The Ascent (PC – Xbox Game Pass)

A cyberpunk arcade like action RPG with both solo and co-op? Intriguing, go on. Oh, it’s a twin stick shooter? Ok, that means isometric view. Not bad. Let’s try it out. Oh, what do you know? That wasn’t a half bad experience. There’s a lot to unpack here, but the gist is that it’s pretty generic gameplay, with a pointless story, covered up by fantastic graphics! The level of detail in each area, each zone! Simply blown away. However, I’ve long since learned that no matter how sparkly you make your game, if the core gameplay loop isn’t fun enough, you’re gonna have problems. Thankfully, there was just enough here to keep me entertained for the length of the game.

Bladerunner vibes.
My cosplay DoomGuy

It took me 15 hours to complete the main story and every side mission that I could do provided it wasn’t bugged out (three didn’t work for me). The story is that the corporation which rules the planet, Veles, has collapsed and the sharks are coming to take the pieces. Rival corporations start swooping up members of this previous corporation, the Ascent group. You, an indentured servant, an indent, rise to the challenge to save what’s left. Basically by being treated as a subhuman waste of space by all your bosses and superiors, and any good actions you do are praised or likened as above average for your species. Yes, there’s alien races. Eventually you learn the point of this whole story and then, just when there’s FINALLY something of substance, it ends. The great bit of storytelling is an after credits type of scene. But this isn’t a game played for the story.

The core loop is to shoot enemies with your weapons, gain experience to level up and earn skill points, spend said points on a skill tree, acquire loot from said defeated enemies. Then use money to buy gear, or, like I did, save it all for fast travel use only because every single weapon or gear can be found/dropped by enemies. I ended with half a million creds. Another loot is parts which are used to upgrade a weapon’s stats up to mk.10. Weapons alternate between ballistic, energy, explosive or other. You can only equip two at once, plus a tactical which ranges from grenades to turrets. Then you have augmentations to find, unlock, or buy. They augment you passively, and actively. Two slots are for the passives such as to boost your health or give you more health on pick up. Two slots are for the actives which are powers that change gameplay to suit your style. I used the same two the entire time, one of which I acquired quite early. This was an ability which recorded my health levels and then after a certain period of time, returned my health back to that number. It was so hard to die.

The skills that you invest your skill points in have the most impact on the game. They cover 4 possible categories which reflect your character’s base attributes. I can’t recall the exact names, but they’re basically cybernetics, body, mind, agility. The best skill to max asap is weapon handling. It increased reload speed to be near instant on most machine guns. By level 8, about one hour in, I had it. The game was much easier since because I had a near constant stream of bullets. Other factors that decrease difficulty is that each combat is randomly procedurally generated. So some fights might be a walk in the park, and others just squash you like a bug. It’s why some players might finish the game quickly, and others will take awhile.

Just another day in Cluster 13

Honestly, for the size of the team behind this game, I am impressed by the graphics. They definitely look like they took time and care to fill in all the details. The random garbage bags, a littered can. The glow of the neon lights. Everything draws you into the world. The shooting can only hold your attention for so long because there’s a limited diversity in enemies. What kept me going forwards was to see more of the world. If anything, this is a twenty dollar game disguising itself as a 40 dollar one. I’m grateful to have experienced it for free with Xbox Game Pass. Overall, it’s a fun game. It has bugs, it has its issues, but it keeps you entertained long enough for a weekend and that’s okay in my books. I recommend it if it’s on sale or through game pass.