really get engaged with. I can’t really remember much of the characters except for Kira, who you spend a lot of the time working with. The story as a whole just fell flat and the intriguing premise of a megacorporation collapsing didn’t yield any satisfying answers, but it did at least open up a universe that I wanted to explore. You will find a lot of text logs and NPCs that really help expand the world of Ascent.
It’s the gameplay where The Ascent really shines, with high octane twin stick shooting action that is just a total blast from beginning to end. Guns feel powerful, ripping apart enemies and even chunks out of the environment. They range from your standard array of pistols, to assault rifles, all the way to sniper rifles and a weapon class known as “excessive”. There’s plenty of weapon variety here, and for the most part, they are all a lot of fun to use. By holding Left Trigger/Right click you can raise your weapon to aim higher, allowing you to hit more critical shots on taller targets. Combining this with cover in the environment, you can safely shoot over cover.
As you explore the Archology you will see densely packed slum areas, to more corporate and gang controlled zones. Areas are huge with plenty of secrets to find making exploration fun and rewarding. Chests containing valuable weapons and armour are locked behind doors you might not be able to access straight away, so its important to revisit areas when you can. Boss fights can be interesting, but there just aren’t enough of them. One of the later areas in the game just feels massively underutilized as well. Meanwhile, the lowest level is something you will be returning to quite a lot. It can get a bit tiresome running through some of these areas repeatedly.
I was initially worried when starting the game, thanks to the extremely limited character creator and seeming lack of weapons and armour for the first few hours. However, progression is a big part of The Ascent and it’s actually incredibly well done. After the first few hours the game really opens up and gives you loads more gear to go after. Then you’ve got the augmentations that further increase build potential. From drones that can help you in combat to homing missiles, shockwaves, and even giant laser beams fired straight from your arms. There’s tons of augmentations to choose from and you can equip any two of them at the same time.
It’s also refreshing to see a game with loot not fall into the tired trend of gear scores to make you more powerful, despite being very easy to go this direction. Whatever weapon you pick up is exactly what you get with no random damage traits, meaning that shotgun that you picked up at the start can be upgraded throughout the game. Armour works in a similar way without the need to upgrade. It can also drastically change the way you look even as much as replacing body parts of that full cyberpunk feel. Though the armour you equip has impact on your core stats.
The camera does occasionally become a bit of a problem, often times not fading out and leaving my character off the edge of the screen. It happens frequently enough to become a problem, but the issues are brief enough that it never stops the game’s flow. I also did encounter a few bugs, such as a quest marker appearing for a quest I haven’t yet accepted or falling through the world map, but a simple reload fixed that. Also, the game did crash a couple of times throughout my playthrough, but nothing too drastic. Apart from these relatively minor complaints, I had a total blast with The Ascent and didn’t want to put it down.
The Ascent is built to be a co-op experience for up to four players, but can also be played solo and it’s still a lot of fun. Completing the main story will take roughly fifteen hours from start to finish. Although, doing everything the game has to offer can take upwards of twenty-five to thirty hours. I would have liked to seen more difficulty settings and maybe a NG+ mode with higher level enemies for some extra challenge and replay value, but there is still plenty to dig into here.
The world of The Ascent is beautifully realized being one of my new favourite cyberpunk locations in a long time. It’s bristling with life around every corner. Civilians roam the streets going on with their everyday life, whilst vehicles and other interactions happen naturally around the entire world. It feels like a real world with a functioning society. When the bullets start flying, everyone starts running as you carefully try to aim around them (sadly there’s no penalty for hitting them except for a line of dialogue).
However, it is let down by the rough animations and occasionally rougher character models that often just don’t look great, especially during cinematics where it gets much closer. Thankfully, the game runs well at 3440×1440 (always a plus to see Ultrawide support), and on a RTX 2060 I was able to achieve above 60fps at all times with DLSS on Ultra Quality mode.
The Ascent is a bloody good time that combines addictive twin-stick shooting, a spectacular cyberpunk world, and a rocking synth soundtrack that elevates every moment to the next level. I never wanted to put the game down, despite some shortcomings.
The Archology is one of the most visually impressive cyberpunk worlds to date.
The Ascent‘s gameplay is fast, brutal, and a lot of fun.
The epic soundtrack brings The Ascent to the next level. Its impressive sound design helps makes weapons feel more powerful.
The Ascent might occasionally stumble, but it is still one hell of a time. It has a stunning world and great gameplay.
Final Verdict: 9.0
The Ascent is available now on PC and Xbox.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.
A copy of The Ascent was provided by the publisher.