The Ascent Review – Mindless Mechanical Mayhem
From the iconic works of Philip K. Dick to Mike Pondsmith’s groundbreaking tabletop RPG, fans of the cyberpunk genre will be introduced to characters searching for identity and purpose. The Ascent suffers from a similar identity crisis in its attempts to break away from dungeon-crawling RPGs and twin-stick shooters but never reaches the heights of either genre. This pointlessly fun co-op experience features bombastic gunplay, captivating cyber abilities, and a visually immersive world to wreak havoc. In this blog we disscuss The Ascent Review – Mindless Mechanical Mayhem.
The Ascent Gameplay
The Ascent takes place in the tech-obsessed world of Veles, controlled by insane corporations, and players control a contract worker who becomes entangled in a secret while fighting for freedom. While I like the cyberpunk genre, The Ascent’s white-hot narrative contains my least favorite tropes: incessant expletives, hatred of human rights, and a profoundly gritty world. These tropes aren’t inherently wrong when handled with nuance, but the main story never dives into anything substantial, putting these dark themes in the spotlight rather than meaningful commentary. Combine that with a lot of jargon and confusing lore, and I wanted to skip the dialogue to get back to what the game does best: make you a cyber warrior.
Combat is The Ascent’s main strength. The moment-to-moment shooting is exhilarating, with waves of various villains heading your way at almost any moment. Developer Neon Giant also adds to the fun with a diverse weapon inventory and some excellent expansions and tactical weapons that can blow up enemies. One of my favorite moments was blowing up corporate goons with a rocket-spewing Gatling gun and then knocking them down with a devastating energy blast.
While most of the fights made me happy (if not overwhelming, but more on that later), the fight gets a bit monotonous as the game progresses; through an upgrade provider, I started finding my favorite weapons and upgrading them, which outclassed most loot and made it largely irrelevant. That lack of variety also extends to your armor.
The Ascent is a flat RPG experience with stats that don’t always sit well on the target. I’ve always been grateful to have points to increase my health and energy levels but found some of the other categories and even armor irrelevant outside of the general protection buffs. It’s hard to know which specific attacks you want to protect against in the first place. I rarely paid attention to attributes like fire protection because I could usually hit enemies with the right tactics and reinforcements. This was especially true when playing with others when the on-screen commotion was extremely difficult to follow.
The best way to experience the Ascent is in cooperative mode. Four players can play most of The Ascent’s 15-20 hour story. Bombastic fights are easier to handle with a team by your side, and the fight starts to rumble when you’re in sync with explosive weapons and chaotic expansions.
While co-op is the highlight, co-op play still has its fair share of annoyances. A limited pool of health losses helped my team’s demise, as the number of HP shots doesn’t seem to scale with the increased number of players. Finding your partners in the world is also tricky as player markers merge with the rest of the map. A surprisingly large margin exacerbates this problem. My other complaint is about how progress is being handled. I jumped into a co-worker’s game for a couple of hours only to find that my progress was gone entirely from not hosting the game.
The cooperative model is the main attraction, but solo players should not despair. I spent half of my time alone and still enjoyed the experience with some limitations. It’s easier to gain health, but I got frustrated in many encounters as I was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemies; it seems the game was balanced with co-op in mind. These encounters aren’t impossible, but you have to play smarter and plan your raises instead of running and gunning normally.
The other great strength of the game lies in its presentation. Neon Giant has injected an incredible amount of detail into the world. Every corner of Veles is disgusting in the word’s best sense as its inhabitants litter the sprawling megacity’s worn metal sheets. The lighting in the game is just as lovely, although a bit of neon at times drenches the eyes. The camera work is also impressive, and the moves are cinematic and captivating. Finally, the music reaches a climax, clearly reminiscent of iconic sci-fi from the past, such as Vangelis’s work in the original Blade Runner movie.
The world of Veles is worth exploring, but it can also be a chore. He was thankful for the fast travel points, but it still takes too long to get from one point to another. I also found my co-op partners and sometimes had the same goal, but our tracker sometimes took us in different directions. It also didn’t help that we constantly ran into groups of overwhelming villains who instantly tore us apart. Neon Giant rewards curiosity with loot, but I’ve explored less over time, fearing another swindle and off-screen play.
The Ascent has issues, but those issues don’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the game. I’m not going to write my thesis on his commentary on capitalism, but I will fondly remember my co-op sessions traversing this cyberpunk world. The flat RPG elements, the lack of meaningful narrative, and the frustration of exploring were constants that dragged down the experience. Neon Giant has laid a solid foundation to build on, and I hope we can see future pieces become something worth promoting.
The main attraction is cooperation, but solo players should not despair. I spent half of my time alone, yet I enjoyed the experience with some reservations. Gaining health is easier alone, but in many encounters, I was frustrated because I was quickly overwhelmed by the number of enemies – the game seems to have been balanced in terms of cooperation. These encounters are not impossible, but you will have to play smarter and plan your augmentation instead of regular running and shooting.