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The Ascent Review | For All Indents and Purposes

The Ascent Review

The cyberpunk genre has seen a big resurgence in pop culture over the last few years. From Ghostrunner to Cyberpunk 2077, there has been a steady flow of new and interesting takes on the sci-fi adjacent genre. The Ascent was released in the middle of last year as an Xbox console exclusive and this week it "ascends" onto PlayStation systems. Even though it has been an Xbox Game Pass title since its initial release, this is my first time playing the cyberpunk action RPG from Neon Giant, and, for indents and purposes, it's one of the most immersive games in the sub-genre that I have ever played.

Life on the Veles is tough and, for you, it is as brutal as it gets. You are an indent, short for an indentured servant, who has signed away your life to The Ascent Group, the largest corporation on the planet, in hopes of reaching a better life. Most indents spend their entire lives paying off their corporate debts, but you still have a chance. Chaos ensues as The Ascent Group AI declares bankruptcy. There's a power vacuum and your home, your new one, is the battleground. The story isn't The Ascent's strongest aspect. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly serviceable, and not so bad that it takes you out of the experience, but due to the way the game's narrative is presented, even though I had the freedom to create my own character, I never found myself too invested in many of the supportive characters.

This is odd considering the fact that I find the world of The Ascent to be fantastic. There's ample world-building, from spoken dialogue to interactive NPCs who share what's on their mind, and just the general atmosphere. You can play The Ascent like a purely linear game, pressing UP on the d-pad to find out where the next objective is and marching towards it. But going off the beaten path can be rewarding. Walking into a random building because I saw a few enemies on the mini-map only to find out that it had to do with a prison break side mission I had gotten earlier was one surprise. Taking down the mech that they had on only the second attempt and collecting all the loot, was another. Not all the paths less traveled will have such big encounters, some may have none, but more often than not, I would find a chest with some extra credits or advanced components waiting to be opened.

The Ascent Gameplay Review

The Ascent is a twin-stick shooter, you move with your left analog stick and aim with your right. There are an assortment of weapons to use and augments to equip to help you fight back wave after wave of enemies. They aren't the smartest enemies, though they are as smart as they can be for a dude with a bat charging an augmented man with a super punch, but they did occasionally flank and pull other maneuvers to keep me on my toes. The baddies also come in different shapes and sizes, which is important because you can aim both from the hip, to hit low targets, and from the shoulder, to hit taller targets. Playing with the DualSense controller comes with haptic feedback and controller speaker integration for added immersion. I barely noticed the controller sounds because I usually played with headphones, a point I will return to later, but the haptic feedback was great.

Of course, shooting isn't all you have to worry about. You need to keep up your appearance by equipping new armor pickups and customizing what augments you give yourself before stepping into battle. All this can be changed while you play, but it is easier to do it in between missions rather than in the middle of a firefight as enemies often crawl out of the metalwork to attack. The game also awards you with skill points every time you level up that you can distribute amongst the game's skill tree. (Though I suppose skill log would be more appropriate since it's just one column of options.) These impact your speed, gun control, aim, and more, making it important to use them every time you level up so you don't put yourself at a disadvantage.

If you're like me and don't have much experience playing twin-stick shooters, you'll be happy to know that The Ascent is very approachable, both in gameplay and its RPG mechanics. It'll take you a little past the opening tutorial to get the hang of all the game's combat mechanics, but by the second hour I was pulling off fancy pants combos using both my weapons and augments to survive. And that is something I do want to emphasize, the game throws a lot of baddies at you at once, therefore, crowd control is essential to staying alive. Mindlessly firing and moving around the level can mean you'll find yourself between a rock and a gang of junkies. I will never claim to be great at twin-stick shooters, but I can say that I had fun playing, and getting close to mastering, the gameplay in The Ascent.

The Ascent PlayStation Review

The visuals. My god the visuals. I knew from watching the numerous appearances that the game had made in conferences and showcases that The Ascent would look great, but on the PlayStation 5, it looks stunning, much like how I imagine it looks on the Xbox Series X|S. The shiny new structures of the upper levels melt away into the rusty old buildings of the lower levels. Drones sink and soar through Veles' different decks, giving off an LED glow as they travel to and fro. Neon lights above storefronts radiate off of tiles and puddles. All of it is wonderful to look at. Which, like a double-edged sword, has its drawback too. The Ascent so often fills the frame with things to look at that it encourages your eyes to wander. This only makes it more likely for you to notice the game's oddities, like NPCs that walk through each other and textures that load a second after the game says they should. None of these are game-breaking problems, and depending on the luck of your draw, you may not even come across some of them. But I occasionally did, and it was at least worth mentioning.

There isn't as much to report about the audio, which is to say it's all good. Footsteps echo as you walk down a dingy metal walkway before being ambushed by enemies. Guns go off with the appropriate bang! and pop! necessary and the kick of the DualSense controller with every shot helps bring you that much closer to the action. The same can be said about the game's score mixing, which starts to kick in every time you get into a fight and automatically plays itself out almost as quickly after it's over. I do want to give credit to Pawel Blaszczak for composing the pulsing soundtrack that's fitting of the game's setting. Using both the visuals and audio, The Ascent transports you to the planet Veles and doesn't give you a whole lot of reasons, other than minor hiccups, to leave. And if you want to get the best possible experience with the game, playing the game with good headphones is the best way to experience it all.

We often check out games from small studios, and that in some way usually factors into the way we approach a game and its coverage. But the 12-person studio, which has industry veterans who have worked on Gears of War, Bulletstorm, and Wolfenstein, has done such a stellar job at The Ascent that it deserves special notice. The Ascent is Neon Giant's debut title and they knocked it out of the park. A stunning cyberpunk action RPG that isn't too bloated with game systems and mechanics. It's approachable and memorable, even if the narrative is not. Whether you pick up the game on PlayStation or download it from Xbox Game Pass, it's a game I highly recommend. The Ascent is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. A review code for the PlayStation was provided by the publisher.

The Ascent | 8 | Great

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