Review: The Ascent

The Ascent is, at its core, a twin-stick shooter. But it’s so much more than that – in fact, it’s so many things that at points it kind of loses its identity a little bit, but doesn’t stop being great fun.

Taking place in a neon hellscape now synonymous with the cyberpunk aesthetic, The Ascent looks amazing. Moody scenes juxtaposed with bright, illuminated colours are encapsulated in a Carpenter-esque beating soundtrack. It ramps up at points too, which, when it matches the action, is a hell of a good time. 

Little effects like smoke oozing out of grills really bring the environment alive, and you quite early become aware that this isn’t just a ‘go anywhere, kill everything’ twin-stick shooter. It’s got a significant RPG element, with stats and equipment and sub-quests all over the place. It’s also a looter-shooter, as gear comes in different flavours, each (hopefully) better than the last, causing you to dip in and out of menus for better guns and trousers. 

It’s this mix that is slightly to the detriment of The Ascent as whilst all of the elements are good, they don’t always interlink as seamlessly as you would want them to. A good example is that me and some friends (yes, it has co-op) go into a club/arena and start wrecking bad guys. There’s a cover mechanic, which initially feels odd and this helps convey the way you’re supposed to play – this isn’t a twin-stick shooter bullet-hell type game, it’s more of a top-down ‘careful’ shooter. Taking your time, covering your friends, covering yourself and progressing through the open-world is important. The music ramps up, it’s really pounding now and…. dialogue trees. It reminded me a bit of New Machina with the cool music when the action is flowing, but instead of moving into another action-frenetic scene, it stops and drops, and moves into another of its genres.

The open world has another challenge – navigation. Being top-down (well, isometric really if we’re being specific) is that there’s an element of back-tracking. Whether it be to get to quest givers, find materials or just your good old-fashioned fetch quests, you’ll trawl back and forth across the world more than a few times. One thing that challenged me though is that because you have multiple tiers, particularly in the city hub world, you can often see exactly where you want to go, but have to go find the appropriate staircase to get there. It’s a bit like in classic Zelda where you can see an item on the other side of a wall, but don’t know how to find it (and end up going through a dungeon just to get there). It’s part and parcel of gaming, I understand that, but I feel like the built-up, interconnected cyberpunk world, itself gritty, claustrophobic and intense, just made this experience all the worse. It gets slightly better with fast travel but sticks the landing with a limited taxi (fast travel from anywhere) and elevator system to get to exactly the right place. 

The good news though, is that since its initial release on PC and Xbox a year ago, lots of bugs and glitches have been ironed out for the Playstation 5 version. The grips and moans of a co-op shooter that you can’t co-operate in are gone, a lot of the problems I had initially triggering objectives in the last versions are also gone, so The Ascent can properly trade of it’s high points. And there are many. 

By this point, if you’re a fan of cyberpunk style games or top-down shooters, you’re going to be interested in The Ascent. And the good news is that it’s a solid recommendation (even if it’s not a complete slam dunk, but it’s close).

Reviewed on PS5

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