Offering a richly-designed world and immersive combat, The Ascent changes your mind about not needing a twin-stick cyberpunk shooter in your life
Did you groan when you read cyberpunk in the title? We are with you, given 2020’s debacle with the much-awaited Cyberpunk 2077, which got fixed a bit too late. Fortunately, 2021 has brought many surprise hits: Outriders on PlayStation 5 and now The Ascent.
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A surprising indie game from a small team of developers — Neon Giant, based in Sweden — that will put most AAA (i.e. the ‘blockbusters’) titles to shame. Also, it reintroduces the ‘punk’ into ‘cyberpunk’ with a gorgeous neon-clad — and, yes, dystopic — world drenched in rain and ultra-violence.
You play an indentured labourer, known as ‘Indents’, working for an evil conglomerate known as The Ascent. Doomed to live out the rest of your days undertaking menial tasks, you crave freedom… until one day The Ascent suddenly shuts down and all chaos breaks loose.
The game feels special in many ways — right from the title screen to the beautiful intro video reminiscent of Bladerunner. The richly-designed setting more than makes up for the slightly run-of-the-mill storyline. Despite Neon Giant being small-scale studio, they have done really well with what they have. It does makeyou think: if this is what they can do on a low budget, what could they create with a AAA budget?
- Developer: Neon Giant
- Publisher: Curve Digital
- Price: ₹1,999 on Steam, Xbox and Windows PC
Bringing back twin-stick nostalgia
The Ascent is played from a Diablo-style isometric, top-down perspective, and it controls like a twin-stick shooter with one controlling your aim and the other your movement. It takes a bit of time to get used to as twin-stick shooters have not been this popular for years. Plus, given the time The Ascent takes to get to the good weapons, we recommend you have patience but the reward is worth it. In no time, you will be walking about hyper-detailed levels, shooting all sorts of cyberpunk enemies for XP to upgrade yourself and your guns.
The Ascent gives you a lot of guns, lets you upgrade them and there are plenty of satisfying pops and explosions. In fact, more than the time you spend shooting them, you will spend tweaking their various stats, and trying it on the local enemy population to spray paint the walls shades of red.
Fair warning: no cyberpunk setting is complete without hyper-violence.
Among the many cyberpunk aesthetics, influences from American comic book artist Geof Darrow — who is best known for his conceptual work on The Matrix and his extremely detailed art styles — stand out loud and proud. It almost feels like The Ascent has drawn from Darrow’s art as inspiration, because the environment design is so packed with mechanical detail along with the signs of urban decay. The lighting is gorgeous, especially if you have a ray-tracing-enabled graphics performance unit and a beefy machine to push things along.
Not without flaws
The Ascent is a great game, but it is not without flaws. Though it is a gorgeous game, it does not seem very well-optimised, often stuttering at 40 frames per second on my adequate 3070-equipped PC. The other annoyance that should be patched is the weird ‘hold to continue’ mechanism for skipping any modal. It just feels way too long, so much so it is actually a fight against your muscle memory that you developed for such an interaction.
Ultimately, The Ascent scratches a cyberpunk itch that should have been scratched a year ago. Yes it has problems, but it brings along excellent style, substance and some fun shooter action that will have you demanding an immediate sequel.
The writer is a tech and gaming enthusiast who hopes to one day finish his sci-fi novel