Time for some isometric, twin-stick, shooty-shooty, RPG action now with The Ascent. From first-time developers, Neon Giant and indie publisher Curve Digital comes this rather splendid looking shooter. Originally set to be a launch title for Microsoft’s latest Xbox console, The Ascent was delayed until July 2021 instead. There are two very distinct reasons why a game is delayed. 1) the devs really want to make the game as fantastic as it can be and work on it until it is as perfect as they can make it. 2) it’s utter shit (the whole covid thing hasn’t really helped either). Time for me to find out which of those two The Ascent really is.
I already said how The Ascent was a rather splendid looking game and I feel that trailer there backs up that claim. Still, you really can’t beat witnessing visuals on a nice big TV in HD with your own eyes, instead of relying on a YouTube video. You know what, yup, it is a stunning looking game. Going for a very Blade Runner, a futuristic dystopian world, cyberthis and cyberthat-type of aesthetic, The Ascent impreses from the moment you press the start button.
The game is crammed with little details and micro-details. Some truly gorgeous lighting effects, destructible scenery, dense environments and so much more that’ll keep your eyes very much entertained throughout. Then there are a multitude of various areas that you will find yourself in as you play The Ascent. Grungy rusted basements, dazzling neon bathed cities, rat-infested back streets and so much more. Each location with its own style, crammed full of that amazing attention to detail. Seriously, there were times when I was playing The Ascent when I just stopped to admire the world I was in, just stand there and stare out at goings-on beyond the playing area. Watching flying cars cut through the skyline, robots walk around repairing the scenery and so much more. The world of The Ascent is wonderfully decadent, detailed and teeming with life.
But as you all already know by now, looks are not everything. What’s the point in a fantastic looking game if the gameplay itself is all rather dull? Thankfully, The Ascent is far from dull. You play as one of many corporate slaves known as Indents who have top work of their debt for their freedom. The game is set in an arcology (a portmanteau of ‘architecture’ and ‘ecology’), a huge multi-tiered mega-city that houses all of its residents on the planet Veles. You ‘work’ for the largest corporation on Veles, the Ascent Group, and when they suddenly go bankrupt, the future of the arcology you live in is plunged into chaos as the other corporations fight for control and the numerous districts begin rioting… and this is just about it for the story. The world you live in had plunged into utter chaos and you are pretty much fighting to survive as you turn to taking on various jobs to earn some much needed-coin.
The main meat of the game is its combat, which as covered, is really nothing more than a twin-stick shooter. You’ve seen it all before, shoot enemies, circle-strafe, follow a marker on the HUD, complete missions, earn XP, level up, unlock new skills, weapons and items. But I feel I have oversimplified things a tad there. While all you do is shoot a ton of enemies, there is quite a lot of depth to just how you do that. Different enemies have different weaknesses and you’ll soon find yourself having to use a variety of weapons to deal with the multitude of enemies. There’s a cover system too, plus you can aim high if you need to deal with any foes that are above or just bigger than you. At first, the combat seems very, very basic but as the game progresses, it really opens up and eventually becomes much more involved and strategic later.
In fact, the whole game really doesn’t kick into gear for a while. Everything feels shallow for the first two or three hours of play but stick with it and once you get a few upgrades and better weapons, things really begin to improve. There are a few niggles that I feel I should highlight. The story of The Ascent really isn’t all that interesting, it’s very cliché, very one-note and I don’t think the game will win any awards for its writing. The same goes for the characters you will inevitably interact with as you do progress through the game. If you have seen any sci-fi film in the last three decades, then you have already met all the characters in The Ascent. There are some particularly nasty difficulty spikes that occasionally pop up. You can go from taking out enemies with relative ease, to suddenly being mobbed and overwhelmed in seconds. The many areas in the game can be a little too big too. You will find yourself doing a lot of backtracking and running across the pretty large maps many, many times… especially with the main hub. Now, there are a couple of fast travel options, taxis and the metro. Even so, with two different fast travels, you will still be doing a lot of footwork that seems a little unnecessary, as if the fast travel just needed a bit of tweaking.
The Ascent has about a fifteen-hour or so playtime in regards to the main story, but there is a lot to do with side-quests, looting, exploring, etc. While the game is not exactly open world, it still does offer a decent amount of freedom and as I said earlier, The Ascent is just so damn gorgeous to look at that I personally enjoyed taking in the world and giving my eyes something to do. Depending on how you really want to look at this game will most definitely sway your opinion on it. While it isn’t exactly deep like a lot of other action-RPGs, I honestly don’t think it needed to be. The Ascent knows exactly what it is, that being a fast-paced shooter with some light RPG elements. It is not trying to be Cyberpunk 2077 (thankfully as this is far more playable with a lot fewer glitches… better looking too), it’s just a very simple shooter with some level of depth for what it is.
One of the really impressive facts about The Ascent is that it was the work of just eleven people. The team at Neon Giant have done a simply amazing job here. I’ve played AAA titles with a staff that runs into dozens upon dozens upon dozens of staff that haven’t given me the level of enjoyment and wonder that The Ascent did. This is one of the things I love about indie games and devs, that a smaller team armed with nothing much more than pure passion and raw talent can make a game that can rival and even surpass bigger titles and studios. Overall, The Ascent is a very enjoyable shooter, a game that takes place in one of the most beautiful and detailed game worlds I have ever seen. A game that doesn’t oversell itself and one that, as basic as it is, still has a decent level of depth. Available on Game Pass right now, so it’s not as if you’re going to be out of pocket to try it out for a few hours. Give it a play, you might just be surprised.