The Ascent may leave its camera hanging in the clouds, but there’s something about its world that’ll pull you right into the thick of it: the crime, the corruption, and the gangs and corporations vying for control in an atmospheric metropolis. Neon Giant has built a wondrous space for its Xbox Series X debut. Watching The Ascent in action, I can't help but be drawn to just how alive this cyberpunk setting seems and to its civilians just trying their best to survive in a world of unending chaos, much of it created by whoever is holding the controller. Alien locals have conversations beside neon-tinted signage, muttering about the violence that you have engineered, as others attend to completing the daily grind of life around them. The Ascent might be an action-shooter RPG at heart, but it's one set in a living, breathing world.
Graphically, it looks incredible too, with realistic light reflections on the ground and impressive architecture and environments. But what is perhaps more noticeable is the absence of any kind of loading screen as we're taken through each area and transition between cutscenes and gameplay. "It's completely seamless, in that we don't have loading screens," says Tor Frick, co-founder of Neon Giant and creative director of The Ascent. "We have, of course, fast travel with the train and the taxi, but the game is completely seamless from beginning to end."
This seamless experience takes place in a world where a mega-corporation known as The Ascent Group owns everyone and everything. When something happens that causes the corporation to suddenly go under, you set out to find answers. With a story-driven main campaign, side missions with their own little stories, and boss fights to experience, there's also plenty of room for you to explore at your own pace and discover everything the cyberpunk setting has to offer.
The Ascent plays out across an isometric layout, letting you tactically read the environment and use architecture around you as cover, should you happen to run into some enemies and find yourself in a gunfight. Taking into consideration the height of your foes, you can adjust your aim to go high or low, and shoot over cover. How (and if) you engage in combat is entirely left up to you, though. Neon Giant is building The Ascent with flexibility in mind, with a host of handcrafted weapons to try out, along with a range of gear and cyberware that can be switched up at any time.
As co-founder and creative director Arcade Berg explains, when you start the game you can create a character, but you're "not locked in" to any options you choose. Instead of having set classes, it's left up to you to determine how you want to customize your character to suit your preferred playstyle. From cyberware modifications such as augmentations and modules which determine your passive and active abilities in combat, to hairstyles and tattoos, you can change up your style and skill set at any time by visiting the Grafter – an NPC that will let you customise just about any part of your character. "[It's] purely on how you choose to do things, we're completely classless," Berg says. "We also let you adjust that as you play because we feel it's more interesting and more fun to be allowed to experiment and play around with it, instead of locking yourself into something before you've even played the game…"
Playable as both a single-player experience and in co-op, it's clear from what I've seen so far that Neon Giant has put a lot of care and effort into delivering on isometric RPG action and creating a fully realized world with their own take on cyberpunk. "We draw inspiration from many, many different works. From movies, books, comics. There's a whole influx of inspiration," says Frick. "But we wanted to take some of the tropes in cyberpunk and apply a little bit [of] a different flair to it. We have aliens and a lot more of a sci-fi feel to our game than the traditional cyberpunk does."
The Ascent is set to release on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S sometime in 2021.