The Ascents cyberpunk future offers successful violence, but is dragged down somewhat by technical shortcomings and frustrating design decisions.
The future painted in The Ascent may well be classified as a very clear dystopia for everyone, except possibly by companies like Klarna. In this world, most people belong to different, gigantic companies like slaves. The companies themselves do not want to call it slavery, but in the end that is exactly what it is. You take on the role of such a slave, who happens to be very good at shooting people to pieces.
It quickly turns out that propensity for murder is an extremely important trait in this pitch-black (albeit neon-lit) depiction of the future. Like so many cyberpunk worlds, people have skimped on all forms of color. Maybe because the companies’ neon signs should be visible so much better against the dark facades, and reflected so much better in the rain puddles in the dirty alleys. It’s atmospheric, of course.
Of course, it all feels extremely familiar. Uppsala-based studio Neon Giant has taken inspiration from all sorts of cyberpunk depictions, but perhaps above all from Blade Runner. In fact, an obvious tribute to the police headquarters from Ridley Scott’s classic can be seen in one place in the city. The Ascent picks no points for originality, but both one and two style points, because it looks fantastic.
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When the game starts, the company that owns you has just completely crashed. The board has gone underground and no one knows where they are or what has happened to them. What’s worse, the AI that controls all of the company’s systems (and thus the entire city) is down. This leads very quickly to violent chaos, of course. The company’s totalitarian rule meant at least a kind of perverted order and order – but now it has been smashed to pieces. Thus, it is hardly possible to move around in the city without some fanaticism trying to blow one’s head off. So damn typical, now that you finally have one of the few opportunities as a slave to get some time off.
That will not be the case now, as I said. Instead, you are sent out to try to find out what happened, and preferably try to solve the crisis – or at least close the worst holes to alleviate the chaos a bit. The result is a journey that is not as full of twists, mysteries, friendships and betrayals as one might have hoped. Nor are there particularly many philosophical questions to ponder in the script. The whole thing is quite poorly presented, and the plot as such is not very engaging. I simply find it extremely difficult to care about the fuss and power struggles between various in my eyes equally disgusting, totalitarian companies that force me to carry out their filth. It matters who and who wins in the end, the rest of us still lose.
Also, there are not many other characters to attach to. Where Cyberpunk 2077 had a surprisingly lovable gallery of characters who tore to the bottom of society, so have The Ascent mostly a bunch of anonymous characters who come and go without making any impression. Some seem quite nice, but get no further space to develop beyond the sometimes rather crisp space creature designs.
Pang, you’re dead dead
Lucky then that most in The Ascent revolves around killing people, rather than talking to them. For the most part, you let your many firearms bring your case. Good thing, because the shooting is really satisfying. Only the clattering, thundering sounds of the weapons are wonderful – not to mention how they turn enemies into small wet puddles when you get a full hit.
You start with a large but fairly soft revolver, as well as a small machine gun. However, these are advantageously replaced as quickly as possible with larger and more effective murder tools. For my part, I used the first shotgun you get, throughout the game. Upgraded, it will be a veritable best, even if it only holds four cartridges. Overall, however, it is best to wait to upgrade the early weapons you find, as there are a limited number of upgrade parts and you will find more powerful variants over time.
The Ascent offers a pretty impressive arsenal to play with. There are machine guns with exploding bullets, energy guns with target beams and a minigun that fires a ridiculous amount of rockets. Yes, and then one of my favorites – a weapon that fires a bouncing saw blade that saws off enemies in the middle.
A few of the weapons feel redundant, but the vast majority have the potential to be deadly to the right enemies. Robots are sensitive to energy weapons, for example. However, it is a problem that you can only upgrade a few weapons, and can not downgrade those you no longer use to get the parts back. This means you have to take a chance on weapons that seem good. For later in the game, un upgraded weapons are quite ineffective and thus meaningless if you do not have material left to upgrade them with. It’s a shame, because I would have preferred to be able to play freely with such a large and entertaining arsenal of weapons.
Overall, it is precisely the role-playing elements in The Ascent the weakest bit in the game. In the case of weapons, the upgrade system degrades the game, rather than adding anything. After all, it is the action piece that is the game’s strength, and the opportunity to play freely in the battles had definitely raised the game a notch further. Because in the heat of battle, when limbs fly in all directions, robots explode and you throw away bursts of enemy bullets, so is The Ascent often really, really fun.
A glitch in the matrix
On the whole is The Ascent more of a twin stick shooter squeezed into a slightly uncomfortable role-playing suit. I love action role-playing games, but in this case I wonder if a more stripped-down framework would not have enhanced the gaming experience and saved us a number of frustrations. Not only in terms of the above-mentioned weapon upgrade system.
One of the game’s biggest problems is, as so often with role-playing games, bugs. I can usually live with bugs, but it can not be avoided that they can interfere and frustrate – especially in combination with other shortcomings.
IN The Ascent it is usually bugged missions that annoy. It happened to me far too often that I had to reload a game because an assignment could not be completed for various reasons. I often had to play through some rather difficult, sometimes poorly balanced sequences again.
In addition, the game is unclear at times, especially when it comes to side quests. Sometimes you simply cannot reach the place you need to go to complete a mission, but you will not know until you reach an insurmountable barrier. Because of the bugs, it is then also tricky to know if it is a bug, or if it is an actual design decision that you should not be able to move on yet.
In addition, simpler missions often happily send you off to areas of surviving enemies, which easily shoot you down with a shot before you even see them. If you are unlucky, you can then start again in the middle of the life-threatening area and hope that you can put your legs on your back and squat out before they get you again.
Several of these problems could have been avoided with less focus on role-playing systems with levels, a semi-open world and unevenly designed side quests. In other words, it’s not just a problem with bugs and lack of technology, but at times a bit dubious design.
When everything works as it should, it is a lovely violent cacophony of twin stick action. I just wish the time between the explosions would be more engaging.
Bandage for the wounds
In addition to firearms, during the game (it took me about 30 hours to complete all the game’s main and side missions – except one that bugged out for good) you also get access to various high-tech tools and cybernetic implants, to experiment with in battle.
It’s everything from energy fields that slow down enemy bullets, to mech suits, anti-gravity grenades and abilities that make enemies explode like water balloons when they die. It is definitely a welcome feature, which gives you a little more opportunities in addition to just rushing around and shooting, or pushing behind a cover.
I might have wanted a more effective alternative to healing myself. When you play several, it’s probably a minor problem (the game is probably a bit more fun overall in co-op, but I never found anyone to play with during the review period), but when you play solo it can be a little frustrating sometimes. You can, of course, set out a healing field, but it heals both you and the enemies, and in the more difficult battles you can seldom stand still for very long. There is also a variant that heals you to an earlier level after a certain time, but it is most good if you intend to make a crazy attack and take a lot of beatings, and then retreat until you heal again.
Overall, though The Ascent an entertaining action game, despite some frustrating moments. It’s damn nice and atmospheric, and I’m glad to see more of this world in the future after all.
I’m not going to hide under the chair that the concept of companies that own us all makes me a little paranoid, though. It would not have surprised me if in the future a box appears to tick when you make purchases on credit, where you can sell yourself as a slave. I will definitely happen to tick that box by mistake.
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Posthumanism minus the human
Three very practical cybernetic implants in The Ascent, which should become a reality as soon as possible.
Homing MIM – With this ability, you launch a stack of rockets that shorten the process with everyone who fights with you. Maybe a little overkill for everyday use, but it’s probably a practical thing to have. However, I wonder where in the body all the rockets are stored.
Tentakill – With this ability, you can summon tentacles that grab and chase the shit out of your enemies. It is highly unclear where these tentacles come from. It may open the door to an invasion of a Lovecraft-scented race of monsters, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Razor Dronettes – Perfect for you who just want to be at peace for a while. A handful of sharp drones begin to fly around you in a circle, so that everyone who gets too close becomes minced meat in the blink of an eye. A bit messy, maybe, but hopefully people will learn to keep their distance very quickly.
The Ascent is best as a heavy action game, but weaker as a role-playing game.