Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital
Genre(s): Action & Adventure, Role Playing, Shooter
Platform: Xbox Series X (also available on Xbox One and PC – Steam)
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 29/07/2021
Price: £24.99 (currently included on Game Pass Ultimate)
A code was provided for review purposes
The allure of a cyberpunk themed game proved too strong for me to say no. Bright neon lights, futuristic scenes and a range of seemingly devastating weaponry caught my eye. My interest well and truly piqued, I wondered what lay in store as I began my journey through The Ascent. Was I wowed by the lights, or tricked by the glare? Read my Rapid Review to see how I got on.
A Captivating World
Proceedings in The Ascent begin with character customisation. I could modify my character’s hair, face, skin tone, tattoos and clothing, including clothing colour scheme. Near the beginning there is also a cut-scene which filled me in on some backstory about the world (called Veles) I would shortly enter. It explained who The Ascent Group are (essentially a massive corporation), and that my character was an ‘indent’. Indents are indentured workers. They are working off a debt they owe to one of the major corporations who run the show on Veles.
And what a world. It felt like walking into something straight out of my science fiction drenched childhood. I loved the futuristic, cyberpunk aesthetic. From the neon clothes and hairstyles to the techno-industrial landscape, I felt the wow factor. Sadly, it wasn’t long before I realised that many aspects of the game couldn’t stand up to this tantalising visual offering.
Tutorials and Basics
As you begin the first mission, tutorials pop up on the screen blasting you with information. At first it seemed like every two steps that another tutorial message would land on my screen. I did find the information useful, but the sheer volume of it in the beginning felt quite overwhelming. Another small annoyance was that you had to hold the B button to get rid of the tutorials. I was eager to keep moving and explore and felt held up by continually needing to hold down B.
There is no difficulty setting in The Ascent, instead you can upgrade your character to suit your own strengths and weaknesses as you level up. Levelling up is achieved by killing enemies. Nice and simple. When you level up you earn skill points. It’s up to you how to distribute these between the following categories: Tactical Sense, Critical Hit Rate, Weapon Handling, Aiming, Balance, Evasion, Vital Signs, and Body Battery.
You navigate the alien populated cyberpunk world of Veles in third person, with the camera following from above. For the most part this view was fine. Although there were a few instances where I thought a building in the foreground should have disappeared as my character went behind it (as they normally did) to give me a better view.
Gameplay involves you shooting your way to and through missions. Almost everyone seems to have a problem with you on sight, but no-one seems to care too much about random shoot-outs taking place here, there and everywhere. Veles appears to be a relatively lawless place. You know when a wave of enemies is about to attack because the chill background music makes way for pacier beats. The perfect accompaniment to your killing spree.
A Lacklustre Storyline
Throughout the main missions in The Ascent, you follow the events that ensue after the collapse of The Ascent Group. For reasons not really explained, your character plays a crucial role in shaping what happens next.
Initially, you take orders from your Stack Boss, Poone. Stacks are regions on Veles controlled by mini bosses from the larger corporations. Poone is a Stack Boss for The Ascent Group. Later in the game you take orders from the alien leader of the newly formed yCorp. I’ll leave the few details in between for those who decide to play to discover.
The plot feels threadbare at best. Although the storyline follows on through the twelve main missions, it doesn’t feel as if it has any flesh to it. Characters have little depth. The missions don’t seem to scratch the surface of the world promised in that opening cut-scene. The format in each mission seemed to be the same, fight my way though the streets to get to the mission objective (or take a taxi/subway train). Once at the goal, the mission would end in either a boss fight or, more often, defending my position from enemies while a timer ran down as some technical process completed on a nearby console.
If done well, a game can survive on each mission following a similar format. However, in The Ascent there is little variety as subsequent missions often have you passing through areas you’ve already seen. By the third or fourth mission it starts to feel like rinse repeat. By mission ten it feels like the developers were trying to wrap things up quickly, the last three missions are significantly shorter than the rest and quite glitchy at times (more about this later).
Guns, Armour and Augmentations
There’s a very basic side mission to get you started with buying armour, augmentations and guns. You can use ‘up’ on the d-pad to light up the path ahead with a red line, indicating where to go to find your objective. Using this, you locate a gun shop, an armoury, and a grafter. Respectively, you can buy guns, armour and augmentations at these locations. At the grafter you can also change your outfit. To upgrade your firepower, you must visit the gun smith. You don’t use money to pay here, but components that you collect as you wander around shooting merrily.
It’s also worth noting that enemies drop a decent amount of armour and guns. You can either sell these or upgrade and use them. A subtle difference in controls means that you can just pick the equipment up (tap X on the Xbox controller) or equip the new item (hold X on the Xbox controller). I seemed to have missed the memo on the first option (tap X) and was frustrated for a while that it appeared I always had to equip new items.
My favourite guns were all in the category called ‘excessive’. Quite a few of the others didn’t really feel like they had any clout. However these ones, especially once upgraded, were certainly made to fulfil a desire for wanton destruction. I was disappointed by the Astrosmasher because it didn’t live up to the level of destruction its description as ‘a power tool made for deep space asteroid mining’ seemed to promise. Equally, in this style of game I saw little point to the precision category of guns as once a wave of enemies was upon you, there was no opportunity for sniping.
What’s an Augmentation?
Augmentations are additional abilities that you can equip on your character. You have space for two augmentations, and two modules (which become available a bit later in the game). The modules seemed to be more passive upgrades. For example, the Javelin Dash which enhances your evasion dodge.
My favourite augmentations were the Propulsion Leap and the Spider Bots. The Propulsion Leap allowed you to fly into the air away from enemies and land with an explosion, damaging any nearby foes. Spider Bots would seek out adversaries and explode beside them, causing devastating destruction. Some of the other augmentations, such as the Mono Ranger, seemed to have little effect. Although the effectiveness of each one does depend on the upgrades you’ve selected for your character. Perhaps my set of upgrades simply did not suit these augmentations.
When you select the guns you want in your loadout, you can equip an additional ability in tactical. Examples include different types of grenades, a stasis mod and my favourite, a pocket mech. I picked up all of my abilities from killing enemies. I could not see anywhere to purchase these from any of the merchants.
Early on in the game you are introduced to the idea that certain things can be hacked. This is thanks to your ‘Imp’, a kind of semi-sentient hacking software that accompanies you. You can upgrade your Imp in order to hack bigger and better things. It also has a great sense of humour, although definitely not for children. The Imp loves death, body parts and has a bit of a fascination with murder. It refers to you affectionately as ‘flesh.’
As you complete missions (main and side) your Imp will alert you when one of your adversaries has a bounty on their head. If you kill them and pick up the proof of their death (appears as a collectible on the floor once they die) you can collect a monetary reward in UCRED, the currency on Veles. Simply go to any bar to pick up your cash. This provides an easy way of amassing large sums of money. Although, I did find that I ended up with more money than I knew what to do with after cashing in my second set of bounties.
A quick word on side missions. Unless you use fast travel all the time (taxi or subway) you probably won’t need to complete side missions to level up your character. Then it becomes simply about whether you want the reward for completing them. They take you to some new places not in main missions, but I didn’t find the ones I completed particularly engaging.
When I tested out the online co-op mode for The Ascent, I didn’t feel that there was any difference in the difficulty level to account for the extra human presence. Nor did there seem to be any extra enemies. This led me to believe that this game may have been designed as more of a co-op adventure.
I did encounter a couple of difficulties in this mode. The up option on the d-pad to show the route to the objective stopped working, restarting did not resolve my issue. Only once I got to my objective (I had done the mission before) and triggered the next mission did it start working again.
Another issue I had was that when my character died, it kicked the other player out of the game. Finally, when I triggered a cut-scene (to move the mission along) it did not play for the other player. So, they carried on wandering around oblivious to the story and mission details. It felt counterintuitive to not play the cutscene automatically for the other player.
After I had finished playing co-op and wanted to go back to my single player save, at first it seemed to have disappeared. Despite selecting a different slot to save in, my co-op save now loaded for single player. My stomach fell out as I thought I had lost seven missions worth of progress. I investigated a little further, thinking that if there were different save slots, there must be a way to manually load them. It turns out there is, but rather than a simple option to load you must use the switch character option in the main menu. This seemed overcomplicated.
My biggest peeve with The Ascent was saving. It has an autosave feature and when you go to quit the game it tells you how recently it has saved. If the game told me it had saved one or two seconds ago, I assumed that also meant somewhere in the vicinity of where my character was physically located. However, sometimes when I came back to my save I would be nowhere near where I had finished in the previous session.
The worst case of this was when I stopped play just before the final battle in mission twelve. I checked and it had saved six seconds ago, that seemed to tally up with me walking through the door into the area. Yet when I went back to my save file the next day, not only was I not close to where I had finished, I wasn’t even in the same mission. It had taken me back to the end of mission eleven. Frustrated, I was.
Glitches in specific missions include data pads and chests not opening for a portion of Root Access. In Data Miner the final wave of enemies did not spawn properly so I had to repeat the mission to progress. Also, in Recompile I encountered some mech spiders that would not take damage and sometimes got stuck on the environment.
Despite some shortcomings, throughout the game I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals in the different locations on Veles. I loved the little touches like aliens that you pass chatting in the background. Fast paced music to accompany waves of enemies. Innocent bystanders running screaming when you start shooting the place up. Periods of chill gameplay when I had my big guns out and could stroll merrily along destroying all the enemies in my path. The Imp’s dark humour.
On the other hand, glitches were frequent and frustrating. I felt like an outsider looking in on the story the whole way through. It just didn’t have that spark it needed to draw me in. Levels felt repetitive and I resented having to complete parts of the game I had already done due to the saving mechanic. There has already been an update for the game on the Xbox Series X, so all may not be lost for future players if there are more. However, as it stands I’d say that The Ascent is good value for those who have Game Pass (while it’s on there) but I couldn’t see myself paying £24.99 for it.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3 out of 5
You can buy The Ascent for Xbox Series X in the Microsoft Store.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.