Title: The Ascent
Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release Date: August 18, 2022
Platforms: Windows, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5 (Reviewed)
Note: The developer has provided a copy of this DLC for review purposes, which has had no influence on the review score or opinions expressed therein.
This is an expansion to The Ascent. As such, this review will only cover new content that’s not present in the base game. For more on The Ascent, read our review of the base game located HERE.
After more than a year since its release, developer Neon Giant has finally delivered the first expansion to its hit twin-stick shooting RPG The Ascent. Titled Cyber Heist, this new campaign whisks players away to a new zone on the alien planet of Veles, which locals amusingly refer to as “The Dark Playground.” This new area is much less regulated than those already visited, with cutthroat mercs and lawless gangs lurking behind every corner, and as such players will need keep on their toes if they hope to make it back in one piece.
This additional story takes place directly after the events of The Ascent’s main campaign. For those itching to dive into the new content, it can be a bit of a bummer, but it’s more than necessary in both understanding the plot and having a high enough level to tackle these new challenges. To access the Cyber Heist content, simply go to your former employer Kira in Cluster 13, and she will assign you your new mission.
The plot in Cyber Heist is slightly better than that in the base game, if only because it’s largely self aware. Players are told that aspects of their mission are on a “need-to-know” basis; that is to say, players don’t “need” to know anything other than a new McGuffin needs acquiring and new badguys need killing. This clears the way for character personalities to really shine, and gamers can focus on the action rather than getting bogged down with finer details.
A nice addition to the story is an actual antagonist in the form of Zell, the head of security for the nefarious Malhorst-Gelb Group. This cocky alien will taunt you via your coms throughout the adventure, which makes the inevitable encounter at the campaign’s end all the more satisfying. It helps too that he’s a formidable opponent, offering perhaps the greatest single challenge in the game to date.
The hectic twin-stick shooting combat is back in force, though with some adjustments. The biggest addition is undoubtedly the inclusion of melee weapons. Three new weapons are available to make close-quarters combat more manageable: a heavy hitting sledge hammer, a quick slicing katana, and an all purpose baseball bat. These may sound counter intuitive to the twin-stick combat, but Neon Giant has done well weaving these in to the bullet heavy genre. These three new tools of destruction can hit especially hard, and make quick work out of anyone foolish enough to get close by. It can be thrilling acting as a trained ninja, quickly dashing from cover-to-cover, cutting down every enemy with deft slashes and swings, while switching to your guns to pepper bullets into those who stay at a distance.
Your melee weapons have special combat abilities, which are utilized by pressing down the left trigger. The Rock Crusher hammer can be slammed into the earth, sending a tremor to harm far away foes, and players can spin around with the Guillotine katana to slice-and-dice everyone in close range. The Uplus baseball bat is the only weapon that can be obtained during the main game, though it is by far the weakest and least interesting of the three. It’s special move, which is simply a quick flail that can steal some health from whacked goons, is also pretty weak, so the bat overall is just much less appealing.
In addition to the melee weapons, you have three new pieces of armor–one for each slot–and two new firearms. This is quite a small amount for any kind of downloadable expansion. The new armor, while cool to look at and has some high stats, isn’t really anything special, and better can be found in the main game. As for the two new firearms–the F&F Stinger missile launcher and Violator assault rifle–both can deliver excessive damage to any of your foes. The Violator can fire a controlled stream of bullets, and if you land the killing blow most enemies will balloon up and explode as they do in stasis. The Stinger launcher fires slow moving missiles that will home in on nearby targets, and set them ablaze with burning damage when they detonate. Upgraded, these firearms can be ideal for crowd control.
I would have loved to see new tactical weapons and augmentations, as those were among the best aspects of the main game, but alas there is nothing new in those categories here. That’s a real shame, as the new melee focused combat could be elevated even higher with fresh abilities that take that into consideration. Imagine an augment that more than doubles the reach of your handheld weaponry, or a tactical ability that draws foes towards you for a limited amount of time; the potential is there.
Aside from the final boss Zell, Cyber Heist doesn’t include any new enemies to take on. This is a big letdown, as the base game was already lacking in enemy diversity as it was. Fortunately, the difficulty is cranked up a big degree. You’ll be encountering baddies with levels increased all the way to level 35, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the massive hoards of enemies of all types that come pouring out of the woodwork (cyber work?) when the bullets go flying. Switching things up between melee and ranged combat is increasingly important in maintaining control from increased enemy numbers. This new challenge also lends itself to multiplayer in a big way, where one player can rely on melee weaponry to defend the others blaring away with firearms. In short, the exciting gunplay is somehow made even better in this addition.
Exploring The Dark Playground
The Dark Playground consists of a single, mid-sized map with many smaller districts within. There are a few secret areas to unearth, accessed through some hidden walls or concealed elevators, and finding these locations and robbing them of their loot is a nice treat.
You have a small central hub that doubles as your safe zone. All shops are located in close proximity to one another, something that I wish was more common in the main game. It’s easy to hit all the stores at once, then take the nearby elevator up to where the bad guys are, which saves a ton of time.
Loading into The Dark Playground takes a bit longer than usual, which is understandable. Once there, fast traveling to any of the area’s districts only takes a few seconds, so it’s pleasing to not have to undergo the long taxi rides like in the main game.
Many gamers will want to go into Cyber Heist with a crew of up to four members, and Neon Giant makes this easy as only the host player needs to own the DLC. Additions so often split the playerbase in multiplayer focused games, and it’s so refreshing to see that this won’t be a problem here. Hopefully the developers maintain this amount of accessibility with future content.
This additional campaign’s length is especially disappointing. There are only two, albeit lengthy, story missions, and three side quests to undertake. As such, you’ll only need around three hours to do just about everything that Cyber Heist has to offer. The new melee combat is immensely enjoyable, but for so few new items, and even fewer new quests, the $9.99 USD price tag makes it tough to recommend to those wanting a little more than just more The Ascent gameplay. If you have a friend that already owns it, this can be a thrilling romp, but the one ponying up the dough may be left sorely wanting for more bang for their buck.
Josh Cornett is a lifelong gamer who enjoys games across all platforms and genres. He has gone by the alias of “Block” ever since college, when he was nicknamed “Blockbuster” for his extensive video game and movie collection. Currently, he reviews a wide variety of games on his Youtube channel, and talks about all things gaming related on his Twitter and Facebook pages.