The Assembly advertised itself as a tense-thriller where two people investigated a shady company that operated in an underground complex. Unfortunately, it was nothing of the sort. Instead it played out like an incredible slow-burn mystery that had all the tension of a middle schooler’s writing project. Not to say it’s a bad story that nDreams has given us. It is just that not enough went right with The Assembly to make up for the shortcomings. Instead of providing a good journey, this title just provides what seems like an everyday experience in a workplace.
This VR adventure puts you in the place of Madeline Stone and Caleb Pearson. The former was a doctor who tried an experimental operation on her mother in hopes of curing the illness the mom had. For whatever reason, she is being put through some organized trials by the eponymous corporation. The latter is a scientist for The Assembly who discovers that his research is being used in some kind of negative way. With little oversight proceeding over the secretive company, this may not be a great thing. Caleb then goes through the motions of gathering evidence to expose what’s being done which would indicate an exciting whistleblower story. Sadly, no.
On his side, the gameplay is a walking simulator where you have to find things, pick up said things, incorporate them into the narrative and move on. Nothing truly bad, but nothing groundbreaking either. The problem is that you are snooping around an incredibly powerful and reserved organization with no tension whatsoever. There were virtually no instances where I was at risk of being caught and willingly walked in front of room’s windows who housed other employees. I’d move through labs, resident quarters, and more with no worries. The biggest problem though was what makes or breaks walking simulators. Figuring things out before the game does, but you still need to trigger something to progress.
One such example is staying at a computer long enough to elicit a dialogue that would then allow certain actions to be performed. Too many times was my reading faster than the game’s prompt to allow continuation. Another big issue was collecting all the items needed, finding out where to bring them, and still not being able to move on until you activate some sort of trigger. This mostly dealt with reading a file or something similar. These problems, among others, made The Assembly difficult to play without multiple breaks. Which isn’t favorable considering the title is only three hours long.
On Madeline’s side, the gameplay is a series of puzzles or choices to make. You’ll investigate staged murder scenes, make moral dilemma choices, and solve an assortment of puzzles and equations. During these tribulations you’ll be guided by employees of The Assembly all while being watched from above. Eventually, things will begin to make sense on why you’re here and what you’re doing. There were no gameplay flaws here but things still suffered from the game’s general shortcomings.
The Assembly came out a few months before the PS VR did and the port shows its blemishes. The graphics themselves are not impressive in the slightest. Everything looks like a high-end PS2 affair and is sorely behind most other PS VR titles in the appearance department. As such, the resolution and attention to detail suffers. I saw too many jagged edges, running pixels, and other familiar technical problems. This is especially not conducive to a virtual reality experience. I also had to take breaks due to the programmed movement. I don’t know what it was about this game but the movement made me nauseous multiple times. For those wondering if it was just me, I can handle RIGS: Mechanized Combat League’s fast paced action with no problem. The camera or movement or whatever just wasn’t smooth.
There are a few shining moments here though. The last two chapters were easily the best in the entire game thanks to a minor, but neat plot twist and some brain stumping questions. Unfortunately, you have to actually endure most of the experience to get to it. The voice acting and atmosphere (minus the lack of tension) was impressive and I’d love to see another, improved title in this world. The end credits may give some leeway for this to happen but hopefully things don’t feel so mundane next time.
The Assembly PS4/PS VR Review
The matter of the fact is you have to enjoy walking simulators to appreciate the few good things The Assembly brings to the table. Even then there still might be some frustration. Certain gameplay mechanics, and especially the graphics, will warrant a few breaks for this short lived adventure. If you can somehow muster to the end, there are some interesting options but the whole thing felt like it could have been grander. What we get instead is a middle of the road and slow-burn mystery that doesn't have a hook. Let alone a compelling narrative.
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