4.0
REVIEW: The Ascent
Reviews

REVIEW: The Ascent

As soon as you boot up The Ascent, you are plunged into a cyberpunk world, clearly taking inspiration from Philip K. Dick. The Vangelis-esque score echoes around the corporate-run metropolis of Veles. The Ascent starts off strong, with a simple intro to the combat system and a taste of what’s to come. However, the game struggles to expand on this core run and gun premise, and the final product ends up being gorgeous but repetitive.

Before getting into the game, I need to quickly address the long loading screens. There aren’t a lot of these throughout the game, but the initial load seems strangely long compared to other next-gen titles I’ve played on the Series S. This isn’t a huge problem, but it’s something that will hopefully be patched in the near future.

Once into the game, you’re greeted with a character creation screen that seems extensive at first, but often boils down to the colour of your initial clothing, which is quickly altered when you discover new loot. I ended up settling on a shirtless punk adorned with a purple mohawk. I felt that however I customised my character, they looked fairly generic in what is a rather diverse world.

The neon lit streets of this metropolis immediately hit me, and I was quickly taken under its spell. From the dank corridors of the tutorial to the bustling bars and nightlife in the later missions, it truly does feel like a cyberpunk world. A rousing score from Pawel Blaszczak really accentuates the stunning visual style, particularly in his piece “Welcome Home.” Sound design as a whole in The Ascent is excellent. All the guns have a punch to them and perfectly orchestrate the hectic gunfights that often occur in this lawless land.

Sadly, I can’t praise the combat itself as highly. Initial gun battles are fun, but The Ascent doesn’t tend to evolve except for adding more enemies into the fight. The fights become more chaotic as more enemies are added, seemingly appearing out of nowhere wielding a range of weapons. These fights leave you feeling ill-prepared, regardless of what weapon you have equipped. You are encouraged to raise your weapon to hit critical spots on your enemies; however, due to the isometric nature of the game, it can prove difficult to judge the height of your adversaries, leading to a lot of missed shots and frustrating deaths. This aiming system can be paired with cover in order to outlast your enemies. On paper, this works well—in practice it just leads to more frustration.

Cover is dotted around each combat area, which you can manually crouch behind and use the aforementioned aiming system to keep yourself safe while dealing damage. However, enemies will rarely use cover themselves, instead opting to rush you down and simply fire at your back, causing cover to be rather redundant. On one occasion, I was rushed by around five invisible, sword-wielding enemies who quickly dispatched me, despite me being three levels above the recommended level for the mission. It ended up looking like a Benny Hill episode as I frantically tried dispatching the ghostly fighters while also being shot at by multiple other enemies. As a result, gunfights, despite being well soundtracked, become very repetitive and uninspired.

Movement and traversal of the metropolis is also a struggle, which is made harder by the lack of a sprint option. I found myself rolling instead of walking, most likely giving me a false sense of speed. The lack of speed paired with the constant respawning of enemies when you revisit an area made everything traversal-related feel like a chore. A train of enemies shooting at me while I was trying to pass through their area became a common sight. I didn’t care about the final destination, because nothing was worth the arduous journey. A beacon of hope was presented to me when the words “fast travel” appeared in a pop up… only for me to then find out that it was prohibitively expensive for multiple uses.

The Ascent’s story is there, but not something that really caught my attention all too much. One main barrier that I had to this was the lack of some accessibility options. I wear glasses and, without them, my eyesight is pretty awful. Font size in games is quite an important issue for me. I would much rather play a game with subtitles to ensure that I can take in all of the story. I found that all of the text within the game was far too small and prohibited me from diving into the story. This was the same for most of the menus, particularly the upgrade screen, which led to some misclicks and misunderstandings over what I was enhancing on my character. This is an issue that should be addressed in every game being shipped. This isn’t a quality of life addition, this is a way for some audience members to simply play the game. There have been great strides made in game accessibility in recent years, but it still seems like some titles have to catch up.

I went into The Ascent excited for a game to fill a cyberpunk-shaped hole in my heart, but came out feeling deflated with the thought that this was a big missed opportunity. The stunning landscape and excellent soundtrack can’t take away from the game, but the messy gunfights and cumbersome movement paired with accessibility issues makes this a very hard game to recommend.

4.0
Score

Pros

  • Beautiful cyberpunk visuals
  • Outstanding score/soundtrack

Cons

  • Clunky and unbalanced combat
  • Cumbersome and tedious traversal
  • Disappointing lack of accessibility options

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