Curve Digital and developer Neon Giant present, the cyberpunk themed, The Ascent which launches on Xbox consoles and PC. This is a top-down shooter with some RPG elements. With its relatively low price of entry is this shooter worth diving in to? Take a look at our The Ascent review for the full picture.
Today we’re taking a look at Swedish developer Neon Giant’s futuristic, cyberpunk themed twin-stick shooter The Ascent which releases on Xbox consoles and PC as an exclusive. We have to also state, that it’s a day one Game Pass game for Xbox and PC which is impressive. The story paints a picture of mega corps that control the populace, which in this instance is the Ascent Group. Set within the metropolis of Veles, something goes wrong as the Ascent Group loses its grip on society. Your job is to simply survive before undertaking investigative and corporate espionage type missions for various shady characters.
The story remains fairly interesting with some nefarious characters and lore if you want to delve deeper into the whole setting. There is a codex accessible at any time from the menu that updates as you progress. However, it’s quite easy to simply ignore all of that and focus on the action part of the game. Players will face a series of main missions which progress the story, but dotted around the map are various optional side-missions to undertake. Make no mistake, there’s little complexity here as the game doesn’t hide its motives. You’re a gun-for-hire and therefore get to spend 12 hours or more shooting and blowing stuff up.
The first thing that jumps out at you once the opening tutorial mission ends is how glorious the visuals are. You really feel like you are part of a living breathing futuristic city with masses of NPCs going about their business. Sure, it’s all rather cosmetic, but still looks fantastic. This makes the exploration, shooting and action feel more involving. The map is of a decent size too and presents some solid verticality which aids the overall sense of scale. Interestingly, there are no load screens and whilst you can jump in a cab, or use the metro and various elevators to travel, these scenes allow you to move the character which is pretty neat.
The combat is the mainstay here and whilst you will be doing a lot of running around, there is always a constant threat of enemies looking for a fight. The only exception is in specific populated zones where your weapons are automatically put away. In the field, you will find a mixture of NPCs and enemies and what’s neat is how you are able to kill everyone and anything. Obviously, you’re not supposed to kill innocents and as you progress the story, you receive reminders to limit the collateral damage. Although, sometimes that’s easier said than done. We’re not sure what happens if you just open fire and rack up too many NPC deaths, but from what we played there didn’t seem to be much consequence which is a bit of a missed opportunity. That said, it is rather cool starting a fight and watching the NPCs scatter for cover or just run away. It’s great they react in this way to any offensive moves.
The twin-stick shooting action works very well as you dodge-dive, strafe, duck and use cover to shoot over. You can use mouse and keys, but we found using an Xbox controller the most fluid. In the options you can adjust the aim assist for additional challenge, although some of the weapons have auto-targeting which is pretty cool. As you would expect, the game offers a nice mixture of weapons ranging from machine guns, rifles, pistols and heavy weapons. Players can upgrade these at vendors and purchase new arms as well. Although enemies also drop plentiful loot which includes weapons. You’re then able to sell duplicates for credits. The same applies to armour which fits the head, torso and legs. In true RPG fashion weapons and armour is colour graded.
The Ascent’s cyberpunk themes are well-met and as you level-up your character through combat and completion of missions you can put points into various categories. The enhancements also extend to offensive and defensive actions including things like groups of spider-bots, auto-gun-turrets and even a robotic companion which are great for distracting enemies or clearing large groups. The enemy AI tends to swarm the player and in the late game you will face legions of enemies, so having additional firepower on your side is crucial. Players can swap loadouts and augments at any time once purchased, so it’s handy being able to experiment to see what works best. We found the game balancing to be quite fair too.
In terms of visuals, the game offers the usual options to tinker with to suit various PC builds. We had no issues running the game at max settings in 4K and with all ray tracing effects enabled, however as you might expect, our RTX 3090 struggled to maintain high FPS without DLSS. When using the DLSS Ultra pre-set though 4K 60 for most of the game was manageable.
As mentioned already, The Ascent’s visuals are stunning with some great attention to detail. Everywhere seems littered with props making it full of the workings of a city. Wandering around the populated areas showcases some imaginative design and feels like you are among a populace of weird and wonderful human and alien creatures. Audio is also of a very high standard with a rousing score of electronic beats and synths complimenting the visuals. For graphics junkies, this is definitely a showcase title especially if you can run it in 4K. In addition, due to the style of the game, we think 4K 30fps is still quite acceptable.
Our Steam page says we have played the game for 20 hours and that’s finishing the story and some of the side-missions. We have plenty more to complete, so we were thankful that after the end credits you’re able to finish these off. No new game+ unfortunately, or difficulty select. Hopefully these become additions in the future. You can create several characters though utilizing different skills and abilities, although you’re not locked-down so can chop and change as you see fit. The game also features co-op play where you can create a game and invite others or join an existing game. There is also local co-op play as well which is neat inclusion.
Neon Giant has done a fantastic job with The Ascent as a new IP, and one we hope continues in the future. Great visuals, banging audio, smooth gameplay and an overall vibe that tests the player’s skill and resolve. We did die quite often. Our only criticism is a lack of mission variety and post-completion options such as extra difficulty and new game+ modes. It’s a stick-shooter so expect big explosions and lots of gunplay where your trigger finger might begin to ache at times. With the game appearing on Game Pass, this is must have game to try out. The low asking price on Steam though also makes it good value for money. We highly recommend this.
Score 9/10 – Review code supplied by publisher.