Style is more important than content
The Ascent takes place on the corporate-torn planet Velez, which, it seems, has absorbed, in general, all the characteristic features and clichés of the cyberpunk genre. Neon signs, augmentations, giant stripper holograms and war robots coexist here with widespread poverty, devastation and crime. The situation is complicated by the fact that the largest corporation on the planet, Ascent Group, suddenly declares itself bankrupt and closes down – millions of its forced employees remain on the street, and competitors unleash a real war for the vacated market space. Players get the role of former mercenaries of “AG” who decide not to sit without work and dive headlong into the flaring up conflict, as expected, getting into its very inferno.
Civilians seem to be specially placed so as to constantly find themselves in the thick of a firefight.
Gameplay The Ascent is a co-op top-down shooter set in a semi-open world. Players have access to a relatively large map full of loot and tasks for research, and almost the only gameplay activity boils down to intense battles that happen on Veles literally at every turn.
However, the first thing that catches your eye when you launch The Ascent is the unexpectedly impressive visuals. No screenshots can convey how beautiful Veles is in dynamics. The isometric camera in the game is strictly fixed, but each frame is simply full of movement and small details. Soft light of neon signs, dozens of peaceful characters in city squares and markets, constant movement in the background and foreground – the developers from Neon Giant really tried to fill the world of The Ascent with life, and they did it very well. Moreover, we are talking here not only about the design of the environment, but also about the technical component of the graphics. The quality of animations, ray tracing, juicy effects and explosions – you simply cannot find fault with the picture on the screen.
But there is no time to be distracted by all this beauty, because The Ascent’s combat system turned out to be moderately dynamic and tense. Shooting makes up a large part of the gameplay, and it is implemented in such a way that it was interesting to fight until the very end.
The weapons in The Ascent are quite varied, and it is very pleasant to shoot from them. All enemies react adequately to hits, the recoil of the barrels regularly makes itself felt, and the player has to constantly change the angle of fire: the fire from the hip is aimed at cover, and in order to reach the enemies behind them, it is necessary to raise the weapon to the shoulder. In addition, the player can get hold of a couple of active abilities and a kind of “ultimate”, and the ubiquitous rolls and an unexpectedly useful, but completely optional cover system will help to avoid damage. However, it will not work for a long time to sit behind the boxes in any case – numerous enemies know how to enter the flanks and surround, and still do not hesitate to use grenades and other gadgets. Not to say that the enemies in The Ascent are exceptionally smart, but they also do not allow you to relax. In addition, different enemies often require different approaches.
The game can be played in a company of up to four people, but it is not at all tailored for a cooperative. Two auras and the ability to raise a wounded ally – that’s all team interaction
High technologies, low level of game design
To prevent the player from getting bored of endless shooting, The Ascent regularly tries to diversify the process with new types of enemies or gadgets in the heroes’ arsenal. But, unfortunately, the game does not provide for any more noticeable chips. There are simply not enough unusual combat scenes, interesting arenas, unique situations in The Ascent. Shooting here is undoubtedly fascinating, but not at all memorable. In addition, at some point, the local combat system begins to noticeably suffer from an acute lack of depth.
To fix this, in theory, the pumping system should. Much like a serious RPG, The Ascent’s characters have a variety of stats, and things look pretty promising at first. Characteristics of heroes not only affect the effectiveness of different combat techniques, but also adequately combine with equipment: some indicators improve mobility and direct damage, others increase the effectiveness of certain weapons or gadgets. The found clothing both provides protection and increases the stats, and the set augmentations seriously expand the character’s capabilities in battle.
But the bosses turned out to be really interesting and memorable. This particular one, however, is mainly due to bugs
But all this is only on paper. In fact, it quickly becomes clear that the progression system in The Ascent might well not exist: no matter how you level up the character, the increase in numbers is so low that it almost does not affect a real battle. There is no space for building builds, as well as the risk of “pumping the character incorrectly”, there is simply no here, and you quickly lose any interest in the progression. The only thing that really affects the battles is those active abilities, but their set is strictly limited to the three available slots. And they rarely take the gameplay beyond the formula “just shoot in all directions.” If you play games for that, then don’t worry: The Ascent is fine with that. But everything that goes beyond the skirmishes is much weaker here.
Weapons can be improved, but this only gives very insignificant bonuses to damage
Veles came out not only beautiful and lively, but also big enough. Moreover, the locations have enough visual variety: factories and laboratories, VIP clubs and brothels, favelas and rich areas … However, there can be no talk of any interactivity – an open world is needed here only so that the player has somewhere to go for new loot. At the same time, all the boxes are pre-mapped, and you quickly forget about a serious study of locations. And it is simply inconvenient to navigate in the city: the map is not very clear, and the guide marker often malfunctions and leads completely to the wrong place.
Side quests are also disappointing. Numerous optional activities are wholly and completely reduced to “kill X enemies” or “fetch it” without a single glimpse of originality. But you will have to go through at least a few of them: although The Ascent does not force players to grind levels and equipment, the ending of the game in this regard literally breaks off the chain. If at the time of the final task your party has not reached the maximum level, the completion of the plot risks turning into an unbearable test.
However, this is not such a big problem: the plot of The Ascent is so complete that you stop following it almost immediately. Served exclusively through dialogues, the narrative does not involve the player at all and quickly rolls into a mess of names and titles. And here one could say, they say, the plot in such games is still needed only for the sake of creating a context for the shootings. This is partly true, but in The Ascent it is noticeable that the developers tried to fill the game with serious storytelling. There are some really bright characters among the characters, and the jokes were mostly successful. But the most important thing is the game lore: the scattered scattered notes and in-game code show that the world of The Ascent actually has a detailed backstory and some really interesting episodes. For example, local cyberpunk is diluted with aliens and interstellar flights, and the notes reveal the difficult fate of mankind and the history of numerous mega-corporations and street gangs. Another thing is that putting it all together is still boring, because the connection between the hidden lore and real game events is practically not felt, which is why the notes are perceived rather as completely foreign stories that have nothing to do with what is happening with the player.
But both the ruined plot and unnecessary mechanics can be forgiven for a game that copes so well with its central task. But what can no longer be forgiven is simply disgusting technical performance. Everything is bugged in The Ascent. Sounds, collisions, T-poses of characters, a broken path indicator – you quickly stop paying attention to this. But when the game once again refuses to spawn a quest item, breaks an important script, or simply rolls out another fatal bug, it’s hard to force yourself to start from the very beginning. Even for the sake of such great shooting.
So what is the secret to the success of the imperfect The Ascent? Perhaps the players just really missed good top-down shooters. Obviously, games in this genre are still capable of giving a whole sea of emotions, but the industry too rarely spoils us with good isometric shooters. And The Ascent is definitely a worthy representative of its genre. True, a few serious augmentations would still have helped her.