The Ascent is the first game from Neon Giant, a 12-person studio out of Sweden. It takes place in a bleak cyberpunk universe where the player assumes the role of an indentured servant, or “indent” as they’re referred to in the game’s codex, who is trying to escape the eponymous corporation’s clutches after a workplace accident caused it to fail disastrously. It’s a top-down action RPG shooter that has been likened to a futuristic Diablo with guns. While I can certainly see the logic behind this comparison, the reality is that it functions more like an arcade-style twin-stick shooter. It makes more sense to compare it to 3D Realms’ Bombshell than Diablo.
Due to its nature as a twin-stick shooter, I consider The Ascent partially accessible to those with motor-function impairments. It can be a bit jarring at first because enemies have a tendency to swarm the player in large numbers, and the game recommends use of the right stick for aiming, but once players realize that the left stick simultaneously moves and aims, things become easier. Unfortunately, at time of writing, there are no customizable controls available. Players are encouraged to use aim-assist by pressing the left trigger to raise their weapon, and apart from snapping to targets, this feature is designed to assist in shooting enemies that are hidden behind cover or may be taller than the player. The trouble is that it never seems to snap to targets, so it’s easier to fire from the hip while moving than it is to take cover and raise the weapon. Similarly to the rebooted Doom franchise, movement is paramount for survival, but The Ascent has one feature that sets it apart from Doom: upon death (which occurs often) the player is reverted to the most recent checkpoint, however they retain any experience and equipment gained before death, meaning the stress of repetition is alleviated by better stats and equipment, and having a different weapon or piece of gear going into a familiar encounter can mean the difference between life and death. But even with this feature and the easiest difficulty on, success still requires tenacity, and the checkpoints in some areas are not as ideal as they could be.
In terms of visual accessibility, The Ascent is partially accessible as well. It features settings for colorblind players like deuteranopes, tritanopes, and others, but these settings are offset by the inability to change the size of the interface outside of subtitles. The player character is equipped with a map and radar system that’s designed to display enemy positions, but these blips can often be difficult to spot, resulting in death before one can react. The ability to highlight a position on the map to create a waypoint isn’t available, yet waypoints are used to track mission objectives, with yellow representing side missions and turquoise as the story objectives. The problem is that turquoise is also the color of shop icons, and these often mix and create confusion. During combat, it’s difficult to ascertain where enemy projectiles come from, and not only are they small, but the damage indicator doesn’t reveal the direction of attack. One feature I enjoy that helps lessen some of the map issues is that by pressing up on the directional pad, a trail appears on the ground leading to the selected objective. Each weapon in The Ascent does one of four specific types of damage: ballistic, electrical, digital, and heat, and although it’s supposed to be displayed, the menu doesn’t highlight it well enough.
Fortunately, deaf and hard-of-hearing players should have a barrier-free experience, as I see nothing in The Ascent that is dependent on the ability to hear. Since subtitle size, color, and background opacity are all customizable, there’s no danger of missing any important aspects of the story. Weapons sound powerful, yet there are no aspects of combat that require hearing.
The Ascent is a game thats incredible attention to detail, excellent world-building, and frenetic combat almost make one forget that it’s made by a team of only 12 very talented people. It’s a superb sci-fi RPG shooter, and at $30, you’d be hard-pressed to find better bang for your buck. It’s not perfect, but those willing to push through the barriers will certainly have a blast. Neon Giant has made an incredible debut, and their future is bright.
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