Jetpacks sit high among the list of awesome contraptions many of us will likely never use. Fortunately, Ascend is a virtual reality title that simulates that experience while adding a competitive wrinkle. Team Newspaper Hats’ upcoming game pits competing headset users against each other in clashes that combine aerial dogfights with Capture the Flag-style gameplay. At E3 2019, I strapped inside of an Oculus Rift to take to the skies in, quite literally, high-stakes combat.
Ascend takes place on an abandoned, dystopian world where its remaining warriors engage in aerial contests in the name of glory. The demo features two characters: Mufid the Inventor and Gloriana the Highborne. The former wields plasma blasters while the latter uses twin holoswords. Ascend’s multiplayer supports up to three players so I imagine at last one more warrior will be added in the future. Since I have more experience using guns in VR than melee weapons, I opt for Mufid.
The free-for-all mode Fracture stands as the centerpiece of Ascend. This contest tasks players with collecting objectives and then delivering them to the top of a tower at the map’s center. The first person to deliver them all wins. Objectives are represented by glowing orbs scattered across the area. Since VR still hasn’t been widely adopted, a multiplayer game runs the high risk of having a shallow user pool. Thankfully, Ascend supports cross-play across its three platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows MR. This should hopefully help bolster the player count.
Flight is executed by Ascend’s Lean Motion System. Leaning your head forward allows players to soar in that direction. Designated buttons on the Oculus Touch controllers operate upward and downward propulsion. While it does emulate the sensation of a using a jetpack, I also couldn’t help but feel like I was piloting Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. As I load into the tutorial area the somewhat sensitive head-tracking takes adjusting. I repeatedly wiz headfirst into walls (the virtual kind, thankfully) until I figure out the right degree to lean in for smooth flight. Once I do, I’m able to zip around the world with relative ease and it feels great. Best and most importantly of all, I don’t feel a hint of motion sickness.
Fracture begins and I immediately notice the in-game markers indicating the general locations of the objectives. I spot the first orb, collect it, and then race upwards towards the top of the tower. Just when I figure out how to correctly stick the landing in this zone, my opponent and demo partner discovers and eradicates me. If nothing else, the setback reminds me of my own offensive arsenal.
In addition to shooting lasers Mufid has a neat special ability. Holding the controllers sideways charges her Bullet Hell technique. Upon release Mufid fires a spherical barrier that traps and ricochets any bullet fired inside of it. This is great for capturing foes and then tearing them to shreds with a single shot. After respawning I locate my opponent, now clutching an orb, racing to the tower. I see this as a great chance to try my special move. Miraculously, I catch her inside of the sphere on my first attempt and watch in glee as my follow up shot annihilates my adversary.
I collect the now free orb, fly up to the tower unimpeded, and, after waiting for a timer to deplete, score the first point. I have my bearings by this point so I proceed to go on the offensive, relentlessly chasing and blasting my opponent before they can locate the last two objectives. Shooting feels good and it’s genuinely thrilling to take someone down. My aggressive strategy pays off; I capture the remaining two orbs with relative ease, giving me the 3-0 victory.
Ascend plays well and definitely has its thrills, but I worry about its longevity. Fracture seems to be the only mode it has going for it thus far, and playing the same thing will eventually get old. Hopefully some more destinations will make their way into the game. But if jetpacks + sports + combat sounds like a winning formula, look for Ascend to launch on PC this summer.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games