Neon lights, bionic implants and an unfathomably massive and mysterious futuristic mega-city filled with mobs of enemies ranging sword-wielding cyberpunk gangs to hulking robot spiders? Sign me up.
“The Ascent” is an action game set the futuristic city called The Arcology, a mix somewhere between Judge Dredd’s Mega City One and Bespin’s Cloud City from “Star Wars,” that draws on some tried-and-true gaming classics while also pushing the genre into a gaming experience that truly stands out.
The basic formula of “The Ascent” is draws on other action RPGs like the venerable “Diablo” series where you and up to three friends will fight through different levels packed with enemies to kill, chests to open and bosses to really put you to the test. Along the way you’ll be improving your character’s equipment, weapons and skills to go up against tougher enemies and progress through the story.
Where “The Ascent” diverges from the formula is in its moment-to-moment action. Instead of clicking buttons to cast spells and abilities, you’ll spend much of the running and dodging with your left analog stick and aiming your gun with your right. This twin-stick style of gameplay isn’t entirely new, but everything combines into a game that feels fresh and exciting.
While the first few hours of the game feel like a drag (though, at the very least, there’s some good world-building), the game really ramps up quickly into big, frenetic battles where dodging and prioritizing enemies is a must if you want to survive. It’s a nice mix of action and strategy, and it’s even better when you’re playing with friends.
But what really stands out to me the most about “The Ascent” is its frankly jaw-dropping rendition of a cyberpunk world. The Arcology is a massive mega city whose backing corporation just went out of businesses due to a glitch in the AI that runs it and you’re tasked with setting things right before the city runs out of supplies and raiders catch on that the hired security has been laid off. The story ultimately doesn’t amount to much, but it serves as an excellent reason to travel through the many different and varied areas of the mega city.
There’s spooky, deserted corridors, industrial zones, testing facilities and bustling marketplaces that would put the glitzy but shallow “Cyberpunk 2077” of last year to shame. While most of the game is played from an angled view from above, there are moments where the camera will pan or zoom out to focus on truly epic structures within the building. Gigantic power generators, a horde of robot spiders maintaining machinery and rockets ready to take flight. It’s all washed in a dazzling mix of neon lights and grit that give it so much character and atmosphere.
I frequently found myself stunned by the world they built and the mystery of what might be next helped drive me through the game, which can be completed in about 15 hours.
As it currently stands, “The Ascent” has some ugly flaws that will hopefully be ironed out over the next few weeks through updates. On the PC, I ran into a couple headaches when it came to getting a multiplayer match working smoothly and had to drop out of the game to get out of a stalled animation or menu a few times each game session. It also appears that the version available on the PC through Xbox Games Pass is lacking some technical features that are available on the $30 version available on Steam, though developers are promising to bring parity to it sooner than later.
Still, The Ascent is great fun — particularly in big fights with a friend at your side as you dodge around enemies to get the upper hand on the big, armored bosses — in a world that is just dripping in style and detail that I hope the developers continue to push ahead, creating more missions and more content. I’ll be ready to suit up for whatever comes next.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.