The Ascent Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

The Ascent

By Paul Hunter

Playing The Ascent the past week on PlayStation 5 was a good reminder that I need to take review scores with a grain of salt and give every game their fair shake. I remember last August thinking the game looked interesting but the middling reviews made me put it on my 'backburner' list. Well, curiosity finally got the better of me, so I thought the PS5 release was a good chance to jump in. I'm glad I did because I instantly got hooked, played through the entire game and loved it.

If you're a fan of top-down shooters like Housemarque's Dead Nation or Arrowhead's Helldivers then you'll want to check out The Ascent. To find out why, let's descend upon the futuristic dystopian world of Veles, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: The Action-Packed Gameplay

Following The Ascent's short intro, you're immediately thrust into battle and aside from some brief visits to a few non-violent hub town areas where you level up and resupply, the action never lets up. I really enjoyed the wide variety of enemies to lay waste to, from your main heavily-armed adversaries in the Ascent Group to a range of security robots big on firepower to feral critters that attack in swarms, ready to tear the flesh of anyone who wanders off the beaten path. At random intervals you'll also get invaded by mercenary minibosses with huge health bars that drop high-quality loot and net you sweet bounty credits from the local bartenders.

Most main missions culminate in cool boss battles, preceded by short cinematics introducing the hulking behemoths you're about to face. Some of the highlights are an armoured brute wielding a massive chain gun, a tough-as-nails robotic spider that hatches mini spiders and a fast, flying combat robot that unleashes waves of missiles. Boss battles in this game are pretty intense and especially on the harder difficulty settings will push your abilities to the limit.

Another big plus is the range of weapons you can find on the battlefield or purchase from the town's arm dealers. The weapon types on the surface seem pretty ordinary, including SMGs, shotguns, assault rifles, pistols and rocket launchers, but what's neat is most of them come in four varieties: ballistic, fire, energy and digital. Most enemies are weak to certain types of fire, like most humanoid creatures being susceptible to ballistic or fire, while digital ammo shreds machines. It's a great system that encourages you test out a range of weapons to discover which ones work best for each type of enemy.

Liked: The Cyberpunk Aesthetic

You can get a flavour of just how great The Ascent's cyberpunk game world, called Veles, is by checking out the images in this review—but the game looks so much better in action. In true cyberpunk fashion, the hub towns are rundown and overrun with crime and shady characters, while the busy streets are plastered with red, green, yellow and purple neon lights. All around you'll see street signs and business signs in a number of languages like English, Korean and Japanese, all adding to the futuristic cyberpunk theme.

Almost all of Veles is comprised of metal and wires, whether that's the city streets, merchant shops or the secretive subsurface levels that hide the city's inner workings. Anyone who enjoys movies like The Matrix, Blade Runner or Total Recall will surely love the dystopian cyberpunk vibes on offer here.

Liked: Loadouts and Upgrades

The Ascent includes a bunch of great RPG elements that really got me hooked deeper into the game's mechanics. My favourite is the character upgrade system where killing enemies nets you XP, and after collecting enough you'll gain a level along with three skill points. These points can be funnelled into eight different attributes that can increase your max health or energy, reduce your roll cooldown time, increase your reload speed, bump up your weapon accuracy, plus a few other valuable perks. This allows you to really fine-tune your character exactly to your liking, for example you can make your character a fast and agile bullet sprayer, or go for a tankish build with high health and heavy knockback resistance.

I also enjoyed the dozens of different pieces of equipment you can get for your head, torso and legs that affect your defense stats for different types of firepower, plus they can have attribute perks like increasing your max health or reload speed. Each individual piece of armour has a disinct look, too, allowing you to customize your character's style. You can channel your inner Star-Lord with a simple leather jacket and helmet, turn into your own cyberpunk version of Iron Man, wear beefy space marine gear like Marcus Fenix, plus plenty of other futuristic styles.

Didn't Like: Energy Health Regen

One gameplay element that I found super annoying is how enemies regenerate their health if they walk too far away from their starting positions. Combat in The Ascent is fast and furious, and sometimes you may need to create some space between you and enemies to reload, heal up or just to catch a breather. But if you move even slightly out of the combat zone enemies usually retreat and immediately heal back to full. Not only is this irritating but it takes away from the game's immersion.

This auto-heal gets even worse for the really tough enemies—there where a few times I got minibosses down to 20% health or less, but needed to back up a bit to heal or reload. Sure enough my adversary would retreat and bam, they're back to up 100% health. Ugg, just annoying. While I don't think this auto-heal system should be in the game in the first place, the devs could have at least made the regen slower so you have the chance to dive back into battle before they're all healed up.

Didn't Like: Spongy Enemies

In the latter half of the game enemies can get quite spongy, which took away somewhat from the fast-paced flow of combat. I would have rather had large waves of weaker enemies rush at me, similar to say Smash TV versus having a handful of tanky enemies attack and slow the pace of combat down. You can upgrade weapons to counteract some of this, but the upgrades are quite low, like increasing your gun's max damage by one or two—oh yay. I still enjoyed myself towards the end game but certainly the first half of the game has a much better flow of combat.

The Verdict

The Ascent is an excellent top-down shooter with a great cyberpunk aesthetic, exhilarating combat and some neat RPG systems to boot. If you like arcade action and fast-paced combat, this is the game for you. It's a great start to what I hope is a new franchise because I certainly would be down for a sequel, a few years down the road.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

The Ascent details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital
Genre: Twin-stick shooter
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.