The Ascent Review

The Ascent Review

The Ascent is a top-down, twin-stick shooter and marks the debut of Swedish indie developer Neon Giant. Its story takes place on Veles, a futuristic dystopian world that is controlled by gigantic corporations, including “The Ascent Group”. When the latter mysteriously collapses the different districts in the city start to fight each other overpower and control. Your job is to stop them and find out what caused the demise of The Ascent Group.

The Ascent review

the ascent
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent game review
the ascent game
the ascent game
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review
the ascent review

Gameplay

At its core, The Ascent is a cover-based shooter. Usually, when you play a first-person on a third-person shooter, you’ll have the means to cover yourself, either by using the environment in combination by taking a crouching stance. This mechanic has been carried over to The Ascent by implementing a system where you can crouch to cover behind anything you can find in your environment while at the same time you can raise your gun for some over-cover shooting. This mechanic works very well as the environments have been specifically designed to provide a lot of cover opportunities throughout your journey. Some objects in your surroundings can also be shot to cause an explosion for some collateral kills.

You can equip a primary weapon, a secondary weapon and a tactical gadget at the same time and your loadout can be modified at any moment via the game’s menu system. There is a wide range of weapons to choose from, each dealing a specific type of damage which works better against a certain type of enemies. For example, while your regular weapons will work well against humans, robots may be better dealt with using energy weapons that shoot beams of electricity.

Evidently, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge if your adversaries don’t use the same cover mechanic. The AI does a pretty good job in using the same tactical abilities which requires you to come out of cover and engage if the both of you stay put. Running away in the opposite direction hoping to find a better place to fight only works within a short-range as stepping away too far from the enemies’ home location will cause them to retreat, often healing themselves in the process.

Downed enemies can provide you with health pickups as well as Ucres (the local currency), weapons, grenades, and other goodies. The world is also filled with crates which you can break to loot its contents as well as chests that can be unlocked but may require you to have elevated clearance to break its code. This clearance, known as ICE in the game, is a certain level of tech that is required to open chests, doorways, or hack into certain terminals as part of a mission objective. It will increase by playing through the game’s main storyline and sometimes you are required to backtrack to earlier locations where previously inaccessible loot or areas now become available.

The game’s narrative unfolds by playing a series of primary quests which are divided into multiple objectives requiring you to perform specific tasks. There are also more than twenty side quests that will reward you with XP, Ucres, weapons, or a combination of the above. The order in which you undertake the side quests is up to you, however, certain quests will not be playable early on as they require a higher character level for you to make a chance at succeeding. If you would try to visit such areas, any enemies that hit you will instantly kill you when you’re hit.

Your character level increases by gaining XP which is collected when defeating enemies and clearing objectives. For doing so you are awarded with skill points which can be used to level up different stats that all have their own effect on your character. Besides leveling your stats you can also equip augments and modules. Augments are abilities that are on a cooldown and can offer you certain tactical advantages, while modules are passive bonuses that will have a certain effect on you. Both can be found throughout the world either in the wild or by buying off of vendors. While you also have a defensive evasive roll at your disposal, it is unfortunate that a basic ability as a close-quarter slash also counts as an augment you need to equip and may occasionally have to be sacrificed for something different.

No money? No problem!

It’s not because everyone is corrupt and you’re trying to be the good guy that you have to be at your best all of the time. While you can indeed kill innocent bystanders, shooting around is often a good tactic to see who’s left behind as these are usually the bad guys coming from you. If you kill innocent bystanders you’ll occasionally receive messages through your comms that this kind of collateral damage is frowned upon. When short on Ucres, which can buy you several goodies from vendors or vending machines, you can loot cars to spice your money. If you come across a bounty, usually a tougher named enemy, you can kill him and sell the bounty token for an extra 1000 Ucres. And if you’re really badass you can blow vending machines out of service instead of inserting money, coughing up any goodies they may have for you.

The highs

There are a lot of indie games claiming their spot as a game featuring a rich futuristic dystopian world, but not each title manages to live up to this promise. However, The Ascent definitely nails the authentic atmosphere throughout the whole journey; its world feels lively, with seemingly random things constantly happening all around you. There are people wandering around the streets, hanging by their parked vehicles, meeting others in the streets, having conversations in bars, stopping by the ATM to withdraw money, vehicles constantly flying by and over, and police vehicles sporadically stopping to patrolling and overseeing the area. The areas are filled with neon lights and the synthwave music really sucks you into a sci-fi world, often reminding me of Blade Runner and the likes.

I also love the automatic camera direction, sometimes changing from an isometric top-down to a vertical topdown, or even a sideways angle like the game is a platformer, for a more dramatic effect or look of the environment, or simply to focus on a point of interest. If the elevator rides, which are actually masking a loading screen, didn’t already give you the sense that you certainly must be in a really really high location, the verticality of the world’s architecture and the different deep chasms that you walk past throughout your journey certainly do so. And if all this walking around is too much for you, there’s always a possibility for you to use another means of transport to fast travel to any location you have previously unlocked for a fee.

The lows

While The Ascent has everything to be a great game, unfortunately, it was mostly a frustrating experience for me to play. For starters, launching the game for the very first time required me to wait for over four minutes to get past all of the loading screens. Every time I want to resume the game now, I still have to wait for about one minute and a half before the game is ready to play. When you’re traveling between districts and use the previously mentioned elevator you’re in for another waiting game and it goes on forever.

I get it: I’m playing on the Xbox One X which is the Xbox’s previous generation, so waiting a bit longer is something that I can overlook. Unfortunately, this is certainly not the only problem. I have experienced frequent framerate issues where the game was stuttering, sometimes even hanging for three seconds or more. This is unacceptable as it directly impacts your gameplay and can mean the difference between life and death when engaging with enemies. I have a feeling that performance issues have been anticipated as the game constantly blurs the environments while you’re running around. From the moment you stand still everything is crispy sharp again. It doesn’t only have a nauseating effect on me, but it also renders me incapable of reading the popup text balloons that appear over the people I pass by.

But by far the worst problems that I have encountered are crashes that inexplicably return me to the Xbox Home Screen, as well as progress breaking bugs such as being unable to interact with a key object, unable to trigger a certain scene, or spawn a certain boss, or even proceed in the indicated direction simply because the doorway is blocked.

There are also some polishing oversights. For example, the title screen mentions to hit any key rather than press any button, a clear reference that this game must have been initially built for PC. When resuming a game it mentions it is creating a game and when you’re in the elevator the commentary on the tv screen only starts playing once you move your character. There are also instances where the voice on your comms gets priority over the gunfire, muting all of its sounds in the process. And why is there no clear indication of what the different vending machines give you before you put your money in them? They are not slot machines, are they?

It clearly shows the Xbox One X is in need of a bug fixing and performance patch. And while the game’s page mentions it is enhanced for the Xbox One X, the listing of the existence of such a performance patch is missing in action.

Besides the technical difficulties I have faced, I also had a very hard time getting interested in the story, mainly because the way it was told didn’t work for me. Going through endless text dialogues after being in an action-packed boss fight really dragged down the tempo of the game. The occasional cut-scenes with animated story sequences didn’t win me over either. And if I did engage in a conversation where I had multiple questions to ask, the game would default to the first question in the list each time after the dialogue was finished, requiring me to repetitively scroll down the list for the next question.

The interface displaying characters’ skills, armor, loadout, and mission objectives also took me a while to get used to. I’ve had a hard time understanding how everything related to each other, as well what the different weapon characteristics all meant and how skills influence the character’s stats. I’m also missing the possibility to mark items as junk to easily sell obsolete weapons or gear at a vendor. When I’m selling or upgrading, I can’t even see which item I currently have equipped. It also requires too many button presses to open the map each time and there is no way to add a waypoint for a manual destination. Hence I had a lot of issues finding my way back to a specific location that was not marked by a quest, either to find a vendor or someone to buy bounties from me.

And lastly, the game became less interesting over time because of its tedious backtracking. You encounter old enemies that can be put down with as much as a sneeze and it really hampers the whole cover mechanic of the game because there simply is no need to take cover anymore.

Verdict

The Ascent is a game that shows a lot of potentials but unfortunately threw me off because of the many technical issues as well as the clear lack of polishing on my Xbox One X. For me it is unacceptable to release a game in this state on previous generation hardware, which reminds my of another Cyberpunk themed release which had a very bumpy release, to say the least.

The Ascent

The Ascent
7 10 0 1
The reason I’m still giving this game a 7 out of 10 is that the game clearly is a lot of fun when not hindered by technical difficulties and it seems to be running fine on the Xbox Series S/X as well as the PC. I hope the game’s progress-breaking problems get patched and that once the promised optimization patch hits the streets the game’s quality will ascend to higher grounds.
The reason I’m still giving this game a 7 out of 10 is that the game clearly is a lot of fun when not hindered by technical difficulties and it seems to be running fine on the Xbox Series S/X as well as the PC. I hope the game’s progress-breaking problems get patched and that once the promised optimization patch hits the streets the game’s quality will ascend to higher grounds.
7/10
Total Score
Good
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