There's nothing quite like a dystopian cyberpunk city that invites you to dispatch waves upon waves of cyber-enhanced baddies in gruesome and explosive fashion is there? The Ascent has all that is great of the top down "twin stick style" shooter genre and manages to smash it together with one of the most beautifully (in a grimy dank way) detailed cyber-cities ever seen in a video game. The explosive 8-12-hour campaign, plus a meaty serving of optional side quests will keep your attention well enough. Though there are a few things that do get in the way of your enjoyment.
Welcome To Veles, Indent
The Ascent story takes place on the planet Veles. A gritty and violent place filled with mob bosses and crime syndicates in every street. The population is split across multiple floors on one giant metropolis, with the wealthiest placing themselves right at the top. You (and up to 3 others) play as an indent, who starts right in the pits of "Deepstink".
You suffer everyday doing dangerous and exhausting jobs for the higher ups in an attempt to pay off your debt to The Ascent group. Suddenly, the planet is turned upside down when the Ascent group declares bankruptcy, leaving the city in turmoil with criminal organisations fighting to take control of anything they can.
Whilst the base story is enticing from the start, it very quickly becomes confusing and convoluted, so much so that you may even ignore it entirely, and proceed to spam the skip button in each dialogue encounter. Your completely silent protagonist doesn't help that either, as NPC's will give you mission information filled with technology jargon that you don't understand, your character simply takes it all in and goes off on their next killing spree. The main story beats are just enough to keep the momentum going, but it takes a major backseat from the rest of the action.
Graphically, this game stands well above many cyberpunk games. Neon Giant did an incredible job creating a living breathing world of torment. Each location is full of detail and depth, really giving you a sense of climbing out of a massive pit to escape the hell from below. Many times I found myself stopping and just gazing at the fantastic locations, or entering shops and seeing all the products, wires and lights sprawling around the space, making each location ooze with uniqueness and style.
There's a lot of backtracking in this game as you go back and forth to your bosses to pick up and hand in quests, so having this amazing world to traverse in makes it an absolute joy and a great way to break up the action. There is also a fast travel option for those who play through the action quicker, if that's more your thing.
A Diablo Dungeon Crawler Cranked Up To 20
The Ascent feels like a mix between your usual twin stick like Helldivers, and intense dungeon crawling in Diablo. The controls feel incredibly tight and accurate, which is perfect as each encounter brings hordes of different enemies against you. From invisible katana wielding assassins to massive brutes using giant mini-guns.
The Ascent is fast paced, and you'll be moving from cover to cover constantly to avoid many melee combatants whilst getting bombarded with bullets/grenades/mortars. It does take a while to understand the flow of the gameplay, as first I was very much attempting to stay in cover and pop out every few seconds to pick off enemies in the mid to long range, which proved useless as I was eventually surrounded by melee enemies. It's a fun loop for sure, but perhaps not for everyone.
Truth be told, shooting explosive barrels has never been more fun than it is in The Ascent. Tactically shooting one then attracting your foes towards it as the timer ticks down feels nothing short of badass. The explosions feel incredibly satisfying here, a mix of sound and effects design help really add to the intensity of each battle.
There's a hefty difficulty surrounding this game. It's definitely a challenge throughout the main storyline from start to finish, as you'll be going up against tougher enemies as you build up your rank and level up your skills. For the most part, the challenging difficulty was very welcome, it was nice to have to focus at points and make sure you're using your abilities and movements as efficiently as possible.
Gear Up, Team Up
There are a few decent RPG options here. Players can use skill points to upgrade skills to improve things such as reload times or max health. It's not massively deep, but these skills do influence damage on your different weapons and abilities, so there is an aspect of creating different character builds.
You can spend well-earned credits gained from quests and through looting in a variety of highly detailed hub area shops. The weapons and ability options you have in The Ascent are fantastic. The weapons feel punchy and varied, with the mini gun style rocket being particularly epic to use. Abilities (or augmentations) range from deploying a robot to help fight for you to inflating enemies until they explode in bloody gory fashion. You'll definitely find a build to suit you.
Unfortunately, there were times where the game got a bit too difficult, bordering on unfair. Despite being over-levelled for many main storyline quests (by earning XP on side missions), some of the boss battles proved very tricky, especially when playing solo.
One particular mission had me guarding a computer for 2 minutes whilst I fought off waves of enemies. This was about 3 hours in and I had attempted it more than a dozen times. Eventually I got past the mission by cheesing it with minigun rockets whilst hiding in a corner, and getting very lucky with the random health pack drops. It's a shame, as the bosses in this game are insanely cool, and about 80-90% of them are at the perfect level of difficulty. It's just a few scenarios that feel very unbalanced and frustrating.
Another negative to add. Despite the challenging and fast paced combat gameplay, it does start to drag around the halfway mark. There's not enough variety added in the further you go in the story.
Each encounter you run into as you attempt to reach another epic boss fight starts to feel tedious and unwanted. By this point you've already figured out your favourite weapons and augmentations too, so unless you force yourself to mix it up from time to time, you may start to grow tired too. Playing with friends does alleviate this point however, as this game is simply better to play with your buddies. (What game isn't?).
The Ascent is a gorgeous game with intense gunplay and gritty vibes. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on planet Veles. My climb up from the pits to the very top of the planet's civilization brought many awesome sequences of gameplay, sometimes hampered by uninteresting characters and storylines.
There's a lot to love here, and it will most definitely grip you for the first 6 or so hours. After that it can slowly start to grow a bit samey, though I encourage you to try this one out with your friends either online or couch co-op, as that will most definitely alleviate any gripes you may have when playing solo.