Reviews

The Ascent – A Mountain Too Great

The Ascent – A Mountain Too Great

We thought we would do something a bit different for our coverage of The Ascent. Below is a series of Twitter DMs between Dylan and Paul, over a period of a week, chatting about their experience with the game.

Dylan: Just had a quick look at The Ascent. Seems cool, if a bit PC-port-ish. Controls don’t feel too refined and text is so tiny on the TV I can hardly read it.

Paul: The text is bothering me. Having just played another twin-stick shooter that was definitely made for console. I don’t totally agree with the controls point, though. Feels pretty clean to me.

Dylan: I was more meaning how the aim feels like it needs to be precise, or at least have a stronger soft lock. But might just need to get used to it. Also, cannot figure out how I threw a grenade.

Paul: Press the Left Stick, but you don’t have them right away. You can also change the aim assist to help with any of those other issues.

Dylan: Ah good to know. Yep, aiming is much better now. I did get the grenade and pressed it, but it wouldn’t work in the middle of combat. I threw one without realising how. Am very impressed with the level of detail in the environments. Especially with lighting playing across scenes from neon signage or workers sparking in the background. When the camera pulls out to show the scale of scenes, it is very cool.

Paul: The enemy AI even on those basic drones is impressive as well. They react to firefights around them, running away startled or being shot to pieces in the chaos.

Dylan: Played a bit more. Have put every skill point into critical and it’s paying off. I hardly need to take cover, just be aggressive and kick arse! Noticed that if you lead groups too far from their spawn/camp, they just stop and run back, so you can repeat several times to whittle them down, as when you die your progress in the world (and XP) carries through.

Paul: So, there’s a bug that is stopping me from quitting to the main menu of the game. Also, do you feel like it was clearly designed for co-op primarily and then they tacked on single player later?

Dylan: I’ve had weird audio bugs. The difficulty did ramp up very quickly. But then I’m kinda used to tackling coop games solo (I have a strange attraction to them that inevitably wanes towards their end game). I have to say that the initial magic has worn off. The game tells me to keep checking weapon vendors for new guns, but they just have the same 3 ones that I own. It costs 1000 to taxi anywhere (with noticeable load times), and the difficulty of mobs has seen me dying repeatedly. In fact, this is the first new-gen game that has made me notice load times, which is a bit of a worry.

Paul: I really think they designed for co-op and then declared it to be single-player as well. The balancing just isn’t right.

Dylan: Also, it is so visually dense that each area so far has no artistic distinction. The journey between areas is so vast and convoluted that it becomes irksome rather than something to engage with, and quickly brings to bear the realisation that much of it was likely procedurally generated.

Paul: Agree with everything there.

Dylan: I feel that it is at its best when in tighter corridor confines, as there is more of a sense of progress, whereas the sprawling open areas, while impressive, quickly become marathons of backtracking and opaque fast travel. The mission will tell you a vague instruction, but all you do is follow a green mission marker for ages and shoot anything that comes at you. Which just becomes a bit bland after a while. So how have you found menu navigation and such? I’ve really struggled. In fact, I’ve sold guns I haven’t wanted to because I thought I was in the Sell menu not the Buy at a store. And I always fumble to negotiate the menus for skills, armour, and so on. It just feels like a
mess on console.

Paul: As I progressed further through the game, the more diverse the environments and those inhabiting those spaces became. Most of my gripes are minor, but it’s the combat that caused me the most concern. Not because it doesn’t feel good, because the AI is fantastic, forcing you in and out of cover, shifting from place to place, while the twin-stick controls feel great as well, it’s just a simple case of the game feeling as though it was developed with co-op in mind solely, with single player being an afterthought. I’ve tried a bit of co-op now and the ease with which you can manage encounters when you’ve got partners to help cover the space is quite noticeable.

Dylan: I encountered a 20% cap for investing skill points in critical, which is a bit disappointing and doesn’t allow you to push at the edges of character builds. I liked the idea of crouching and high fire, but I haven’t found an easy way to remember or tell, visually, if I’m crouched or not, particularly during prolonged encounters when the shit really ramps up. The Ascent feels to me like a great 2-hour experience that quickly reaches its scope and then just stretches it out via repetitive geography and random encounters. It looks and feels great to play, but only for a short while.

Paul: The core is rock solid, I cannot complain with any of the systems working along in the background, it’s just that, as you say, they don’t really have a long shelf life. It’s a shame because The Ascent ticks a lot of boxes, but it just doesn’t come together as the whole that you’d expect

The Ascent was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by the publisher.