The Ascent Review

Richard Walker

In The Ascent, you play as an 'indent', a dogsbody whose life is dedicated entirely to unquestioning servitude. Your home is the Arcology, a vertiginous tower that completely blots out the sky, so colossal and all-pervading are its massive pipes, jet-black structures dotted with lights, and rat's nests of cables that coil around it. It's a grim, hopeless place, gripped by rampant violence and seeming poverty, its inhabitants all simply striving to eke out an existence, while the unscrupulous Ascent Group look down from on high. It's a classic sci-fi setup – the rich corporate few live a life of luxury amid the clouds and fresh air, while the impoverished many suffer down in the mud and blood of the 'deepStink'. There is literally a place in The Ascent named exactly that, and it's every bit the grime-encrusted sewer you'd expect it to be.

Using cover rarely ever works.

The depths of the deepStink are where you start out in The Ascent, taking whatever jobs come your way before embarking upon an ARPG odyssey, gun-in-hand, looking to make some 'uCreds' to lift yourself out of the dirt. Like Diablo and its ilk, developer Neon Giant's cyberpunk game is viewed from an isometric angle, the camera far enough away from the action to evade the stench of the filth and decay below, but not so far that you can't see the skittering cockroaches, unctuous sludge, and hordes of criminals who'd happily shoot you dead as soon as look at you. The game is at heart a dungeon-crawler, of sorts, albeit one with an arsenal of guns rather than swords, shields, spears, and the like. As such, it plays like a twin-stick shooter, movement controlled by the left stick as you aim using a crimson laser sight with the right.

It all works remarkably well, and in its opening hours there's a lot to like about The Ascent. The design clearly owes a debt to the artwork of Syd Mead, which came to define the distinctive look of 1982's Blade Runner, and, by extension, the whole concept of cyberpunk as we now know it. Neon Giant is evidently in thrall to Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi, from the flying cars that dart across the airspace above, to a skyscraper that eagle-eyed fans might notice on a lift ride up to a place called The Node – a dead ringer for the LAPD building where Gaff and Deckard land their flying spinner vehicle in the film. In general, the architectural design is dripping in detail, the Arcology feeling like an over-cluttered, over-populated pressure cooker, where you're but one tiny person in a colony of thousands.

At the beginning of The Ascent, you're furnished with some fairly limited character creation options with which to build your silent hero, before you fall in with seamy paymaster stackBoss Poone, a bulbous-headed gangster who runs Cluster 13, a bustling settlement where you can furnish yourself with armour, weapons, augmentations, and modules. Earn enough uCreds, and you can purchase better stuff, unless you manage to loot it from a vanquished enemy or chest first. All of your gear is quite messily laid out in your inventory menu, and a lot of it doesn't look particularly cool either. In fact, very few pieces of armour are genuinely interesting – your character is likely to look like a complete mess, and not necessarily in a good way.

Nonetheless, the twin-stick shooter action manages to prop up what fast becomes a rather repetitive experience, as you backtrack to and revisit the same locations again and again. The story, too, fails to engender much in the way of intrigue, seemingly endless jargon and acronyms growing somewhat wearisome during the course of the game's 15-20 hours. Objectives are one-note, requiring you to either fetch an item; activate a terminal or something; kill (sorry, 'flatline') a bunch of enemies; or wait for a boot sequence while a yellow progress bar slowly, and agonisingly fills up. Before long, that initial sense of wonder that The Ascent conjures during its opening moments gradually melts away into boredom, side missions, and the traditional grind that comes with many an ARPG, providing little incentive to keep playing.

It's a shame, too, given the range of options for different character builds, with several categories of weapon to experiment with and upgrade using scavenged components; a litany of augmentation abilities and passive modules you can swap in and out; and the appealing lure of co-op for up to four players. Factor in a smattering of annoying bugs and glitches, like weapon and character skins that inexplicably go missing, the HUD randomly disappearing, crashes to the dashboard, or a co-op partner failing to spawn in, and the wheels start to come off. The majority of these bugs seem to occur in co-op, which for a game apparently built around it, isn't a great look. At one point, it became impossible to quit to the main menu, and we were also frequently subjected to an ear-punishing audio bug, making it sound like we were surrounded by a constant, screeching ruckus. Horrible.

The Ascent's environments look great.

There's the kernel of something uniquely cool in The Ascent. Augmentations are inventive, encompassing simple gadgets like missile bombardments, deployable robots or mechanical spiders, to devastating ground pounds or more defensive options; and the gunplay itself is gratifyingly crunchy, enemy limbs flying off as you munch through their health bars. Environments also feel reactive, your bullets tearing through whatever gets in their way, each location wonderfully evocative and full of life, steam rising from grates; ramen stands, nightclubs, and storefronts bristling with eye-searing neon lights; civilians innocently going about their business - there’s a real, immersive sense of place.

Neon Giant is a new studio, whose Creative Directors, Arcade Berg and Tor Frick, list the likes of Wolfenstein: The New Order and Bulletstorm on their CVs. You can identify some of the DNA from those games in The Ascent – the art style is undeniably superb and the core gameplay is robust – but it's ultimately let down by scrappy storytelling, quests that are spread far too thin across the game's world of Veles, and a lack of variation. Together, these flaws conspire to make what starts out as an immensely promising ride, a disappointing and repetitive slog, albeit one that manages to be remarkably good fun for the first few hours.

The Ascent

A grim, dystopian future shock, The Ascent is an action-packed ARPG brimming with guns and ultra-violence. It's enormous fun, especially in co-op, but bothersome bugs and repetitive quests unfortunately put a dampener on things.

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The futuristic synth soundtrack is excellent, as is the overall audio design. However, frequent nasty audio bugs will pound your eardrums. Voice performances are also very good, stackBoss Poone in particular being an enjoyably grizzled curmudgeon.


Sometimes, you'll need to stop and breathe in some of the incredible views that The Ascent has to offer. The artwork is utterly superb, as is the lighting and level of detail. But, after the umpteenth time repeatedly visiting the same places, the shine soon starts to wear off.


Robust gunplay and game mechanics are marred by the lack of a sprint button for covering some of the longer distances, and a general sense of repetition. Playing in co-op is a lot of fun, though, despite some niggling bugs.


A generously proportioned game The Ascent may be, but towards the latter parts of the story, you'd be forgiven for losing interest. Its story isn't delivered in a particularly compelling way, the objectives of each quest are sorely lacking in variety, and the occasional difficulty spike ruins the party.


A nigh-on perfect spread of tasks that ensure you'll constantly be getting rewarded as you progress – there's a really good variety of achievements, too, covering all of the bases, from story milestones to racking up certain numbers of stuff.

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