The Ascent was one of those early Xbox Series X|S exclusives that REALLY had me envious that I didn’t own the console. There’s something about cyberpunk dungeon-crawling that ticks so many boxes for me, whilst the fact that it also looked absolutely gorgeous in motion was a plus too – especially in a time when I really wanted to see what the next-gen consoles were capable of.
Alas, I only owned a PlayStation 5, so wasn’t able to experience the frantic adventure for myself… until now. Much like other early Xbox Series X|S exclusives, The Ascent has finally made its way to the PlayStation 5. Was it worth the wait or is it a case of being all style and no substance?
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
The Ascent puts players in the role of an Indent (a slave-like worker) who works for a super powerful corporation known as The Ascent Group that controls the world of Veles. Or they did, before The Ascent Group mysteriously collapsed and Veles instead found itself in a tug-of-war between the other villainous groups trying to seize control. It’s up to you to prevent that from happening, all whilst trying to discover what caused your previous employer to fall apart in the first place.
The story didn’t really do anything that felt unpredictable nor did it really keep me completely engrossed from start to end. It’s not that anything is bad, but rather that it lacked the exciting buzz to really absorb me into the struggle that Veles is facing.
On the flip-side, the world design is wonderful and stood out as a high point of The Ascent. Exploring the neon-dripped desolate streets of this cyberpunk world was thrilling, with each new sight I saw emphasising the impressive sense of creativity and flair that the game upholds. It really is a thing of beauty and it’s easy to find yourself blown away by simply scouring your surroundings. Add to that the fact that it’s packed with civilians going about their everyday life as well as all sorts of colourful characters to meet and it easily stands out as one of the best cyberpunk worlds I’ve explored in gaming.
“Exploring the neon-dripped desolate streets of this cyberpunk world was thrilling, with each new sight I saw emphasising the impressive sense of creativity and flair that the game upholds.”
The core gameplay loop of The Ascent will be familiar to anyone who has played a dungeon-crawling RPG before, albeit with a twin-stick shooting twist as you blast away enemies and take cover in the moments where things get really heated up. Players will take on an array of main missions that send them across the world, whilst it’s also possible to pick up side quests that expand the lore and reward you with extra goodies. Loot plays a big role in the game with plenty to find to soup up your character’s capabilities – admittedly, there isn’t a huge amount of weapon variety that allows you to really play about with your loadout, but it didn’t stop it being satisfying when you came across a more powerful addition to your arsenal.
The Ascent certainly embraces an ‘action first’ approach to its gameplay, which is something that’s emphasised by the fact that you have unlimited ammo. It ensures that the pace of the game never slows down as you backtrack or look nearby to re-fill, but instead keeps the player pushing forward and heading into encounters without worrying about not being able to fire. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to slow down and think things through at times though with some set pieces certainly demanding some strategic finesse to survive – there just aren’t any limitations as to how much hurt you can unload on foes.
There are some great augmentations to unlock and use too, with each giving players an extra trick up their sleeve (albeit at the cost of some of their energy). Some will help the player out, such as using Biometric Timestamp to heal, Lockon Fire to unload attacks with extra accuracy, or Overclock which increases your regeneration and reload speed, whilst others focus on dealing damage, such as Stasis Stomp which launches enemies into the air in stasis, Hydraulic Slam which punches enemies away with massive force, or Neutron Beam which blasts out a massive surge of energy. There’s a lot of flexibility to be found in the augmentations that can suit any given situation in the game, so there’s plenty for players to toy around with and see what works best for them.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
When you add levelling up and weapon upgrades to the mix, it all comes together to make for a robust and entertaining combat system. Gunfights are NEVER boring in The Ascent, whilst the fact that there are multiple approaches available when it comes to handling enemies means there’s plenty of room for player creativity. The only real caveat is that it’s easy to fall into routine when you find that PERFECT weapon and augmentations loadout for you; it didn’t make things feel dull by any means, but the final third of the game was a little bit formulaic for me since I knew exactly how I wanted to approach each showdown. It probably doesn’t help that some mission objectives can get a little bit repetitive too, mind.
It feels like it can lack balance with its difficulty at times too, with some encounters bringing a harsh difficulty spike that feels like it comes from nowhere. I did read that the team at Neon Giant had actually worked on balancing the difficulty since it was an issue during the initial Xbox Series X|S release, but it still feels a little off here. On the flip-side, some enemies didn’t even seem to react to my presence at all at times, so it also has its moments where it’s too easy. There’s a lot of joy to be found in The Ascent’s combat, but there’s no denying that it can be a little rough around the edges too.
Performance-wise, everything feels great on the PlayStation 5 with the slick 60fps frame rate proving consistent throughout – it really complements the already stunning visuals and makes The Ascent a real sight to behold on the console. It utilises the DualSense functionality to let players feel an extra sense of immersion when battling with enemies too, with the haptic feedback capturing the sense of destruction of your weapons. It’s also worth mentioning that the game can be played in online co-op, with four player local and online play available. I spent the bulk of my time with The Ascent in single player, but it has been a treat tackling some missions with friends too.
The Ascent Review
The Ascent is a stunning cyberpunk adventure that’s enjoyable to play, even if doesn’t always hit the mark in all aspects of its design. Whilst combat is fun and brings plenty of flexibility, some missions could get repetitive and it was easy to fall into a routine. There are some harsh difficulty spikes at times too, whilst on some occasions enemies didn’t even respond to my presence.
Despite these shortcomings, there’s a LOT more good than bad to be found in The Ascent and it really feels like it belongs on the PlayStation 5 – especially with its DualSense implementation and stunning visuals. It’s not perfect, but it’s still one of the more enjoyable cyberpunk RPGs that I’ve spent my time playing.
Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC