So what do you get when 12 highly experienced AAA developers from such titles as Gears of War, Wolfenstein, DOOM and Far Cry start a new studio and release an isometric cyberpunk action RPG? The answer is simple. You get a must-play game of the summer. The Ascent is Dev studio Neon Giant’s debut release and to say it’s anything but exceptional would be an understatement. The Ascent looks and feels like a AAA title on all fronts and easily puts high-profile games with large development teams to shame.
Once you boot up the campaign, the first thing you will do is create your character. I personally suck at character creation so thankfully there is a randomizer option that produced some rather interesting results. You play as an enslaved worker for the Ascent Group who controls this beautifully grim cyberpunk metropolis. While on a mission in the city’s sublevel to clear out alien creatures reminiscent of the Xenomorphs from the Aliens movie franchise, alarms begin to go off followed by large explosions. Once you return topside, you’re informed that The Ascent Group has collapsed and all-out war has accrued between multiple groups to take control.
The Ascent has an extremely deep sci-fi story with well fleshed out backstories for almost every group and species. Besides sticking to the main story, there are plenty of side missions that can take you across multiple areas all with their own distinct look and feel. Yes, this game will absolutely trigger your memories of Bladerunner with its vibrant neon lights and oversaturated colors. But other locations will look like scenes straight out of the 1990 movie “Hardware”. The Ascent was clearly aiming to create a cyberpunk reality and in the process have created the new gold standard of what it should be, from the art design, ambient sounds, and overall world layout. You 100% feel immersed and feel the need to explore every aspect of this game.
The Ascent’s gameplay at its core controls like a twin-stick shooter. Left stick to move, and the right stick to point your weapon. Quickly squeezing the right trigger will shoot off some rounds depending on the weapon, but holding the right trigger will aim your sight higher. This not only allows you to perform some critical headshots but you can also fire your weapon while crouched behind cover. However, during my multiple plays, I found it almost impossible to stay behind cover mainly because all enemies types have a very gung-ho attitude in regards to wanting you dead. They will run toward you upon sight which in turn will keep you moving. I found the best way for using the cover system was while playing co-op. Have a member(s) of your team do the running around while the person with the strongest range weapon gets behind cover and dishes out the more accurate shots. Besides crouching, you can tumble roll and perform melee attacks which are obtained as special abilities. The world is filled with different weapons and armor types. They all have their own stats which will lead to you looking to create your perfect loadout. This is by no means a loot shooter, but occasionally enemies will drop weapons and other items. Other goods can be purchased or obtained via side missions.
The backbone of The Ascent is the RPG element. As you level up, more stat points become available to build your character. Want to perform more critical hit chances or improve your aim? No problem, just start stacking on the points you earn to those respective traits. The Ascent is fast-paced and more often than not, I was leveling up but unable to make the new character adjustments due to the constant enemy attacks. As I mentioned, the game keeps you moving so when I would stay in one spot too long an enemy would eventually show up to take me down.
On that note, there is little to no hand-holding, meaning you are free to roam to any section that you wish but beware, you could easily wander into an area with EXTREMELY high-level enemies and they are relentless. I was a level 4 and found myself in an area with level 22 enemies. I made a quick run out of the area just to discover a group of them were hot on my trail and as you can imagine 2 or 3 shots was enough to kill me. Thankfully the game is great with checkpoints. If you die in your travels (and you will die a lot) the game spawns you in mostly the exact location of your death. If you die during a boss fight, you will spawn right before entering that fight. This is great for making weapons, gear, and other character adjustments to alter your strategy for the next attempt.
The Ascent can be played solo or with 3 other friends via local or online co-op. I spent time in both and definitely noticed a difference in the game’s difficulty once a friend jumped in. Of course, I expected a bump in difficulty to increase the challenge but at times it felt like a simple room-clearing turned into a horde mode with multiple waves. Once we thought it was clear, another group of enemies would appear.
We weren’t sure if this was intentional or were we suppose to just run through to the next location. I also encountered an issue in which I created a new character in a new save slot for a co-op session. I later decided to return to my solo campaign and noticed it had spawned me in my co-op session character. My original solo character was completely gone. Odd behaviors such as these are expected and Neon Giant has said many have already been addressed in the latest patch.
The Ascent feels fresh but yet familiar thanks to this simple pick-up & play game mechanics and streamlined RPG system. The world feels alive and instantly pulls you in. There is a good amount of variety in enemies and mission types to keep you engaged and entertained. Overall, The Ascent checks off every box that makes it a must-play game and I have no doubt that The Ascent will become one of the best new franchises to hit the gaming landscape.