For the best part of the 2010s, CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 was the cyberpunk game we were all waiting on. There was a huge amount of hype surrounding the title and following the success of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we all hoped it would deliver a game of equal, if not greater, quality - but that wasn't the case. Seven months after that release, we're still waiting on that exciting and impressive cyberpunk game. Today, Neon Giant, a studio consisting of a small team of industry veterans, is looking to fill that void with its upcoming ambitious action-shooter RPG, The Ascent.
Set in The Ascent Group, a city owned and run by a corporation of the same namesake, you play as a worker who is thrust into a life of danger after the corporation shuts down for an unknown reason, leaving the various districts of the city to fend for themselves. Under the command of stack boss Boone (a crime boss, if you will), The Ascent takes you across the varying regions of the metropolis to meet, discuss with, and fight rival gangs, all while doing whatever it takes to secure the survival of the grim district you call home.
It's a pretty run-of-the-mill cyberpunk narrative, where everyone, aside from the filthy rich, is grasping for survival in a brutal world. And, The Ascent goes one step further in reflecting that, as the game is set in the typical cyberpunk city: a sprawling, overpopulated metropolis plagued by grime and neon lights. Needless to say, it doesn't slack on the genre tropes at all.
But, The Ascent is unlike a lot of cyberpunk worlds we've seen before in games, because what Neon Giant has created is an incredibly diverse, living world that is crammed to the very brim with content. It doesn't matter where you venture, each location, each street, every nook and cranny feels like it has been created with the utmost care and precision, and it makes for a truly incredible game world. The really impressive part, that is to a degree a bit of a hindrance, is the scale of the map, as The Ascent's world is pretty huge. Granted, it plays from an isometric camera angle for the most part, meaning it doesn't feel as expansive as a first/third-person open world, but the map is so massive that you'll spend a pretty hefty amount of time simply moving between locations. If anything, the map could be a third smaller and still feel incredibly dense, which would be handy as it would eliminate the aimless wandering in between missions.
As for the combat, The Ascent plays like a twin-stick shooter, meaning you get a lot of fluid action, neatly wrapped-up in an engaging, and responsive package. It doesn't matter whether you use machine guns, sidearms, or excessively-powerful weapons, The Ascent's combat always feels great to play - and that extends to the movement the title uses, which directly emphasises this system. It isn't particularly easy, and the way the enemy AI approaches fighting you accentuates this, but it is relentlessly fun to play and provides you with plenty of options to tackle combat scenarios differently.
On the topic of the enemies, The Ascent features a variety of foes that won't hesitate to kill you. Most wield some form of ranged weapon and will use the cover system, that basically allows you to hide and shoot without being open to taking damage, to their advantage. However, the melee and tankier enemies tend to prefer rushing you and forcing you to stay on the move, which makes combat all the more challenging as it often makes for a bullet-hell like experience. Then on top of that are the boss encounters, which are quite infrequent, but make for the most difficult and rewarding encounters. Each boss has its own unique set of mechanics, and will probably kill you a couple of times at least before you best it, but the fights are action-packed and engaging, and exciting to complete.
In fact, it's worth mentioning that The Ascent is not an easy game in any sense. The first few hours will lead you to think differently, but the various difficulty spikes and curves will ensure you will die... a lot. And there's nothing inherently wrong with this, even if the curve could be significantly less steep and still feel rewarding and challenging. It's the sort of design that can be incredibly jarring, and if anything frustrating, but if you can weather the hardcore nature, The Ascent makes for a compelling shooter experience.
But, there's more to this game, as The Ascent also features a bunch of RPG mechanics. Your character can be upgraded in a variety of ways to suit the style of gameplay that you prefer. Between investing skill points into core attributes that raise your character's stats (i.e, weapon accuracy, health, or critical hit chance, just to name a few), the title also has a broad customisation menu that allows you to pick and choose the weapons, armour, and augmentations that your character uses. All of these can be looted or bought in the game world, and each significantly affects how combat plays out. For example, if you enjoy running and gunning, you'll want to use skill points to improve your evasiveness, while wielding lighter weapons such as SMGs and hand cannons.
This RPG system is broad enough to give the player plenty of variety, without feeling overwhelming or confusing, which is something that the in-game map can't really speak for. As I mentioned earlier, The Ascent is pretty broad-in-scope, and there are a lot of places to explore. But, the world map is pretty complex and can often feel as though you need a degree in cartography to get about using it. If anything, you'll want to lean on the quest marker to get around, since it's much easier to follow.
In fact, this point can basically be traced back to the core positives and negatives of this game. What Neon Giant has delivered with The Ascent is a truly ambitious project that hits the right marks for the most part. It's absolutely stunning and the world feels as alive and 'cyberpunky' as what we all hoped would've been delivered in Cyberpunk 2077. The difficulty spikes do make me think that it might struggle to retain players looking for a more rounded experience, but the hardcore nature also fits well into the world that the developer has brought to life, and for that reason it's hard to see this game, created by a small indie team might I add again, as anything but truly impressive.