Indie studio Neon Giant’s The Ascent was featured in the lackluster Xbox Series X May 20/20 showcase, and its next-gen gameplay was only revealed after that presentation, which was lambasted by fans and detractors alike for its lack of gameplay, despite Microsoft’s contradictory promises. That’s no blunder on the developer’s part, but it’s baffling that Microsoft didn’t utilize all Xbox-exclusive gameplay footage possible for the upcoming console’s first-ever games showcase.
The Ascent has captured prospective players’ attention with its combination of top-down Diablo loot-driven combat and gritty cyberpunk setting, and its after-the-fact gameplay reveal would have been a perfect distraction from all of the cinematic trailers that dominated the May Xbox 20/20 games sampler. Even The Medium, which enraptured horror buffs with a soundtrack by Silent Hill 2 composer Akira Yamaoka and an ambitious gameplay mechanic that’s only possible thanks to next-gen solid-state drives, promised gameplay but only delivered a cinematic trailer. The gaming community’s reaction was a slight overreaction, the showcase deliberately misrepresented what constitutes as “gameplay,” and that’s a terrible first look for a console manufacturer that came in dead last in lifetime sales this generation.
However, IGN shared the below video of The Ascent gameplay, and it’s a refreshing and exciting initial sampling of what playing an Xbox Series X game will actually look like when the player is in control of the action. Showing off a 12-minute vertical slice of the game’s dystopian campaign, in which the player character makes their way through a mega-city after the collapse of its corporate leadership, the area they shoot and loot through looks thoroughly littered with trash and debris, detailed textures that modern consoles would struggle to render with such ease. Coupled with lighting, shadows, and reflections that are generally reserved for high and ultra settings on PC titles, The Ascent isn’t the best-looking game anyone’s ever seen, but it’s damn handsome for a console that’ll run customers as little as $400.
For those worried the footage shown was pre-rendered “gameplay” (a long-abused industry truthism far worse than Microsoft’s recent fib), rest easy. Though Neon Giant stresses that the trailer may not be representative of the final product, that’s because a game in alpha gameplay inherently pushes the boundaries of what developers want to include in a finished release. If some features, like persistent enemy corpses with ragdoll physics, high onscreen enemy counts without frame rate dips, or even the promise co-op play, ultimately end up on the cutting room floor, it wouldn’t be dishonesty. Furthermore, the video showed a few noticeable flaws, such as weirdly tinny sound design, the camera getting stuck on a foreground object at one point, and a frame rate drop in a bustling safe zone bathed in color by several light sources.
After a considerably disappointing show by Microsoft, it’s heartening to see some actual gameplay from what seems like a great Xbox Series X library supplement or co-op Game Pass title. What’s even more exciting is knowing that even a pretty game like The Ascent will be far from the most visually stunning or engaging title coming to the next-gen console. With beloved entries like Psychonauts 2 slated for upcoming 20/20 showcases and first-party juggernauts like Halo Infinite resting just beyond the horizon, it’ll hopefully take more than a single botched stream to tank the next-gen console’s prospects.