Developer studio with severely limited manpower managed to serve up a satisfying cyberpunk experience that doesn't hold your hand along the way but keeps you coming back for more.
Developed by Neon Giant and published by Curve Digital, The Ascent is a fun action RPG that delivers on most of the key aspects of the genre. The 12-person team that had their hands in its development have managed to offer up an entertaining romp in a cyberpunk setting. All from an isometric point of view.
The Ascent's story feels very familiar. It's a corporate-owned existence for everyone involved and the absence of one enterprise doesn't spell utopia for the downtrodden. The story picks up in the wake of one of those corporations' demise. Indents, short for indentured servants who make up most of the population, feel the brunt of it as the incident threatens the life they know and tolerate.
One such indent is our player character who is set on a path to discover what went wrong and try to keep the neon lights on for everyone on The Ascent Group Arcology.
The Arcology is brimming with interesting characters who make the entire world feel lived-in. Most are products of their circumstances, weary and jaded, but you can also find the freaks who chose to look beyond and find fun in the everyday.
The primary missions drive the plot ever forward at a steady pace and the side quests are a good way to get to know the creatures and the world they live in a bit better.
According to the devs, the main campaign takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete, and the side-quests take that number up to around 20 hours but it can easily take you more than that because of the increasing difficulty.
The Ascent is an isometric shooter with a tasty variety of armour parts and different weapons scattered around its world. The camera sometimes shifts around to serve up a more sidescroller-type experience. Other times I got to see my character's back in all their glory. There's also one neat callback to older games in the way how the camera slightly turns to where you're supposed to go next.
Character creation is somewhat limited at the moment, but you're not married to any of your choices as you can change every aspect of your avatar's looks at the Grafter.
The game's character progression is deep, with a bunch of moving components that come together to compliment a bunch of different playstyles depending on where you choose to spend your hard-earned skill points. Armour pieces also serve to add points to the player's skill tree, sometimes making the choice between two vests crucial for survival.
The Ascent isn't a cover-based shooter but crouching behind the protective barriers can mean life or death in some situations. This adds yet another layer to the already packed weapons system.
That said, the covers do come in extremely handy. The fact the enemies can use them as well makes it so much more fun while you're biding your time waiting for their heads to pop up.
Weapons can be improved at the local Gunsmith in exchange for upgrade components. This will result in beefier damage and a deepened bond with your favourite rifle.
On top of weapon upgrades, The Ascent offers its players a chance to chuck grenades and mini-robots at their enemies. These need to be charged up first, however, and the amount of tactical charge you have is directly tied to the amount of damage you do in a fight.
Armour and weapon loadouts can be changed on the go - even during a fight. The same doesn't go for Augmentations which will drain your energy if you try to switch them up.
Augmentations can be built in at the Grafter - this method won't consume energy. They range from shields and cool laser beams all the way to the power to summon a bot that'll help put a dent in the mob's health supply.
Player beware: The Ascent is not about that handholding life. The game will not prompt and tell you where to spend your skill points to achieve some end result. The skills are colour-coded and placed in four different categories. These will affect how Augmentations work for your character. Due to the aforementioned, you can get stuck on some portions of the game as the difficulty ramps up if you're not familiar with your playstyle.
Aiming is strangely intuitive. For someone whose muscle memory is pretty used to your run-of-the-mill first and third-person shooters, I didn't have a hard time switching over to this 360-degree, all you can eat gunplay buffet.
A quick side-note: We've had trouble playing The Ascent's couch co-op as it seemingly doesn't allow a mix of keyboard and controller inputs.
The Ascent's world is stunning in that worn-down, old cyberpunk way. You can tell that the place was a different kind of beautiful back in the day.
Interacting with the said world is something else. Smashing crates and taking loot out of parked vehicles is fun, but I did feel that pang of guilt each time my bullet found a civilian in the heat of a skirmish with one of Arcology's many gangs.
The Ascent doesn't let its players save their progress but there are autosave checkpoints placed at certain intervals instead. The game will indicate the time elapsed since the last autosave when you go to quit. Nevertheless, you do get to carry the XP, loot and UCreds over to the new save.
Vending machines scattered around the world can provide tactical charges and various amounts of health. You can destroy or hack the machines to avoid paying for their contents but that will be the last time you use that particular device.
Enemy distribution in The Ascent relies heavily on RNG so you never know what type of group you'll face around a corner you've passed a dozen times before.
The game overuses the "defend the point of interest for x amount of time" horde mode missions, pressing the matter further. These have become very tedious very fast. Compared to this type of encounter, the actual boss battles are a walk in the park.
Traversing the Arcology can be done by foot or two different modes of Fast Travel. The free version of Fast Travel is the Metro. There are metro stations placed around the game's map. You have to walk up to them and select your destination. Those tired of walking can hail a Taxi. The taxi service is almost always available to the player in exchange for 1,000 UCreds.
There is a distinct lack of cutscenes as the game uses the time you spend in taxis, on the metro or in an elevator to seamlessly render your destination.
Now for the bit I didn't quite enjoy: the UI in The Ascent could use some work. Character stats such as health, energy, tactical gear and augmentation status are all tucked in a compact box and stashed in the bottom right corner. This makes those "at a glance" moments you need to see if the next Augmentation is off the cooldown impossible since you can get gunned down by the time you get your bearings.
I played The Ascent on a rig that contains Ryzen 5 3600X, RX 580 and 16 GB RAM.
My PC is smack dab in the middle of the road between the minimum and recommended requirements and I put all the graphics settings to "Medium". Even so, I did experience some stuttering when rendering new areas or fighting a bunch of enemies. This wasn't super annoying as the stutters didn't last long.
The Ascent is stupid fun all the way around. I love the absence of excessive tips and tutorials the modern games have us addicted to. The deep character progression made me think about how I spend every single skill point and choose my armour and loadout for the upcoming mission.
Veles' atmosphere is just right and the team painted the feel of it perfectly. The Ascent is an entertaining shooter with some cool set pieces and great enjoyment to be had. I highly recommend it to all fans of the genre and those looking to expand their gaming culture horizons.
A huge thank you to the folks at Renaissance PR for providing us with a PC copy of the game for this review.
The Ascent is now available for PC and Xbox platforms.