An enigmatic organisation has been experimenting in secret. Free from the constraints of law, the government and societal morals, The Assembly’s surreal tone and thoughtful narrative themes beckoned me to nDreams’ stand at this year’s EGX Rezzed. I plonked on an Oculus Rift and found myself soon being carted around a forbidding laboratory in a wheelchair, suspended between formidable medical encounters and severances with reality.
Previewed on: PC (Oculus Rift)
Also Available On: PC (HTC Vive), Playstation 4 (Playstation VR)
Release Date: Summer 2016 (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift), PS VR later
The Assembly is, first and foremost, a story-driven game. Proffering an enigmatic setting and enquiring, ominous characters, it’s often as foreboding as it is abstractedly humorous. It’s a balance reminiscent of Frictional’s SOMA – apparently a happy coincidence after I asked nDreams whether or not the title had been an inspiration.
It’s also very much a VR game; an immersive odyssey through an experimental complex, punctuated by stylised, pseudo-CSI segments, flecked with unknown props, isolate doors and only a very slight Stanley Parable vibe. You’re warped into two intensely vulnerable perspectives, and it’s not always clear who you are at any given time. Considering nDreams’ ethical, moral and identity-oriented focus, the ambiguity here feels purposeful, as does its accompanying convolution.
It raises questions continually. I seemed to be experiencing a fragmented anthology of memories, whilst at the same time characters seemed strong and reasonable. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the logical and the irrational; an exciting premise for the ethical, moral and individual questions the full game is said to navigate.
Mechanics and game systems are distinctively scarce by comparison. Character movement was restrained in the demo (the primary reason for which I suspect might be the constraints of VR headsets right now), and when I was permitted, all of it was done via the gamepad’s shoulder buttons. You point your Oculus-ed head in the direction you wish to travel, and squeeze the triggers to glide dreamily towards your target. It adds to The Assembly’s surreal, memory-like style, but it currently feels a little clunky.
The Assembly’s narrative-driven, mysterious concept also opens it up massively for exploration, and numerous instances during my brief time with The Assembly found me wishing there was more additional content. Diary logs, enigmatic character encounters or even visual allusions all felt underused, and they’re all something that could potentially help the game’s accessibility, should nDreams ever decide to release it outside the realms of VR.
Despite a lack of mechanics and systems, though, The Assembly is a promising entry in the VR lineup. It proffers a thought-provoking, deeply human storyline and conflicted, questioning characters, and despite there being ample room for elaboration, it’s an experience that must presently be had with a headset firmly fixed to your head.
The Assembly is planned for release for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive this summer, with a Playstation VR version coming later in the year.