The Ascent Review – Dystopian Looter Shooter
The very first thing about Neon Giant’s The Ascent that grabs your attention is its aesthetic quality. The cyberpunk setting is wonderfully realized, with rich detail and artistic flair. It’s especially commendable considering that this is the Swedish studio’s first original release. While it is an isometric shooter at its core, The Ascent also incorporates some RPG elements that give it some added depth.
The aesthetics are complemented by the gloomy atmosphere and moody lighting. Lots of emissive neon lights illuminate the environment in distinct and vibrant colors, as you’d expect from a modern game set in a dark, cyberpunk setting. You’re placed right in the world of The Ascent from the very get-go. A decent character creator lets you build and customize the look of your character, after which you’re set to explore the game world.
As is often the case with the cyberpunk genre, mega-corporations are central to the story. It’s no different here, as a corporation named The Ascent has taken over society at large, enslaving people – including you – to do its bidding. As the game begins, however, you come to know that the corporation has fallen apart, and you’re allowed to break out. From there on, you’re on your own in this dark and violent world.
There’s a whole lot of optional text and dialogue with NPCs that helps flesh out the story, which is largely filled with formulaic plot points that are commonly associated with the cyberpunk setting. Quests aren’t particularly inspiring either, but they’re serviceable enough to not get in the way of the action. The main story is a 10-hour affair on average, but there are plenty of side activities thrown in, which should satisfy those looking to play in coop with up to 3 other players. Traversing the world map can often be a chore, however, mainly due to its multi-floor layout and fast travel locations not being easy to identify.
Combat is The Ascent’s main draw. Its RPG elements set it apart from other isometric twin-stick shooters. Upon leveling up, you gain access to skill points that can be spent on different skill types. Furthermore, every skill affects attributes that control the effectiveness of your augmentations or special abilities. The skills are a little unbalanced, and some are more crucial than others, especially earlier on when you don’t have access to heavier weapons. The weapon handling skill, in particular, is quite essential to survival, as it improves stats like reload and weapon swap speed.
The shooting itself feels satisfying and the controls are responsive. There’s a large variety of weapons to unlock, all of which are distinct in both handling and utility. The Minigun stands out as particularly useful for crowd control. The dodge roll is a little heavy and feels lacking during chaotic situations. You do, however, unlock better alternatives in the form of upgrades later on. The Javelin Dash, for example, makes it quicker to maneuver out of tricky situations and gives you greater control over your actions.
There’s also a stop-and-pop cover system that you usually don’t see in this kind of game, and it’s well-executed here. Taking cover and fighting strategically is essential to survival amidst hordes of powerful and challenging enemies, who come at you from all directions. It’s in these tough situations that one gets the impression that combat encounters are better tuned for coop play. Although the game does scale difficulty based on the player count, it still ends up feeling more challenging when playing solo. Moreover, combat encounters begin to feel repetitive after a while, as you find yourself being put through similar combat situations.
Other dynamics involve consuming the energy gauge to activate augments and using the tactical gauge to unleash an additional skill. As discussed earlier, these skills are more effective when you’ve spent some skill points on them. The handling of equipment is also very RPG-like. Depending on the gear you have equipped, you may end up getting protection against certain types of damage. Due to this, you’ll need to keep the equipment for different situations, so you can switch over when the time comes. Naturally, your play style will also influence what sort of equipment you ultimately prefer. Each gear you find is also accompanied by a stat boost that’s applied for as long as you have it equipped. These stat boosts include additional health, a boost to critical damage, or an increase in the rate at which your tactical gauge refills.
The coop mode itself is drop-in/drop-out, and all loot and stat progression acquired in a multiplayer session carry across to your individual session. However, mission progress remains associated with the host, so that you get to continue your solo session from where you left off. It’s a fairly robust system, that is when it works. Connectivity issues plague the current build, and getting kicked out of a multiplayer session midway through can get rather frustrating.
All in all, The Ascent is a fun isometric twin-stick shooter with a surprisingly decent amount of build and customization depth that’s best suited for fans of coop looter shooters.
The Ascent Game Information
- Price: $29.99
- Publisher: Curve Digital
- Developer: Neon Giant
- Platform: Xbox (Reviewed)
- Disclaimer: A review code was given by the publisher