A peaceful and minimalistic FPS 3D platformer created by ONEVISION games, ASCENDANCE – First Horizon removes the complexity of modern gaming in favour of a more tranquil experience which creates enough space to allow the player to move with precision and timing, navigating its simple but peacefully intoxicating world.
Although I appreciate its aesthetic and philosophical goal, unfortunately technical difficulties almost prevented me from being able to complete the three levels available in the game. Only by deleting a save, uninstalling the game, then playing it from the beginning again – all after nearly finishing the second level – was I able to finally finish the game. Despite experiencing the differentiating last level, this effort needed to finish the game has left an inevitable sour taste in my mouth. Sadly.
While some might think ASCENDANCE to be slightly too simplistic, playing a chaotic but thrilling multiplayer game of Titanfall, or devising the downfall of an orc overlord using his chain of war chiefs and captains against him in Shadow of War, hopefully illustrates that there is always a space for downtime in the world of gaming. At least for me anyway.
That’s why I welcomed its simple but aesthetically pleasing world. Its polygon shapes and calming music gently led me into a world of jumping to reach the next destination. With one or two objectives on-screen at one time, you look to the sky to see where you must venture to next in order to reveal the next destination, as the objects slowly materialize before your eyes.
With only four buttons at your disposal – jumping, running, looking and moving – the game encourages you to take a backseat as you solve perhaps overly simple practical leaps to unlock the next vista to climb. The sprint button would have been a lot more welcome earlier on, however, as I wasn’t able to find its existence until I was mid-way through the second of just three levels. A tutorial would have been a gracious help in this respect, though with enough desperation I quickly found how to use it to my advantage. I.e. I was stuck on the second level for way longer than I should’ve been while I tried to cross a very large gap.
The levels in ASCENDANCE are cleverly designed so that wherever you stand, whether that be below the majority of interwoven structures or on the top of the highest tower, there are always paths open to you to reach the next objective. Whether those routes be obvious and intuitive, the game gives you the freedom to try different pathways and explore the level to your heart’s content, even when it begins to expand to multiple avenues. That being said, this gameplay loop can become repetitive because of the limited gameplay options. Even for fans of this genre.
Completionists will be even more thankful for the hidden platforms and disguised areas as there are collectable cubes in each of the three levels, all ripe for the taking within these hidden-in-plain-sight locations. I often found myself more obsessed with collecting these cubes than I did with jumping to the next objective.
Yet lo and behold, you will jump across gaps which may seem improbable to make. Fortunately, the spawn system is quick, and yet sometimes unforgiving, as you will respawn at the last objective you reached, whether that be right next to where you died, or on the other side of the level. On the other hand, jump pads help you navigate the stages quicker and with more excitement than your standard jump. This is especially since jumping at the right moment can increase the height of your jump significantly, allowing you to bypass areas completely.
As well as the cubes and objectives, there are ambiguous and unfortunately slightly pretentious philosophical checkpoints which hold within them vague words of wisdom which may be your cup of tea, but were certainly not mine. I still appreciate the aim of these checkpoints; if they were to contain more mysterious writings of a narrative with characters which tell of a fable or lesson, these would be much more intriguing to read even if it was only text. A further reward for your exploration, nonetheless.
And now we come to the sad conclusion of this review, which is a reminder that due to technical issues, I was very close to not being able to finish ASCENDANCE. The game glitched in a place at the end of the second level which prevented me from being able to progress because certain platforms had glitched out of place. It was only after I deleted my save, uninstalled the game, reinstalled the game and played it offline from the beginning that I was ever able to finish the game. A technical issue as critical as this should not have shipped with the game at launch. Ever more so since I wasn’t able to get my rightfully earned achievements.
Seriously though, I am glad I was able to finish ASCENDANCE and experience the last level as playing through it allows a loose epilogue to really help cohere the experience because of the themes found in the last minutes of the game. Of course, this doesn’t discount the terrible technical issues encountered, and the effort needed to overcome this obstacle.
While ASCENDANCE – First Horizon achieves some things with its emphasis on relaxation, calming 3D FPS platforming and hidden collectables, all of this is nearly gone to waste when you are unable to experience the entire package because of technical issues which should have been solved before the game’s launch.