Written by Edwin Francisco
The Ascent is a cyberpunk themed 3D twin-stick shooter role-playing game. It is made by the indie Swedish studio Neon Giant. This is no Cyberpunk 2077.
Your character is enslaved by the Ascent Group arcology working at the depths of the city. The Ascent Group suddenly shuts down for unknown reasons.
Now it’s up to you to figure out what happened.
Story wise, it’s generally fine that it starts out that way, a lot of gamers are familiar with that trope of being the one found at the bottom of the barrel type of character.
But usually, along the way, most games give you that feeling of being important to a lot of people.
Here, from start to finish, you try your best to put your best foot forward, but it always gives you that impression that you are expendable.
Even at the point of almost finishing the game, you are the one put in front since no one else can die.
So, story wise, I didn’t care much of it.
The main character doesn’t speak, and there are barely any options when talking to characters.
As a Role-Playing-Game, this is pretty much a lite version. The only RPG element here are the stats of your character.
Although it can be confusing at first because it does have some difference on how things are called compared the most traditional RPGs.
Rather than Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Constitution, Wisdom, and Charisma. Here you have Tactical Sense, Critical Hit Rate, Aiming, Balance, Evasion, Vital Signs, Body Battery.
It’s a good thing there is a description on what it technically does and how it improves each type of action that you do. But notice that there is nothing in the stats that tell your personality.
Since the story is pretty much on rails, there is no need for your characters to improve on personality in this game.
Review: The Ascent By Neon Giant
Each level that you gain gives you 3 stat points which you can distribute to any skill.
There is a level limit of 20 points for each stat ability. However, there is no limit to your character level. Thus, technically, you can max out all your skills if you want.
This is because this is strictly an action game. Majority of the stats will only change how fast you can do a certain action, like how fast can you reload, how good is your aim, how fast can you recover?
At a certain point since enemies can go only up to level 30, you can be stronger than most of them because you yourself can level up higher than 30.
This is especially helpful when the game nearly ends and it comes to the point when it will bombard you with enemies left and right.
The Ascent looks incredible. The detail of this cyberpunk filled world is amazing!
The neon lights of signs, the dirt and grime of the streets, all the stores, people walking around, the different languages scattered everywhere.
That neon umbrella saber stood out to me and I keep thinking that it captured that feeling of Blade Runner (1982), add the fact that there are locations that it rains a lot just like in the movie.
The world is filled up with cities and because of that, you won’t see a forest, desert, beach or anything open.
All the locations in the game are set in a city with different themed sections and the grit and cleanliness would change depending on what area you are in.
There are four levels in the game.
The lowest level is like the sewers, where pipes and trash gather.
The second level is where you will see the first sight of civilization, and it is full of people, closed off sections, and broken-down cars, as well as flooded areas.
The third level is very similar to the previous area, but it’s more of a fully realized city. The grit is still there, but the trash is mostly gone.
The topmost level is clean, and gives a very Star Trek science fiction feel.
Review: The Ascent By Neon Giant
Each of the levels has several themes too depending on where you are. There’s the hub center area, this has tons of advertisements and access to different section to the map.
The scrapyard area where it’s just full of trash, a flooded town with very few people around, and even a disco full of people dancing. The design of the game is so full of life.
The artists who did this, need to get an award for making the atmosphere absolutely immersive. Anything I would say that would be an issue with the visual style of it would be just nitpicking.
Like there was a specific room where there was flickering below the screen, and some trees on some angles show up as a flat block texture instead of showing leaves.
But those things didn’t bother me as much. I only notice them because I was trying to be critical.
I suppose my main issue is the lay-out design of the areas in multiple layers. It can get really confusing, even if you have a map, it seems like a mess when you reach areas with multiple floors. There is no way to view the map in 3D too. So, at times, you’ll have to guess where things are.
The topmost level felt like an afterthought. There were barely any missions except for the final few and most of those missions still get you around the older levels.
While the bottom 3 levels felt like they were done in utmost care, the top level felt like it just needed to be there for the story.
The Ascent introduces you to some standard fare of enemies. But I wish there were something memorable about them.
There were a few bosses but they did feel underwhelming, not in terms of difficulty but in terms of how they were presented.
It just lacked more character and they all felt standard enemies especially with the robots that you do fight later on as standard foes.
The problem with these enemies is that it feels as though they lack variety. If you’ve seen one with a katana, then you’ve already seen them all regardless of what difficulty level they are.
The only thing that changes is how long their life is.
You are in control
The semi-Isometric view is essential for a twin stick shooter. You use the left stick for movement, and the right stick for aiming.
If you don’t aim, you will fire your weapon depending on where you are facing. You have 2 weapons that you can hold onto one at a time.
But you do have an unlimited backpack so you don’t need to worry if you are overweight. You can still run even if you have an entire inventory of weapons fit for an army.
You have one tactical skill that you can use that you need to charge up before using. There are also two augmentation slots which needs energy to be used.
Think of these as additional skills but a different set of abilities. There are two module slots which are for passive skills.
Using the Xbox Controller, there are a couple of things that didn’t make sense to me like the Hack Function which is the Y button and the Tactical Skill is the Left thumbstick button.
This is strange to me mainly because using the left thumbstick as a button is not natural to me. If you are in a middle of the action, I could have used the Y button for the tactical skill.
Considering that if you look at the control layout, there is one directional pad button that is not being used. It feels like they could have used that for the hack action.
Note that the Y button is also used to switch weapons.
Review: The Ascent By Neon Giant
The camera angle changes depending on where you are. You don’t have control over it. But it changes when it needs to. It gives this feeling that there is so much to the world.
I love it when it changed to look like a 2D side-scroller and had windows that showed a lot of buildings and vehicles flying around.
The camera angle change for the most part works, but once in a while it can be a disadvantage.
There was a point in the game that it did change the angle, it focused again to show the environment, but it distracted me that there was an enemy trying to kill me offscreen.
I had to rely on the onscreen map to estimate where my opponent was and tried to gun him down blindly.
The game is actually fun to play, especially if you are familiar with twin stick shooters.
The game might look like you are playing a game such as Diablo, but Diablo has auto aim based on the enemy in front of you, while twin stick shooters rely where you aim.
A Few Major Bugs
There are some bugs in the game that forces you to restart the game. There was one mission I encountered that I got stuck because the enemies didn’t show up in a story.
It was bothering me since it was really early in the game. I didn’t know what to do. It turns out the bug is actually common.
Restarting the game helps, but there are times that it may still not load properly after restarting. So, I had to restart the game until I saw the enemies show up.
The other bug is during the entrance to one mission where it didn’t let me proceed. Good thing I remembered that restarting the game helps.
So after doing that, I was able to access the entrance to the location allowing me to progress on my mission.
There is one button in the game that guides you where to go. Sometimes there are missions that this messes up.
There was a point I was going around and around trying to figure out where to go.
I realized it was a bug and just followed my instincts since there was a bit of instructions on the mission details. This only happened when I was near the end of the game.
There is this enemy that produces some minions to attack me. One of them gets stuck that won’t even die regardless of what I do.
I was using my augmentation called spiderbots at the time to attack my enemies, but instead of attacking the active ones, it kept attacking the one that was stuck making my spiderbots useless.
This was annoying for the reason it made one of my reliable attacks become pointless.
But bugs are few, although they do stand out making it a bit frustrating while playing.
Visually, it is a treat to see this in action. It captured how a lot of us envision what cyberpunk would look like.
If I had to grade this just on visuals alone, it would be a straight-out perfect score.
But there are other factors here.
It’s a fun game in general, that I enjoyed playing it until the end.
But the lack of an interesting story, mediocre enemies and a lingering yearning to actually feel something better where you wish to feel valued in the game, hinders me to giving this a better score.
Add the fact that some of the bugs are frustrating where doing a restart was the only option to get through it.
Would I recommend it, yes, for the sheer fact that the game is still fun regardless of the issues that it has and that it is a visual masterpiece.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Game released on July 29, 2021 on the PC and Xbox Series X/S.
Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital