If you are looking to get your cyberpunk fix, The Ascent will make that happen. When the game first unfolds we are shown a huge multi-story arcology owned by The Ascent Group, which is where the game gets its name from. But unlike most titles these days that use amazing backdrops as window dressing for much more limited worlds, in The Ascent you will actually be exploring and fighting within a true, fully realized environment that can actually be considered almost a true megacity in size.
There is not a lot of plot to be found in The Ascent, which is a little disappointing because the game world is literally filled with thousands of interesting nooks and crannies that would be perfect for an RPG. But developer Neon Giant instead chose to concentrate on making a capable twin-stick shooter for its first venture into the game industry, and given the smoothness of combat and the ridiculously beautiful (almost fully destructible) world given to players, this was a good decision.
In The Ascent, you begin the game as a low-level corporate worker, which means that you were brought to The Ascent arcology from another planet with all of your expenses paid so that you could start a new life. The only catch is that now you are an indentured servant to the corporation, which is pretty much one step above being a slave. You get assigned to perform mostly dirty and possibly unsafe maintenance tasks in the lowest and dirtiest levels of the city, with your first task being to basically unclog your boss’s toilet, which has had it’s flow somehow merged with his shower for a really stinky experience. For whatever reason, this seemingly simple task involves rebooting a reactor-size machine surrounded by monsters in the dingy basement levels of the city. But it also acts as a good tutorial on how to play the game.
I mentioned that The Ascent is a twin stick shooter, which is a game where using one stick on the controller is for movement and the other is for your facing. And given that The Ascent started on the Xbox console before moving to Steam, this makes sense. However, with the PC version you can use a mouse and keyboard for the controls instead. For most games like this I would not recommend doing that, but it works surprisingly well in The Ascent. The mouse aiming is much more precise when playing the game this way, although using a controller was far more comfortable so I often opted to play that way. Either way, combat in The Ascent is amazingly smooth.
That is not to say that The Ascent is easy. The combat is smooth, but that is absolutely necessary here because of the sheer volume of enemies the game throws at you. Even wandering the city (which again is literally almost the size of a real city) can trigger fights with gangs that don’t like you passing through their territory, so you will be in combat a lot. Your helpful and ever-cheery PDA sometimes warns you when you are approaching a bad area. It will say something like, “This area is known for having a high population of young entrepreneurs looking for unwilling investors.”
Those random fights can get kind of crazy, but the scripted ones are even more brutal. If you are about to engage in a boss-type fight, you can bet that lots of other enemies will start crawling over the side of the railings, running at you from areas you thought were already clear and even dropping down from hovercars to try and smash your face or shoot your head. Almost every combat turns into one of those wild battles.
Oddly enough, the game really pushes its cover mechanic where you can stoop down behind something (although you need to be careful because many things in the environment are destructible) to absorb bullets. You can then hold your gun over your head and safely shoot over your cover. It sounds good in theory, but I almost never used it. There are too many enemies spawning from every angle in most fights. By the time you get set up in cover, there will be two or three people coming up from behind you to render your little makeshift fortification useless. Instead, I spent most of the game backpedaling and shooting all the trailing bad guys coming up behind me. You can also dodge, which helps when someone tosses an explosive or you just need to break out of the line of fire for a second.
Improvements to your character are almost completely gear based in The Ascent. If you want to get more powerful in combat, you need to find a better gun or more effective armor. Thankfully, the guns can be modified and improved using components you find as you adventure. This means that even your starting weapons can have a lot of longevity and usefulness. Indeed, a heavily modified early weapon is going to often be a lot more powerful than baseline equipment you find even later in the game. Yes, those more advanced weapons have the potential to be total butt-kickers, but you probably need to hold onto them until you get to a modding station before you can start to really rip things up with new gear.
As you progress in the game, the amazing environment continues to be the star. Moving up higher in the arcology brings with it new maps, new environments and more wealthy accommodations. It’s really interesting that the higher you go in the game’s world, the better things look. There is less trash and debris on the streets and everything just seems much nicer, which is especially evident in the little town-type areas you come across.
And you will also experience higher quality enemies, like corporate security and well-funded combatants that make the early bruisers you face seem like a warmup exercise. Thankfully, by that point in the game your character should also be getting much more powerful to match the increased challenge. It’s clever that the world changes a bit the higher you go, which may be another reason for the title of the game beyond just the name of your corporation.
I played The Ascent in single player mode, but the game also supports multiplayer with up to four people. Given the size of the environment, it’s probably best if you play with a tight team so that you can all fully support one another. Doing that would likely add another element to The Ascent, sort of like an action-based MMO. So if you have good friends who play these kinds of games, The Ascent could make for some good times.
For a first outing, Neon Giant has done an amazingly good job with The Ascent. Sure there are quite a few bugs here and there. At one point we could not continue a quest because the enemies we were supposed to kill simply didn’t spawn in the area where we were supposed fight. We had to exit the game and reload before they actually showed up. Maybe they were afraid of us?
But in any case, The Ascent is a really good title when it’s working properly. I honestly can’t think of another game with such a beautifully rendered and realized world. It’s a lot more interesting to look at than the world we got with Cyberpunk 2077.
Give The Ascent a try. It’s a fun game, offers smooth combat and one of the most eye-popping cyberpunk worlds you can experience right now. Like The Ascent Corporation itself, there is a lot of little flaws and ugliness down below, but taken as a whole, its quite an impressive offering.
Developers: Neon Giant
Platforms: Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X