Whilst there’s a decent amount of variety available in the Playstation VR launch line-up, there aren’t a whole lot of meaty adventures that offer a narrative driven experience. Whilst I’ve got no beef with racing cars at high speed, blasting murdering clowns, or taking part in dogfights in Space, sometimes I like to sit down and just plough through an enjoyable adventure with an absorbing tale. The Assembly tries to offer gamers this adventuring experience and whilst it delivers in many ways, it falls short of offering something that’ll really thrill gamers or even utilises virtual reality in a really meaningful way.
The Assembly is a VR narrative driven first person adventure that mixes up puzzling with investigation based gameplay. You take on the role of two scientists, Madeleine and Caleb, who both follow different storylines regarding a mysterious scientific organisation known only as ‘The Assembly’.
Madeleine, a disgraced scientist, awakens within a strange lab environment and is tasked with undergoing a tough ‘interview’ process to join ‘The Assembly’, whilst Caleb is already a part of the organisation but is investigating their use of one of his previous experiments that he had thought was shut down. Whilst you control both characters and their plots are intertwined to some extent, there are very few interactions between the pair.
The plot starts off a little slow with The Assembly going through an unclear drawn out process to get the ball rolling, though it’s not long before things start to take an interesting turn. You start to explore the history of the characters and their previous relationships, these moments playing out in a way that allows you to escape the confines of the laboratory. Whilst the game never did enough to make me feel emotionally attached to the characters and their histories, it was at least interesting to see things unfold. That being said, there’s no grand culmination to either character’s plot threads to make you care about everything that’s happened, with the whole story feeling a little open-ended with an anti-climatic finale.
You switch between both Madeleine and Caleb as you progress through the game, with each character’s story offering different gameplay elements. Madeleine’s sections involve solving a series of puzzles and making a series of moral choices, whilst Caleb’s sections feel more like a point and click adventure as you use your investigative skills to uncover evidence and seek out items in the environment.
Neither character’s gameplay felt all that invigorating though. Whilst I did like most of the puzzles on offer they were never particularly challenging, especially since they typically used simple gameplay mechanics that take very little thought to solve. I’ve moved enough blocks in my time with gaming that I didn’t want to do it again in The Assembly, even if it is in virtual reality. Caleb’s sections are a bit more interesting, but even then you’re simply doing a lot of the same thing. At least each character offers something different though, so you’re constantly switching between puzzle solving and investigating.
It’s hard to say if The Assembly really benefits from the virtual reality implementation all that much. Whilst it’s certainly a more immersive way to explore your surroundings, it never did anything that particularly wowed me or that really reaps the advantages that virtual reality offers. Nearly every virtual reality game I’ve played so far has had a particular moment that impressed me and justified its implementation, but The Assembly offers nothing that couldn’t have been simply done on a standard display – something that’s especially apparent given the graphical issues the game has.
Another disadvantage of playing in virtual reality is that the graphics often have an incredibly fuzzy look to them, with the anti-aliasing of the game some of the worst I’ve seen so far. Whilst it’s common knowledge that Playstation VR isn’t the most powerful of the VR headsets available at the moment, I was a little surprised at just how bad some areas of the game looked. It isn’t a consistent problem across the whole experience though and sometimes The Assembly actually looked great – it just never looks as good as the screenshots might suggest. There’s also a lot of reading to do in the game which can be a pain in virtual reality, demanding you find that perfect sweet spot for the text to appear clearly.
At least you have the full freedom to explore your surroundings though. You can still use the ‘teleporting’ method that transports you around your surroundings with a press of a button if you haven’t found your VR bearings yet, but I enjoyed using a more traditional ‘twin-stick’ approach to move around freely. It’s not too common an occurrence in a lot of virtual reality titles yet, so I’m always glad to see its implementation. Of course, some people’s stomachs can’t handle this and it can bring motion sickness, though I managed to use the control scheme with minimal fuss.
Whilst The Assembly offers a competent narrative driven experience, there’s nothing about the game that really hooked me in. There are puzzles to solve and an investigation to take part in, but nothing on offer ever really thrilled or even challenged me. Even the VR implementation is a little off-putting thanks to the fuzzy visuals and the fact it never really adds anything to the overall experience.
Given that the Playstation VR catalogue isn’t jam-packed yet it might be worth giving The Assembly a try, especially since there’s nothing else that plays quite like it. It’s certainly not a ‘must own’ title, but it’s never does anything so badly that you’d regret purchasing it – just don’t expect to be blown away by the adventure it offers.
Release Date: 13/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PC