The Assembly Review – Just Too Rough
The AssemblyOctober 13th, 2016
Previously exclusive to VR headsets on the PC, The Assembly has finally made its way onto home consoles as a PlayStation VR launch title. We’ve already seen horror, rhythm, racing, and other genres transition well into the first person vantage. Now, The Assembly aims to bring a full narrative adventure that unfolds before the player’s eyes.
Offering a unique twist to the adventure formula, The Assembly features two playable characters that alternate through the linear narrative. Dr. Madeleine Stone, ostracized from her work due to experimenting upon a family member, takes a more puzzle-focused approach, solving a number of trials during her story’s path. This is where the player needs to invest a little extra brainpower for the sake of solving elaborate puzzles and trials meant to test her mental fortitude that often have little to do with her training as a scientist, though the reasons for her trials do become clear by the ending. While there aren’t a great number of trials to overcome, each one is different from the last and are equally as rewarding to solve. A dinner murder mystery where Madeleine was led to deduce a pair of guilty parties from the clues and audio logs scattered around the crime scene was certainly my high point of The Assembly.
Caleb Pearson, on the other hand, plays more along what one would expect from a walking simulator, or light adventure, title. His playstyle is usually guided by objectives to get into a lab or put one of The Assembly’s senior officials to work on serving his means. Caleb’s chapters are a bit more freeform than Madeleine’s, as while his objectives might be fairly succinct, the path to achieving these means lead to exploring around the complex underground facility one floor at a time. Each floor has a number of audio logs and other materials that help to establish the characters throughout the base and continually reference events that all took place before the player took control. It's during these segments that taking adequate time to explore might lead to discoveries and additional logic puzzles that other players might skip past entirely.
The Assembly appears to reduce image quality for performance and the rough edges are only more pronounced in VR. Time after time, I’d find objects with incredibly muddy graphics and hang around for a moment to see if textures were going to load in only to find that additional layer of quality would never appear. This was often the case with floor maps upon entering a new area which routinely popped in after a moment or two of standing around. Some of the static objects, bags of dog food in particular, stood out as particularly low quality as these never came out to appear as more than a blurry mess.
Moving a character around in PlayStation VR is still an issue that developers have been struggling to make work properly. Until sufficient advances are made in the technology to reduce the adverse effects of motion disconnect from seeing the camera move freely while the player remains seated, there’s going to be an imperfect solution. Similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider’s bonus VR mode, The Assembly offers a number of control situations. The simplest way to travel is by using L2/R2 to teleport about the environment; pulling in L2 lines up where the character will move to and R2 activates the teleport. This makes moving about the underground facility more of a chore but lowers the possibility of motion sickness.
For those feeling a bit more hearty and tempered against nausea from moving freely in VR, The Assembly does offer direct control with the left analog stick. I wasn’t able to really experiment with this until the second half of the game but I noticed that it does work fine as well as the camera is moving straight forward. Any sort of strafing while looking around was enough to instantly bring on a mild case of motion sickness and highly inadvisable for beginners to PlayStation VR.
No matter the road taken, The Assembly’s six-to-eight hour journey culminates with the same path for the two protagonists. With a bit more freedom to choose on Dr. Stone’s side, her ending can end in a couple of ways depending on the choices the player makes. During the ending, nDreams does a nice little touch showing the player’s choices in comparison to anyone else playing the game. It’s a nice little addition that I enjoy seeing in the Telltale adventure games and seeing how my own moral compass compares to other players. Many of Madeleine’s choices hover around a sort of gray area, so there’s never a true right or wrong.
As quickly as it begins, The Assembly’s narrative does fall short of providing a truly fulfilling conclusion by the time the story ends. Along that path, characters reference events in the past for both Dr. Stone and Dr. Pearson that took place prior to the events within The Assembly. While Madeleine’s past is well established in the narrative, the same care isn’t given to Caleb. Routinely there are research papers and internal monologs regarding his research on an avian viral outbreak known as Cassius that feels like it was talked about in a previous game or some sort of supplemental material that I was meant to read before playing The Assembly. The aforementioned trials for Dr. Stone were too few in number to really provide a great backbone to the game, even if each trial was different than the last.
Following all of the story threads won’t do much good either, as there are a great number of story points that don’t feel adequately wrapped up by the end. It’s rare to play an adventure game that felt so unrewarding with the wrap-up, even if the rest of the journey held such promise of events that never came. Compared to the other diverse virtual reality experiences available on PlayStation VR, this is one title that I'd recommend holding off unless your love for adventure games outweighs a sense of value and content. The Assembly is an experiment that I was glad to have played on PlayStation VR but I felt there were still too many pieces missing from being able to assemble the complete picture.
From a safe yet unwieldy control scheme to a lack of cohesive content, The Assembly has the edges of a complete adventure game with just a few too many pieces missing from being able to assemble the complete picture.
- Diverse (albeit few) puzzles
- Two distinct exploring styles
- Intriguing setting
- Muddy and often underdeveloped textures an eyesore
- Poor story development
- Short number of puzzles
- Higher possibility of motion sickness than other VR titles