If the latest updates and fixes for Cyberpunk 2077 still haven’t been quite enough to satiate that grimy, hard boiled Cyberpunk hole in your heart then the new team at Neon Giant have a debut game that might just be the augment for you. The Ascent makes its way to PlayStation platforms since its Xbox and PC release last summer, and the results of this explosive action shooter RPG are exceptional.
While lacking ever so slightly in its frustrating grind, area recycling, and repetitive loop, the rich Cyberpunk world built up in The Ascent and the ballistic combat that has you blasting your way through its environment with gleeful abandon more than makes up for any deficiencies in this overall enjoyable debut hit.
Ascend Through Veles
As is so common in Cyberpunk media, the world of Veles is rife with corporatisation and battling conglomerates all tussling for power and the next way to make a quick buck out of the lowly inhabitants of the world who have had their personal identities and livelihoods stripped away to be left only as mere servants to the corporate overlords. On Veles, everyone is owned and for sale.
You begin at the very bottom of the class hierarchy, an indentured worker for the Ascent Group Megacorporation who hold the reins to everything and everyone in Veles, resigned to carrying out their dirty work as and when they ask. The beginning of The Ascent, however, sees the Ascent Group suddenly and mysteriously collapsing, plunging the corporate-run metropolis into chaos. When the dominant order is suddenly gone everything is up for grabs again, and new powers are all making a quick scramble to become the next leader. With the know-how and the means to get the Ascent’s dirtiest merc work done, you suddenly find yourself at the centre of the chaos with various sides calling on your services, working your way up the ranks and ultimately trying to uncover what has happened to the previous megacorp incumbents.
For those looking for a good Cyberpunk hit the world and the story of Veles will certainly give you one. The tiered world of Veles (both in physical structure and in class) is as Cyberpunk as it comes, offering up a rich vein of griminess and murky morality alongside all the technical vernacular and cyberpunk speak that the hardest genre nerds could dream of. Ascending through the world of Veles will have you wading into shady bars to grab your contracts in neon lit gloom, through dank maintenance tunnels filled with monstrosities, up through the tallest skyscrapers to the elite offices of the world above, and along enough neon glazed street corners to satisfy that Blade Runner itch. The environments you find yourself exploring also coincide nicely with how the narrative runs—as you ascend in class rank you’ll begin to find yourself in increasingly pleasanter areas and shinier builds
The environments that you fight through are The Ascent’s strongest aspect, and Neon Giant certainly knows it as they take time to pull the camera out at certain points to allow you to behold all of their magnificent work. Your exploration and combat is also underscored by an excellent orchestral soundtrack (scored by Pawel Blaszczak) that adds in a sense of awe for the more grandstanding parts of the world, and goes into rip-roaring overdrive for those intensive battles. It is fortunate that this is the case, because unfortunately you will be seeing a lot of these areas again and again as The Ascent cannot help but make you retread your steps a few times too often. Exciting areas are all well and good, but once you have had to trek back for the 4th time to the same maintenance area to press yet another button it starts to lose some of its glamour.
The gameplay loop of The Ascent does end up being largely repetitive, with most objectives being a slight variation on the same thing over and over. Go here, speak to this person for your objective, get to this area, fight your way through hordes of enemies, get to a console, press a button, either fight a boss or defend the area for a time and then fight a boss. It gets a tad monotonous especially when you mix in the recycling of areas again and again.
Its saving grace from complete boredom is that the combat itself is a lot of fun with battles sometimes getting quite chaotic. The Ascent is a twin stick shooter presented in an isometric view. You can aim both high and low which adds a variability to how you fight certain enemies (some are too small for high shots, for example, while others may have more chance of being stunned by one or the other). Shooting high is also key to the game’s cover system, allowing you to hide behind objects and shoot over. Combat requires a mix of static cover and movement with dodge rolls thrown in to evade damage. Doing only one or the other is usually not enough to survive since the mix of rushing melee and bullet hell enemies make each of these sole strategies incredibly difficult. The result is a ballistic combination of cover and move that keeps the combat in constant chaotic flow and makes the whole thing hugely enjoyable.
Weapons range from handguns, to rifles, shotguns, snipers, explosive artillery, miniguns and machine guns. Each weapon also comes as a certain damage type which has advantages and disadvantages over specific enemies—simple ballistics for human enemies, electric weapons for robots, etc—meaning you’ll want to keep your arsenal large and switched up often.
The same goes for your armour, with every item possessing stats that make them better in certain situations. The nice thing about the gear is that The Ascent knows that half the fun of Cyberpunk is the wacky clothing, mixing in cybernetics with 90s neon dressing and punky aesthetics, and so you may want to have a certain look as play. Even though stats are tied to gear, if you find a particular look that you like you can get it locked in so that you will always be wearing that piece even as you switch out for better gear.
The final piece to your arsenal are your augments which grant special abilities as well as passive boosts. These range from unleashing rocket barrages from your back to huge leaping smashes, to grenades, robotic punches and so on. They are a lot of fun to play around with and do well to grant you an advantage over your enemies at desperate times.
Veles is a punishing world, and so it can take a little bit of work to be able to keep within its grips. Aside from the main story missions there are side missions dotted all around. You can of course completely ignore these, but doing at least a couple is probably vital just to be able to stay up to the right power levels to be able to handle the increasing enemy difficulty. A little grinding is almost certainly required to be able to withstand later sections of the game as enemies get extremely strong in certain areas.
Failure to prepare properly will start to make The Ascent extremely frustrating. Unfortunately this grinding isn’t generally all that much fun after a while however, since every objective again tends to involve just fighting your way through enemies to get to an area and press a button/fight a guy. At a certain point I did find myself just running through areas as quickly as I could, blindly firing around to at least hold some of the onslaught of enemies chasing behind off, rather than meticulously fighting my way properly through every one. The world is far too big and populated with enemies to be able to do that and still have fun 20 hours on. The train and taxi fast travel system does alleviate this issue somewhat: trains are a free fast travel system available at particular locations on the map, and taxis are accessible whenever you want to take you elsewhere at a high cost of credits, however some areas don’t allow taxis meaning you’ll still need to do a lot of backtracking.
A Worthy Debut
The Ascent was a pleasant surprise for me. The world and story are excellent and probably hit that Cyberpunk itch better than the much-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 ever managed. For a small team making their first game together that is no understated compliment when compared with a huge studio who promised the next revolution in gaming.
The game is enjoyable enough, it just unfortunately has a few frustrations that pull it back from being a near perfect experience. I won’t hold area and objective recycling as too heinous a crime for such a small team, however, since even the biggest and best do it as well. Overall The Ascent is certainly worth the price of admission, and whatever comes next from Neon Giant should be watched with keen interest.
Final Score: 7.5/10