28 Jul 2021 9:10 AM +00:00

The Ascent Review: No, Not That Cyberpunk Action RPG

If you’re like me and have had Cyberpunk 2077 relegated to the sidelines just waiting for something to come along that can sufficiently scratch that ‘Cyberpunk’ itch, then The Ascent might be something for you to consider.

A neon-infused fever dream with a well fleshed out combat system and some innovative game mechanics, The Ascent may be one of 2021's sleeper hits.

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A Whole Different Beast

Screenshot of The Ascent showing combat at a security checkpoint.
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Let's get one thing clear, though - in everything aside from aesthetics, you cannot compare The Ascent to Cyberpunk 2077.

There’s a sense of uniqueness and style to ‘The Ascent’ that very much means that it is a whole different beast to Cyberpunk 2077. Yes, there is your typical neon grunge and brutalist architecture; yes there are a plethora of street merchants willing to hawk you their scraped together cybernetics, but that’s where the comparisons end really. ‘The Ascent’ is so much more than the ‘genre stuff’. It’s the type of creation you only really get when seasoned and highly talented veterans sit in a room, roll out the mini-fridges and get to work making whatever the hell they want.

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Crucially, this game is an RPG. And that is quite important, since The Ascent doesn’t really advertise itself as one. It’s got all your general RPG-isms. Levelling up, spending your hard-earned skill points on balance, weapons and other gubbins, and generally these impact things like reload speed (and let’s be honest, reload speed is a necessity here which I’ll get onto in a bit).

The crafting part is here too, with a deceptively simple system that mostly just requires a part that could be akin to a hex-key; a universal component that can be scraped together from all kinds of areas and that allows for weapon modification.

Combat Reinvented

Screenshot from the Ascent showing a four-player team against a boss.
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When I first put hand to mouse to play ‘The Ascent’, my first thought was how will the combat play out. For starters, a laser line with only up and down movement (as well as the full 360-degree whirlwind of death) seemed a bit limiting.

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I could not have been more wrong. The combat is incredibly satisfying; shots have a brilliant weight to them, the weapon audio is perfect and the movement and dodging is sublime. All of this was thrown at me in the space of about 20 seconds when I first got the chance to dig into the combat during the game’s first mission, and it felt amazing.

I can’t describe how that first battle made me feel but it was somewhere between playing badass action music in my head and laughing with joy at just how fun it was.

It's not all plain-sailing, though. The first mission mostly throwing basement goblins at my face gave me a false sense of security, and when I inevitably accidentally combat rolled backwards into a group of humans, all hell broke loose. My main issue was with being hit from off-screen, something which pervades the rest of the game, which is a shame. Still, it certainly taught me to stay mobile.

When you finally manage to get your guns upgraded and get some cybernetics on board, the whole combat system is wonderfully fluid and malleable.

Cover is also important, even from an isometric perspective. More than a few times I got stuck out in the open, and without some serious luck to help me out, more often than not I’d end up a pile of bolts on the floor.

Something Special

A screenshot showing The Ascent's dialogue perspective.
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The visuals of this game are where ‘The Ascent’ truly ascends above. The combination of cramped and bustling cities with an absolutely gorgeous colour palette makes every single scene pop and makes the inevitable spotlighting of where you need to go blend completely effortlessly. I can’t even begin to describe how many times I just ran through areas, not even bothering to really check where I was going, because of the fact I was just mesmerised by the whole visuals of the world.

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On another note, much of the game's environments feature destructible. While it seems this would work well in fights, I never really found it to make too much of a difference. Offing your opponent by diving behind him and sinking a well-placed projectile into their cranium was much more efficient than wasting bullets shooting cover out of the way.

The story, while fairly standard, does offer some big moments A big corporation collapses, relinquishing its hold on the city, and then you have to pick up the pieces. I won’t go into too many details, but the amount of detail again is just absolutely insane. ‘The Ascent’ takes some of the best tropes from the genre and mashes them together into this brilliant amalgam of plot and side quests with genuine surprises along the way.

Verdict

Considering that it’s made by a core team of just 12 (which is incredible), The Ascent feels like it was made by a team of many times more than that. Regardless of the fact it’s made up of a large amount of industry veterans, it still takes some serious skill to make a game this good with a team that small.

The Ascent's interconnected world, world-building, and exciting combat make it a pleasant surprise, and one of our favourite titles of 2021 so far.

4.5/5

Reviewed on PC via Steam

Review copy provided by the publisher