Cyberpunk-inspired games have seen a real explosion in popularity ever since CD Projekt Red famously decided to put its own stamp on the genre. One game to hop this trend and adopt a similar setting is The Ascent, the debut project from Swedish studio Neon Giant. The game is a twin-stick shooter that features plenty of tactical depth and a seamless open world for players to engage with and explore. Ever since the game has been revealed, I've been itching to get my hands on it and that's why I jumped at the chance when I was given the opportunity recently to sample the opening two hours of the game.
The Ascent starts at a very pivotal time for our user-created character. A mega corporation known as The Ascent Group, which owns them and pretty much all their surroundings, has collapsed under some pretty mysterious circumstances. Everyday life for our character has been completely altered and they are forced to take up arms against a newfound threat that is threatening to jeopardise their district. The voice acting here I found to be AAA quality and it was great to see that there were many different dialogue options present to give users the option to either quickly move on or delve deeper into the finer details.
The Ascent should feel awfully familiar for those acquainted with twin-shooters, but it sets itself apart from others in the genre by having an added amount of tactical depth. Using the left and right mouse buttons, players can adjust the height of their weapons and both positions have their own set of advantages. By using the high stance, you can easily stagger enemies and fire over cover and using the lower stance, you can more easily hit threats lower down on the ground. I really like this style of shooting, as it pushed me to read my surroundings during every bullet exchange and not just blindly fire at what was ahead of me.
Along with this tactical depth, players have plenty of freedom when it comes to shaping their character's combat abilities and there are no set classes present. Players have many different modules and augmentations that can grant their characters active and passive abilities and these can be equipped and swapped out at any point by visiting a Grafter. One augmentation we were able to use sent out a powerful explosive blast and this caused enemies to catch on fire. Along with these abilities, you also earn points for leveling up just like in a typical RPG and these can be allocated to improve your core skills in combat.
Whilst I did enjoy the combat, I was surprised to see how quickly the difficulty skyrocketed. Things started off simple, with encounters being against smaller ground-based foes, but I soon found myself taking on wave after wave of humanoid enemies, and I died several times due to being surrounded and feeling overwhelmed. I should note though, that I did play the game completely solo, so it's possible that things feel more balanced when with a group. Also, whilst things were pretty tough, checkpoints were plentiful and I was pleased to see that many enemies remained slaughtered and on the ground once I respawned.
The game's cyberpunk-inspired world is seamless to explore, as there are no irritating loading screens present to greet you when moving between different areas. I have to give the developers credit, as I found that its dreary futuristic world looked absolutely glorious in 4K and areas like its main hub felt vibrant and alive with many shops to explore and many alien creatures for you to interact with. Sure, its rather simplistic style might not push your Xbox Series to the absolute limits, but I still found it stunning how everything here pops from the flashes of fiery explosions to the radiant neon glow of its many towering street signs.
The Ascent looks to be another quality exclusive within Microsoft's catalogue that is firing on all cylinders. Its combat offers plenty of depth with two styles of shooting and many equippable augmentations and modules, and it's dreary cyberpunk inspired world feels vibrant and alive. That said, its difficulty did unexpectedly spike, and I hope that this is something the developers can address ahead of launch. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when The Ascent launches on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series on July 29, 2021.