The Ascent review: Corporate chaos

by Lars
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The Ascent is Diablo meets Borderlands – a top down, gun-heavy RPG set in an incredibly well-realised cyberpunk future. You and up to three friends (or enemies/random strangers) discover what happens when a company that’s too big to fail, well, fails.

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What’s striking about The Ascent is how elevated its cyberpunk theme is. It’s incredibly portrayed throughout the environments and codex entries, filled out with immense amounts of background lore and (often surprisingly hilarious) enemy models. But every cyberpunk game we’ve seen over the last few years has really focused on one potential environment – our own ruined planet.

The Ascent environments

We all know that eventually we’re going to burn this planet out and need to go repeat the process elsewhere to survive, and that’s what The Ascent focuses on. As such, it’s got way more of a traditional sci-fi lean to it than, say, Cyberpunk 2077 or Cloudpunk. There are aliens, mutants and bio-engineered horrors to battle – not just amped-up humans and androids. It’s all integrated really well, and feels like the world we might be looking at when cyberpunk dystopias extend into the stars.

Gameplay is tight and satisfying. There’s RPG style levelling and skill point distribution, allowing you to build your character as you please. You can further customise your character with augmentations (obviously) allowing them to perform superhuman feats, and tactical equipment like grenades and health fields. Combat can descend into absolute, desperate chaos at times, but thanks to the steady stream of upgrades and equipment drops, you usually feel like you’ve got the upper hand. You’re kept on your toes, but rarely overwhelmed.

The Ascent surgery screen

The game can be played in online or local co-op, and although I didn’t personally get to test the multiplayer side, I’m sure it’s a ridiculous amount of fun. It’s incredibly enjoyable by yourself, drawing you into an immersive world packed out with sidequests and ample opportunity to power up your character. That was the joy of Borderlands, back in the day – you were always powering up in little ways, keeping that sense of reward for time spent as strong as it was in the start.

Even early on, you’ll be churning through enemies with explosive force. The starting guns aren’t great, but you’ll eventually pick up assault rifles and shotguns which tear enemies to satisfying chunks, making use of every advantage in your arsenal to stay ahead of the horde. Ironically enough, it all just feels so organic – firing off clips into the group, rolling into cover to reload. Blind-firing from behind a convenient chest high wall and unloading a superpowered punch into the grunt who thought it’d be smart to try and flank you.

The Ascent‘s environments are just something else. When describing one of my favourite movies of all time – Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – I’ve said it “doesn’t waste an inch” – not one frame of its runtime is wasted space. The backdrops you’ll run and gun through here feel exactly the same. Whether they’re sludgy maintenance tunnels, cramped urban shopping districts or stunningly bleak vistas, the world feels like art, every corner packed with skillful detail.

The Ascent is remarkably addictive, and I don’t know if that’s just because of the core gameplay (which is great, in case I haven’t made that clear enough yet). I think the incredible dark future Neon Giant have assembled is intoxicating by itself, a rich sci-fi world that’s like the dark, seedy underbelly of Mass Effect. I realise I’ve made quite a lot of comparisons in this review, and that’s not to say The Ascent is derivative or uninspired. It’s just taken some very good ideas and run with them to completion, and it deserves to stand amongst that good company.

Oh, and you can actually ride the subway. Subtle dig? Perhaps!

Last year, I reviewed Ghostrunner – a game that managed to beat Cyberpunk 2077 to the post at the very last second. I remember thinking at the time that we were probably standing on the precipice of a sort of “cyberpunk renaissance period”. Lo and behold, here we are, in a place where whether Cyberpunk 2077 disappointed you or not doesn’t really matter at all. Want a taste of day-to-day working life in a futuristic metropolis? Play Cloudpunk. If parkour and intense challenge is your thing, play Ghostrunner.

The Ascent overall thoughts

If you want high-energy gun fights augmented with cybernetic superpowers, rich worldbuilding and entertaining sidequests… play The Ascent. It’s slick, rewarding, energetic and you can bring your friends. Not to mention the fact you can change your hairstyle/colour right away. Seriously. Don’t even have to wait for a rumoured barbershop DLC. I would say that Neon Giant‘s future is bright, but after falling in love with The Ascent, I’d have to say it looks very bleak indeed. And I can’t wait to see more of it.

The Ascent is available now. Why not check out more of our reviews here?

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