The development team at Neon Giant made a beautiful game. The Ascent features fantastic worldbuilding, stunning graphics, some incredibly smart design choices, and competent gunfights. There’s a lot here that many players will like. I just wish that while they were building all of this, they took the time to create a story worth caring about or to take at least a few risks on the gameplay front.
A Major Power
You play an indent, effectively a slave on the world of Veles. Indents are common there because getting to the planet is expensive, and most people sell themselves on contract to get there. You’re not technically a slave because there’s a chance you could work the contract off, but it’s made clear early on that this is rare. Most people will die as servants of The Ascent Group.
The Ascent Group are the powers that be on Veles. They’re running the show, so it throws the whole planet into turmoil when they close up shop without warning. Most of The Ascent is spent trying to deal with the aftermath of that and figure out what’s going on.
While there are a few solid characters, most of the story just isn’t interesting. The backstory is, however. Neon Giant did a great job of creating a fully realized world that makes sense and has a lot of interesting lore. But, unfortunately, they then cast you as an uninteresting created character and mostly sent you on fetch quests. It’s maddening, because this world has so much going for it. They just needed a stronger reason to put you in it.
A Beautiful World
The great worldbuilding extends to the game’s visual design. The Ascent is stunning, with incredible details and animation around every corner. From a visual point of view, there’s nothing to complain about here. The camera moves on its own but is rarely an issue, and I actually love the way it adjusts to provide you the best view of the world around you. Looking off into the distance really gives you a sense of the scale of this place and the hopeless spot you find yourself in within it. If you’re into the cyberpunk vibe, you’ll be in heaven.
Navigating that world is a mess. The world of The Ascent is huge, and while a couple of fast travel options, including a train and cabs, open up pretty early on, they only do so much to help you navigate it. An awful map doesn’t help. It feels like the developers saw this coming. You can actually press a button at any time to show you where to go. Doing so starts to feel like you’re just following a path, however, and it takes the focus off the stunning environments.
Lock And Load
As you move through the world, you’ll engage in some very solid twin-stick shooting, though interestingly, they included a fire button instead of having the right stick fire. It works well, and I really love the way the game uses cover and movement. Cover isn’t automated, but you’re frequently encouraged to duck behind things, and there’s a button to fire over cover. The environments are frequently built around this, and it blasting away waves of enemies can be a lot of fun. There are a variety of great weapons to pick up, and you can carry two to provide tools for different situations.
Encounters are waiting around every corner. Some of them are exciting, with some really cool enemies like a group of ninjas who aren’t afraid of your guns. However, it does sometimes get to be a little much, as it feels like most of the people you run across are ready to pull a gun on you at a moment’s notice, with no provocation. If this many people were ready to pull their pieces, there would be a lot fewer people living on Veles.
Don’t Go Alone
Balance is a major issue here. Far too many areas feel like they were only balanced around multiplayer. You can play online with up to four players, and doing so makes many of these encounters soar. Too often, for single players, however, you’ll be reduced to running in circles picking apart waves of foes. Some light RPG elements can help, but they’re buried in poorly designed menus and given very little explanation. Many of them, though certainly not all, feel unnecessary.
If you’re playing with others, I imagine you’ll have a great time with The Ascent. While it still isn’t anywhere near perfect, the beautiful graphics and solid gunplay should be enough for those who just want something cool to play with their friends. There’s plenty of loot to collect along the way, too, letting you each put your stamp on your character.
If you have no one to play with, though, I wouldn’t recommend The Ascent. The game feels like it’s fighting against you the entire way. It never stops feeling like this game wasn’t meant for you.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox Series X(Reviewed), Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Curve Digital; Developer: Neon Giant; Players: 4; Released: July 29th, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of The Ascent.