Neon Giant is a small studio that’s spent the last three years working on what they hoped would be a “grand experience.” Those years of hard work have resulted in the creation of The Ascent, an action-shooter RPG set in a cyberpunk world. That work and confidence has paid off in spades, because The Ascent is one of the most unique co-op experiences I’ve had this year.
Ascending the food chain
The Ascent takes place in Veles, a futuristic world stuffed with dangerous creatures, bright lights, and colorful characters. Players begin their journey at the absolute bottom of the food chain - a worker whose entire life is dedicated to the corporation that owns them. This lowly life is flipped upside down when the company and surrounding city begin to shut down for an unknown reason. Players will put down the equipment, pick up some weapons, and embark on a journey to figure out what’s going on.
From the bat, The Ascent is stuffed with story and lore. Every sign, shop, and every character has a story to tell. The Ascent is a brand new IP, but it feels like it could easily be the third or fourth installment in a franchise, with how well the universe is fleshed out. It’s easy to want to power through the main story and leave all of the ancillary stuff for the completionist, but it’s impossible to not have your curiosity peaked while progressing through The Ascent.
The richness of The Ascent is also present in the world design. When players are out of combat areas, they can stroll around the bustling metropolis, visiting shops and upgrading their gear. The city has several layers, with staircases and lifts allowing players to transport to different levels. Unfortunately, I found that the map design made it difficult to accurately see where I was in relation to the numerous icons around me. There were countless times that I thought I was standing in front of a location, but it was actually on the floor below/above me. The cluttered nature of the map is also present in a lot of the combat levels as well.
Taking what’s yours
The Ascent is an action-shooter that’s deeply rooted in RPG elements. There’s a variety of different weapons that players can either find or purchase throughout their journey, such as rifles, handguns, explosives and more. Each weapon feels unique, bringing their own advantages and disadvantages to combat, whether that be the fast but inaccurate submachine guns or the slow but deadly rifles. Playing on PC, I used my mouse to aim my crosshair and fire at enemies. It was easy to whip around and take on enemies coming from every direction, and the isometric camera angle works really well for The Ascent’s combat.
Beyond aiming and firing, there are a lot of factors that players need to consider when jumping into combat in The Ascent. This includes weapon damage types (fire, electric, etc.) that will either deal increased or decreased damage depending on the opponent. Rounds per second, clip size, and damage per shot are all weapon statistics that make each and every weapon distinct.
The Ascent gives the player practically endless customization options in regards to making their character unique. This goes far beyond the cosmetic creation of a character. As players level up and earn skill points, they can allocate these points to different skills and attributes such as weapon handling, aiming, and vital signs (health). This allowed me to fine tune my player to what best fits my playstyle.
The RPG elements in The Ascent also extend to armor, as players can find and purchase armor that will provide blanket defense against damage, as well as additional resistance to different damage types. Of course, it wouldn’t be the cyberpunk genre if you couldn’t augment your character and get robotical. Players can install augments, which provide them with special abilities that they can use for support, or to deal out some heavy damage to enemies. One augment I liked using was the Hydraulic Slam, which let me blast several enemies at once with some heavy melee damage.
The Ascent encourages players to take their created characters and team up with friends, going through the story in a group of up to 4. I really appreciated the fact that once my character was created, I was free to transfer him between solo and cooperative play, while maintaining all of my loot and upgrades. It’s a seamless transition that I likened to the drop-in/drop-out nature of the Borderlands series.
Playing with friends proved to be the best way to enjoy The Ascent. With the game giving you a good deal of options in regards to playstyle, I enjoyed bouncing ideas off of my friends, tailoring our character builds in such a way that they would compliment each other. Cooperative also doesn’t feel tacked on, as all players appear in cutscenes and other important moments. It was overall impressive how The Ascent’s multiplayer just works, without dumbing down the experience or removing aspects of the game.
Set the bar high
The Ascent succeeds at delivering an action-shooter with challenging enemies and a diverse set of levels to explore. This is bolstered by a rich universe that’s practically bursting with interesting lore at every seam. Despite some wonkiness with the in-game map layout, it’s a quite enjoyable experience, especially if you decide to go online and team up with friends. The Ascent is a vastly impressive first outing for Neon Giant, and one that sets the bar high for the studio’s future endeavors.
This review is based on a digital PC code provided by the publisher. The Ascent is available now for Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC for $29.99 USD.
- Extensive lore and world-building
- High-level of character customization
- Challenging enemies and bosses
- Seamless transition between solo play and co-op
- Map is cluttered and hard to navigate