Sometimes I wonder, does anyone think about the little man? You know those NPC quest givers, those side characters that utter a word or two. How is the videogame world shown to them? Imagine being one of those and you observe the main character passing you by, going on with their quest and saving the world eventually. Imagine having a taste of that good life and with you being the protagonist for once. I think that The Ascent unintentionally delves deeper into that premise.
The so-called Ascent Group arcology is a corporate-run metropolis stretching high into the sky and filled with creatures from all over the galaxy. You are one of the no-name workers enslaved by the corporation and sentenced to a life of hard labor until you eventually pay off your debt (which is predictably enormous). But here comes the plot twist. One day, The Ascent Group shuts down for unknown reasons and the survival of your district is threatened. Find some weapons, armor, augment your body, level up here and there, and try to find out what is happening. For once, be the protagonist of your own story instead of a boring NPC.
The Ascent is a twin-stick action RPG with a simple yet fun gameplay loop. Go through tight and interconnected corridors, dispose of the enemies along the way and be smart with allocating those skill points after each level up. There is a huge arsenal of weapons but you’re limited to carrying only two at the same time, a primary and a side gun. You can also occasionally throw a grenade at a group but I’d often miss in the heat of the shootout (and a painfully slow cooldown for using the grenades didn’t help either). For what is worth, The Ascent is pretty fun. It understands the genre that it sides with, the feeling of mowing down swarms of enemies in claustrophobic corridors and it strikes a fine balance between being challenging yet fair. A great example of a game where you get exactly what you paid for. But alas, there is more to the story here. A plot twist in a review. The Ascent has another selling point that is barely advertised on the store page yet it is a big part of the game’s charm.
And that would be this, the visuals. The story of the game is set in a grim cyberpunk world, filled with neon lights, struggle for survival and dog eat dog mentality. It’s something that becomes shown pretty early in the story as soon as you get to your district. But when it comes to visuals, things become somewhat charming and deceptively reassuring. For all the horrid things happening in it, the world of Veles walks a thin line between an aesthetically pleasing acid trip and an urban environment made of hundreds of brick & steel buildings with aggressive neon flashing lights reminding you to spend your hard earnings. The character design is often grotesque and after a while, you’ll just learn to label all the NPC as “mutants” and “not a mutant, but almost there”. Honestly, it’s sometimes hard to take a minute and admire and the visuals during all of those blood-fueled shootouts, but it’s definitely worth it to stop and stare once in a while.
When it comes to the soundtrack, The Ascent doesn’t disappoint on that front. The soundtrack is a mix of heavy machinery fighting with itself and producing some unexpected, yet surprisingly tense sounds as you explore Veles. The music during boss fights also deserves an honorable mention in being adrenaline-inducing as well as distracting while a mutant that is triple your size is chasing you around a massive steel pillar. Fun. All in all, the music perfectly compliments the overall aesthetic of the game.
Whether you play it solo or with three other friends in co-op, The Ascent gives you way more than you expected. Later on, the more augmentations you unlock, the more variety is presented to you in the combat and in mowing down large clusters of enemies. It is also surprisingly lengthy for an indie action RPG, with the expectancy of 10 to 15 hours if you’re just here for the story, and over 20 if you decide to explore every nook and cranny while completing the sidequests. It is a game that you can play at your own pace, occasionally taking breaks to explore the gorgeous visuals of Veles or find some buddies and steamroll through everything, painting all the walls red. Whatever path your choose, it’s always fun and that’s all that matters in the end.
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