I spent the majority of my playthrough of The Ascent on PS5 running. Whether running errands for crime bosses and shady back-alley lowlifes in one of the games’ numerous side-missions, running to cover under a hail of bullets during hectic firefights or backtracking through neon-soaked cityscapes and grimy slums, I did a lot of running. While The Ascent’s visuals and setting are clearly heavily inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, I didn’t expect the gameplay to take the title so literally.
Release Date: March 24th, 2022 (PS5, PS4) | July 29th, 2021 (Xbox, PC)
Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital
Availability: PSN, Microsoft Store, Steam, Retail
Following Curve Games and Neon Giants’ announcement last month, The Ascent finally makes its way to PlayStation platforms. The game sees our protagonist working as an Indent, a slave, performing menial tasks within the futuristic dystopia of Veles. We learn almost immediately that the megacorporation that pulls our strings, the Ascent Group, has suddenly and shockingly collapsed, creating a power vacuum. Crime lords, syndicates and rival corporations are violently ready to fill the void left by the Ascent Group. It is up to the player to prevent these factions from starting an all-out war, discovering what happened to the Ascent Group and maybe securing their freedom away from a life of servitude.
The premise is simple but the game is deep with lore and provides a handy codex of information for those wishing to delve deep into the history of Veles, its inhabitants, terminology and technology. The story unfolds through fully voiced cutscenes that move the plot along at a decent pace with some distinct and interesting characters.
Players can create their character using the serviceable, though limited, character creator. The system is basic but allows quick production of an avatar to jump into the action. The opening moments of the game adequately introduce most of the gameplay mechanics you’ll be using throughout the games’ roughly 12-hour runtime.
Playing either solo or in local or online co-op, The Ascent is a twin-stick shooter through and through with the left stick for player movement and the right stick for aiming. While not groundbreaking, the controls are tight and responsive. However, it is a shame that the adaptive triggers of the Dualsense were not utilised to produce that extra level of immersion for the games’ arrival on PS5.
Weapon variety is impressive with an array of pistols, shotguns, rifles and launchers on offer that can be acquired from downed enemies or purchased from one of the weapon vendors throughout Veles. The path to enlightenment and freedom in The Ascent is a bloody one, paved with gore and sinew. Bullets rip through skin and flesh explodes from enemies in fountains of claret, muscle and bone. During my playthrough I favoured a combination of a slow yet powerful rocket launcher and a blisteringly fast automatic rifle known as The Dread. This combo enabled me to deal huge damage to hulking, mechanised combat droids or keep waves of swift-footed henchmen where I needed them.
Augmentations compliment the gunplay by giving you two special abilities to squash your foes. After toying around with various loadouts, I eventually stuck with the hydraulic slam and propulsion leap augmentations. These abilities allowed me to perform a hydraulic punch to push enemies away or launch into crowds with an explosive area of effect attack respectively.
The last piece of the combat puzzle is the Tactical Item. Early on these were limited to different types of grenades but eventually enabled regular deployment of my very own Pocket Mech. The Pocket Mech allowed me to survive against swarms of highly accurate enemies or go toe-to-toe with some seriously tough bosses.
Given the prevalence of conversations around accessibility within gaming, I was pleased to note several colour-blind mode options within The Ascents’ settings. Additionally, options for altering the size and visibility of subtitles are a welcome inclusion for my aging peepers. However, it appears that accessibility starts and stops with visual options.
I normally experience little resistance playing through games on normal or hard difficulties, but I found several encounters in The Ascent so overwhelmingly brutal that even after switching the difficulty down to easy, I was barely able to scrape out a victory. I enjoyed the challenge but feel that other players will find little enjoyment within these moments.
The gameplay doesn’t diverge from the ‘go here, kill that’ formula apart from a few missions that require you to capture and hold a point while enemies surround you. Firefights are fast and frenetic and require you to use cover effectively. An essential mechanic for survival allows you to aim high and over cover to continue firing from safety. This proved a winning strategy throughout the game. It’s a shame that there isn’t more variety to the mission structure as the gorgeous environments ultimately just become set dressing for something we’ve played hundreds of times before.
Boss battles do punctuate some of the monotony of the run and gun template, with big, chunky designs that are a joy to behold and satisfying to take down. Boss fights are fairly straightforward affairs but are elevated to greatness thanks to Pawel Blaszczak’s perfect synthwave score which erupts with every boss encounter.
Blaszczak’s score permeates every moment of The Ascent and adds waves of atmosphere to proceedings here. The music is evocative and certainly a strong contender for one of the best videogame soundtracks of this year (or dare I say, ever).
On their way to uncover the mystery behind the Ascent Group’s collapse, players will traverse impeccably detailed environments that mirror those seen in movies like the aforementioned Blade Runner. Rain-soaked concrete and steel is paired with oriental decorations and neon lights. Lower classed slums are littered with clubs, bars and merchants and contrast drastically to the lofty, clean Pinnacle building where Veles’ elite dwell with their expansive sci-fi horizons and neatly trimmed grassy lawns. The visuals are beautiful throughout and the level of character given to the environments is truly awesome.
And that’s a good thing too, because you’ll be running through them repeatedly. There were moments when I wondered if I’d missed an exit, or an elevator at the end of a mission that would have taken me to where I needed to be next. It was never the case. About a third of the way through the game you’ll be able to summon taxis to chauffeur you around a bit quicker but they have limited range, meaning you’re going to be plodding along with the achingly slow movement speed for a lot of your playthrough.
Lastly, on the subject of speed, load times on startup and when restarting from a death or mission failure are surprisingly slow given the PS5’s internal SSD but not entirely unexpected as The Ascent experience similar performance on Microsoft’s consoles last year. Once loaded though, the game ran smoothly for me with only one or two frame drops throughout the entire playtime.
If you can overlook the almost non-stop plodding between locations, The Ascent is a beautiful action-RPG that, when combined with its stellar soundtrack, transports you into the shoes of Rick Deckard in Blade Runner… if Rick Deckard occasionally jumped into a mech to mow down waves of space gremlins that is.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS5
Summary - Very GoodSummary - Very Good
- Highly detailed, beautiful cyberpunk environments.
- The dark synthwave musical score is superb.
- Plenty of weapons and augmentation varieties to try.
- Slow movement speed and constantly running everywhere gets old fast.
- Repetitive gameplay and mission structure.
- Long load times take you out of the experience.