The Assembly: Review
The Assembly is the latest addition to the arsenal of, UK based, software developers, nDreams. Built from the ground up for VR, the game is playable on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, as well as a traditional 2D monitor.
The Assembly isn’t the first VR game from these developers, as some of their previous work includes, Gunner for the GearVR, and Sky Diving for the Oculus Rift to name a few. However, the latest title from nDreams is certainly a cut above the rest and is delivered to the players retina with a stunning display of visuals.
You take the role of two characters, Dr. Cal Pearson and Dr. Madeleine Stone, and embody them from a first person perspective. As you play through and explore the depths of this, high-tech, science facility, you are tasked to discover secrets of a ‘mysterious organization’ that identifies itself, only, as, The Assembly.
This mysterious group has been forced to conduct their, somewhat unsavory, experiments away from the governing eye of societal standards and regulated practice – all in the name of scientific discovery.
The player can expect a slow and relaxed pace to the gameplay as they discover more about the protagonists. One of which is Cal Pearson, an active member of the Assembly with a rich history in the organization. The other is Madeleine Stone. A neuroscientist with a shattered reputation from previous experiments conducted on someone very close to her. The player will jump between both characters to see the story unfold from opposing perspectives.
The player will need to explore many of the nooks and crannies within the lavish, billion dollar facility, to find items relevant to the progression of the story. The player can find items in cupboards, draws and all throughout the environment, as well having to gain access to various computer systems through the map.
Playing in the Oculus Rift, the player can use their head to center the cursor onto objects and interact with them. After a few hours of gameplay, though, I did find myself having to rest for a while due to neck strain, which is synonymous with most VR games that use the navigation set up and isn’t just exclusive to The Assembly. The assembly just happens to have a lot of things to find – I discovered that positioning yourself further back from the object helped to reduce this aspect.
There are two navigation control presets to choose from when using the xBox controller. Firstly, the ‘safe mode’ that uses a blink on the yaw axis, coupled with a teleport function – accessed by holding down the left trigger and pressing the ‘A’ button. Pressing ‘A’ while holding the left trigger on the spot that you wish to move to will smoothly zap you to that location. Making for an efficient, and comfortable mode of transport.
Alternatively, you can switch the right stick to ‘classic’ mode to allow for free movement (backward and forward). As someone that experiences motion/sim sickness, I stuck with the default settings. I did try out the ‘Classic’ mode setting. However, I found that the constant readjustment needed to place the cursor on the object led to some feelings of discomfort, so switched back in the end. With that said, there wasn’t a point in the game in which I felt uncomfortable beyond this, other than the physical neck strain mentioned earlier. I even spammed all of the navigation controls at once in a manic attempt to force to sim sickness but was unable to make myself feel nauseous. Those new to VR should still approach all experiences with caution.
There are some favorable puzzle sequences to play through, predominantly when playing as Dr. Madeleine Stone. In one scene, the player is tasked with solving a simulated ‘murder mystery’ scenario that takes place at a banquet. The player will need to reach a conclusion as to which individuals committed the crime by examing the evidence located within the room. Gameplay such as this doesn’t necessarily benefit from VR, and can become a bit stagnant at points. However, the intricacy and high definition of the level design makes this one a must-see if you have access to a headset, and at some points left me in awe.
One of the downsides is that you lack the ability to focus properly on some of the smaller text in the game, most or all of which isn’t relevant to the narrative. However, current hardware restrictions do make for a blurry representation of the finer details. Also, the lack of an avatar makes for a slight disconnect in the immersion.
The audio is put together quite beautifully. Some great vocal performances from the voice actors and tight vocal recordings add to the depth of the experience. Some other nice touches include the harmonizing of the block movement sounds in the puzzle games to match the key signature of the backing track. An addition that makes the whole thing gel together nicely, while adding to the overall ambiance of the sequence.
Overall The Assembly is an excellent example of what the future of VR gaming may offer – the locomotion mechanics are implemented well for this medium, and the detail of the character development and map allow the player, briefly, to suspend their ties to the physical world and immerse themselves in a virtual environment. The clunkiness and discomfort created by the use of the head to select are something that will probably be resolved when motion tracked handheld controls become the norm for VR. The Assembly is a game that I would recommend to VR enthusiasts as an example of how far things have come. And, what the future may have in store.
The Assembly: Official Trailer
Founder of VRRelated and a VR enthusiast with a passion for gaming and all things creative. Joseph has an extensive background in the broader entertainment industry and a hunger to deliver Virtual Reality related news and content as the market develops.