was, for me, one of the standout games from Microsoft’s very first next-gen showcase exactly one year ago, when they showed off a ton of third-party exclusives like Bright Memory Infinite and Second Extinction. And so I was pretty excited to finally get to play it – which, for transparency, was with mouse and keyboard controls through a PC streaming service. Anyway, it quickly became clear that The Ascent is an action-RPG that’s more like a twin-stick shooter; you’ve got melee special abilities but, from the couple of early missions I played, you’ll primarily be slaying bad guys through a Halo-style two-slot gun system. I’ll talk more about gameplay in a moment, but one thing is absolutely certain: The Ascent has its cyberpunk aesthetic nailed to a ‘T’.I’ve got to talk about that cyberpunk vibe first, because The Ascent absolutely nails it. Bright, oversaturated pinks, purples, and blues are everywhere, and the world has an appropriately dirty and gritty feel. If the developers had acquired the Blade Runner license for this game, they wouldn’t have to change a thing aside from the name. It’s really, really potent from a visual standpoint, and I like that about it. It even managed to take me a bit by surprise when I dropped into the game world, because the character creator you start out in is fairly ho-hum compared to the fully decked-out cyberpunk world you get dumped into after finalizing your appearance.
OK, so it’s got the look down, but how’s it play? Well, the first elevator pitch that I ever heard for The Ascent was “Judge Dredd Meets Diablo,” but after playing it, I’d say it’s really more like, “Hunter: The Reckoning But Cyberpunk.” Both are good things. This is an isometric action-RPG, yes, but you are twin-stick shooting the majority of the time. It felt good on mouse and keyboard but this might be a case where I end up preferring a gamepad. But that aside, while it is an isometric view, you’re very much in a 3D space, which means you can crouch to take cover behind low walls and also aim high (hold the right mouse button on PC) to aim higher to either shoot above your cover or just aim for an enemy’s head instead of their chest.
After playing it, I’d say it’s really more like, “Hunter: The Reckoning But Cyberpunk.”
Furthermore, quick rolls are also a key move to master, as it’s the best way to either elude swarms of enemies or dodge powerful boss attacks.
Naturally, you can upgrade the heck out of your character – you’ll find new weapons and armor and be able to unlock special abilities, up to two of which can be equipped at a time. The one I got during my playtime was Hydraulic Slam, a powerful melee blast that helped me roast the four mini-bosses I battled during one mission’s climactic fight.My standout nitpick of The Ascent so far is that it’s a bit slow to get going. The first hour or so of the campaign is spent running through the levels, gorgeous as they may be, doing the cyberpunk-RPG equivalent of killing rats. But I forgot about that ho-hum start afterwards, as I was blasting hordes of bad guys, going toe-to-toe with tough bosses, wandering around densely populated city hub areas where I could visit shopkeepers, take side missions, and more. This is a very intriguing game and I’m eager to play more when it hits PC, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One on July 29 – and it’s on Xbox Game Pass on day one, no less.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.