The Ascent Review – A Frenzied Murder Festival in a Dystopian Future | Action games
WWhen I was a kid, nothing beats our family’s weekly pilgrimage to the local Vidbiz video store. While my parents mulled over which thriller to digest with their take out, I was speechless at the colorful PlayStation games on the corner shelf. Renting games allows me to embark on interactive adventures that I would never have otherwise been able to afford – while consuming an entire pack of Sour Skittles. Xbox’s Game Pass subscription gives me a similar buzz, offering a library of games to choose from and giving gamers the chance to try weird or mediocre games they never would have purchased.
A good example is the sci-fi shooter The Ascent, the equivalent of a high octane but intellectually devoid of action movie. It’s flawed yet fun and atmospheric, set in a dark and predictable urban dystopia full of contract workers, shady mega-companies, and augmented outlaws. Developer Neon Giant has disguised The Ascent’s loot explosion as an anti-capitalist critique: the class division is embedded in the shady cyberpunk architecture of the planet Veles. Its most impoverished inhabitants are banished to the sewers while the wealthy citizens live in the neighborhoods above. As you ascend this tower-like metropolis, your grizzled mercenary fights tooth and nail to slowly – and literally – rise to the top echelons of society.
It’s hardly a pleasant place to live, but this city of shadows, rain, and reflected neon lights has an atmosphere. From the red-tinted market centers of Veles and Blade Runner to its slums, it certainly looks the part. But frustratingly, the writing of The Ascent never does its striking world justice. By the second hour, I was already mashing the “ignore dialogue” button, begging to bypass the chatter and go back to blasting.
Fortunately, what The Ascent lacks in a gripping dialogue it makes up for in the carnage. Playable alone or with a friend (locally or online), it combines Diablo’s stable and tempting loot drip with a unique arcade recreation of Gears of War shooting; shootouts allow you to dodge laser fire and take cover as you fight your way through hordes of enemies. It’s a bird’s eye kill festival that actually offers a challenge, where every shotgun blast or cybernetic ability translates into some pleasantly frantic and powerful onscreen action.
Neon Giant’s debut feels like a playable Judge Dredd. There’s one useful story that ties all the violence together, but it’s mostly about indiscriminately taking down henchmen. Everything in Veles stinks of death and corruption – and just like in Judge’s Mega City One, the only thing keeping the population of Veles under control is a chamber full of bullets. When it comes to the carnage, and especially when you’ve got a co-op buddy, this sci-fi shooter is at its bloody best. An influx of new weapons and stunning scenery makes the many battles fascinating, and skills ranging from an energy punch to a deployable army of explosive spider robots create some variety. Constantly going back and forth to chat with various unforgettable characters, however, is much less interesting, especially when there’s no reason to worry about what they have to say.
The Ascent is an atmospheric power fantasy, a cinematic cyberpunk escape where you can disengage your brain and indulge in abundant virtual violence. If you’re a Game Pass subscriber it’s worth a try – at £ 25 it’s harder to recommend.