The Assembly is a first-person adventure game that wants to put your moral fiber to the test. Much like a novel, the game alternates back and forth between two characters: a brilliant neurologist entering the shadowy research institute eponymously dubbed ‘The Assembly’, and an equally brilliant virologist trying to get out. As both characters, you come to better understand why the mysterious organization was driven to the shadows, and why it should probably stay there.


The Assembly Details:

Official Site
Developer:
 nDreams
Publisher: nDreams
Available On: Steam (Vive, Rift), Oculus Home (Rift)
Reviewed On: HTC Vive with Xbox gamepad
Release Date: July 19th, 2016


Drugged up and wheeled in through the front door of a bunker-like complex in the Nevada desert, you learn that you’ve been unceremoniously jumped into a gang of scientists. Your name is Madeleine Stone, a disgraced neuroscientist with a complicated past. Before you can decide whether you want in or out of the underground institute, you must complete a number of puzzles, or what The Assembly calls ‘trials’.

On the other end of the complex, you now find yourself at your desk as Cal Pearson, a morally conflicted virologist who discovers that The Assembly (the organization) might just be crossing a boundary when it comes to its research into a new lab-engineered avian flu. You’re getting out, but it’s tougher than you thought.

Cal represents the classic adventurer who must weave the story through finding items and connecting the dots to uncover a scandal that may have global consequences.

Gameplay

The Assembly is high on both style and polish, and even features some reasonably good voice acting (everything but the opening sequence, that is). Despite some issues with the scale of some in-game objects, The Assembly offers a surprisingly realistic and intensely human look at the nature of the world, especially for a game that has so little face-to-face character interaction.

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And if that’s more than you’ve bargained for, stop here. Because while the puzzles are interesting, and make a refreshing departure from the standard ‘match the obvious symbols and carry on’ of some other games, you’ll need to confront yourself by completing a number of moral tasks, some optional and some integral to the storyline.

The Assembly - Screenshot - 14 - CH3
One of the many puzzles in ‘The Assembly’

A good chunk of the game, namely with adventurer Cal Pearson, is an introspective adventure with adult themes that on first blush may seem more like a list of tasks than a game itself, so if you breeze by without really interfacing with The Assembly’s emotional content, you might feel belabored with minutia if you weren’t expecting to play a Gone Home (2013) style adventure. There are of course a number of interesting puzzles that will keep you racking your brain, some of which are remarkably clever and rewarding to complete.

the assembly dogThrough both characters, The Assembly challenges you by asking you some pretty hard-hitting questions for a video game, like ‘how comfortable do you feel doing morally dubious research to further a good cause?’ and ‘would you kill a bird? A cute puppy? How about a human being?’ Also, ‘do you like reading through countless emails to further the story line?’ Because you better read everything, look at everything, listen to every voice recording, and open every drawer if you want to move forward.

This is where my gameplay session infringed upon immersion.

Immersion

I have no problem rummaging through every cabinet, drawer or crevice in a game. In fact, after hundreds of hours between Skyrim (2011) and the Fallout series, I’m pretty good at it by now. But emails, or any written text for that matter, are different from in-game objects in the sense that they can give you hints or even plainly written directions, but they aren’t useful outside of their contents. So if you can figure out the objective ahead of you without any help from in-game text, you shouldn’t be required to read the email in order to progress.

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the assembly email

I can barely be asked to read all of my own emails in the real world, let alone someone else’s email in a virtual world, so when a single unread email stopped my progress through the game for a good 30 minutes, I was a little peeved. After systematically looking through every office and lab on the floor, I found it (with no help from the protagonist) sandwiched between two non-plot related emails on a colleague’s terminal. Before my show-stopping quest, I was actually in the right place, with the right in-game objects, and with the right intent, but because I didn’t look at one lousy email spelling out the task, I was prevented from going forward.

In its defense, The Assembly actually does a pretty great job of giving you hints if you screw up a passcode too many times, or are headed to the wrong elevator, so I don’t expect this to happen to everyone. You might be the type that dutifully clicks on every email and have everything else line up as it should, but if you’re not, consider this fair warning.

Comfort

There are a number of comfort modes available to users, and because this is ideally a seated experience that relies on keyboard and mouse or gamepad—which can render first-person VR movement rather uncomfortable—the most useful way to get around is teleporting. For those wondering, The Assembly has no Vive controller support.

The default mode projects a ghostly figure at a configurable distance, and combines it with a short-distance blink teleportation that inches you forward one footstep at a time. Because going a foot at a time is a slow and repetitive process, you tend to use ghost teleportation much more often, reserving the short-distance blinking for minor adjustments.

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‘Snap-turn’ is also available at a fixed rotation of 90 degrees, which allows you to quickly turn around and go down the institute’s many hallways easily. Some people aren’t keen on comfort-mode controls, so it was nice to see that more options are available. 

In the settings menu, you can revert to regular joystick controls that allow you to pan left and right using the right stick on your controller, and moving forward smoothly at a number of available speeds. All warnings apply, this is only really good if you’re either used to it, or not bothered by what Oculus CTO John Carmack famously called “yaw-stick poison.”

That said, I found it to be an immensely comfortable experience that was obviously designed from the ground-up for VR.

the-assembly-review-htc-vive-steam-oculus-rift-virtual-reality

Despite flailing around with emails, I found myself genuinely invested in the outcome, and challenged by both the puzzles and the moral quandaries set before me. I don’t know how much replay value there really is in this 4-5 hour adventure, but there seems to be enough ancillary door locks, computer passcodes and objects that even the most thorough player can miss and still make it to the end. There’s also an alternate ending made accessible by accessing the game’s chapter-by-chapter breakdown once you’ve beaten the game one time through.


road-to-vr-exemplar-ultimate-by-avaWe partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Gameplay
9
Immersion
7
Comfort
9

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  • Sergey “Ruddy” Omelchenko

    No vive controllers? You’ve got to be kidding

    • Graham J ⭐️

      Seriously. I don’t do a lot of walking while seated.

      • Factual

        I prefer walking with a controller.

      • Renos Dickey

        If you are a gamer, you have done a lot of walking seated.

        • Graham J ⭐️

          I meant IRL, which VR should be as close to as possible.

    • ndreams_jenny

      I’m afraid we don’t offer motion control support for The Assembly, we started development before these were announced as an option for the Vive and Rift. We also wanted to provide a consistent experience between the Rift and Oculus for all of our players.

      • Sebastien Mathieu

        Thanks!

        • Muddy

          If you guys are planning on adding Vive controller support (?), I would definately purchase this game if such an update was released.

      • Stranded Magma

        I think you mean Rift and Vive, not Rift and Oculus, those are the same thing :)

      • Raphael

        I will happily play a vive game with mouse and keys. Half life 2 was amazing in vr before valve broke it to appease the nausea clan. I have no problem moving around in vr with mouse/keys even in team fortress 2.

  • Rob Haskins

    I can’t get over VR support being sold as DLC. Gonna pass on this.

    • J.C.

      What a joke. $10 premium over the base game price for VR, which is only halfassed VR (no motion controls). I understand making a game for VR adds development cost, but don’t insult us with half-baked VR controls if you’re going to charge extra for the priveledge. Catlateral Damage’s VR version is technically DLC, but it’s free and has motion controls. I realize it’s a simpler game, but I only bought it for the VR functionality.

      Had they made the game VR only, and sold it for $30, even without motion controls, I don’t think anyone would be complaining. But their pricing structure feels…dirty.

      • ndreams_jenny

        Hey there! The VR support is not being sold as DLC – the VR Unlock exists only for flatscreen games who purchased the PC version. We offered the PC version of the game at a discount, so they can upgrade their experience to VR using the DLC. The VR bundle is the final, core product that we are offering to players.

        • James Friedman

          Keep making great VR experiences. F these haters!

      • Factual

        Get used to it. Theyre not the first to charge an upcharge for VR. Maybe you should all stop whining like children and acting like you know how everything VR should be run. If you can afford hundreds of dollars for the hmd and pc, im sure 30 bucks isnt gonna break the bank for you.

        • J.C.

          Don’t tell people where to spend their money. I paid for an expensive headset AND CONTROLLERS that are basically designed for games like this, and they decided not to support them, despite tacking a premium onto their game for it. And it doesn’t matter if they say it’s a “discount for people using monitors”, or any other PR line. It costs more to play it in VR, period. Which I’d be grudgingly fine with, had it not been a game where you walk around, fiddling with stuff…and the controls are designed for you to sit down and use a gamepad.

          The devs are welcome to make whatever they want. The lack of motion controls in a game that screams for them kills my interest. That’s all there is to it. If someone made a racing game that only supported a keyboard as input, I wouldn’t buy that either. And yes, I understand that getting motion controls into a game isn’t easy, and depending on how the game was coded, near impossible to achieve without starting over. In the end, the difficulty for the devs doesn’t matter. It’s whether or not people are willing to pay for what they’re selling.

        • TulleyTunes

          @Factual is right on (the money)! You cheap pricks, keep bitching about shit your broke ass cant afford. If you have a Rift or Vive just play the free apps; the creators do not need your money.

          • Robert1592

            er… I’m pretty sure they do.

        • Factual

          I plan on buying touch as soon as I can and I plan on using touch. That being said, controller movement isnt bad in VR and I certainly wont feel so goddamn entitled that I refuse to buy and play maybe a great game because it may not support touch. Wow people. And charging 10 whole dollars for VR support on a 20$ game? How dare they try to get paid for their hard work. How would you like your employer to stop paying you because their customers want everything for free? “I paid 800 bucks for my super elite Vive, but I sure as hell wont pay 10 bucks to upgrade a game to VR to play it on…thats way too much money”.

  • Rayza

    “i can barely be asked”

    I think you mean arsed *rolls eyes*

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    Why an 8.3 rating if it even is not totally finished VR game due to simple not supporting the default vive controllers, even its not that hard to implement.
    This game art is for sure high rating as they really did some work on modelling.
    But seems more to me that the gameplay is not well tuned to VR but rather quickly an addon port to resell their title again in a way.

  • Nads

    So these guys are charging extra money just to flip a switch on in the engine to make it vr compatible and also to add in teleporting and some other alternative vr controls? Im not trying to make fun of it! Im asking a genuine question!!

    Is that all youve done for the vr (basically a straight port from normal game) or have you actually redesigned the levels and objects keeping vr in mind?

  • Jean Thompson

    You really should add vive controller support. Its not hard. I’m upgrading a game I made last year, that was for the DK2 with gamepad. I will not play VR without motion controllers anymore. It defeats the purpose.

    • loktar

      Wow nice you’re upgrading your game? I’m sure it’s as in depth and polished as this one I look forward to playing it!

      • Jean Thompson

        haha very funny. I like the sarcasm. No, my game is not as polished or in depth. It was my 2nd game made by me alone. But thanks.

        • loktar

          lol sorry I was being a bit of a dick, just trying to make the point I imagine it’s not quite as simple for them. Seriously though everyone who devs VR is great imo :)

  • Factual

    Uh oh. No vive wand support. Gonna be a crybaby/hate thread. Sorry Ndreams. Ill purchase for rift. :)

  • dorofino

    Worse VR game ever.. bad VR experience and bad control handling, I don’t know what these people thought when they wrote this game.
    Did they think that I was going to be a strap to a chair while playing? Wow! I want my money back.
    guys… really WFT?
    Sorry if I’m too hard, but really?
    Oculus; you should hold back on releasing games that require Oculus touch controllers.
    I do give credits to the graphics guys!

    • Burstup

      I enjoyed The Assembly a lot and I don’t mind playing a VR game while seated.

  • “In its defense, The Assembly actually does a pretty great job of giving you hints…”

    LMAO, no, no it doesn’t. Look at the “hint” in the very first puzzle, “an average, as expected.” The answer isn’t an average, clearly the developers don’t know what the word “average” means, so the “hint” is actually an anti-hint and will send you off on a tangent.

    This first puzzle led me to believe the developers not only don’t understand simple math but they don’t even have a basic understanding of science.

    Plus the game itself sucks.

  • Get Schwifty!

    My first thought as I loaded this last night was “whoa, this is a REAL game finally for VR” and what we all bought our equipment for…

    Bit ridiculous people are criticizing content without even trying it due to lack of Vive controllers, people are going to miss a lot of good content that way over the next year until controller support is the norm. This kind of game is more the feel of an interactive movie, not an action game hurling coffee cups and dodging bullets, it’s a thinking game so while the controllers would be nice, they are not that critical to play, and the t-port system works well. That being said, an upgrade later to include Touch/Vive controller support would be welcome to keep the game relevant to what will become the norm, but the quality of the production and the story is first rate for VR games currently and should be supported to help establish good quality games as the norm.

    For polish, an interesting thinking man’s game and willingness to challenge the player ethically, an 8.3 for Assembly/nDreams is well deserved IMHO and a welcome break from all the other arcade fodder VR is pushing right now. Without even having finished this game yet I am already looking forward to their next game.

  • Brandon Smith

    I think this reviewer and I think alike.

    It deeply saddens me that new “Adventure games” try to emulate recent, bad adventure games instead of going back to the era of King’s Quest when adventure games were good. Adventure games aren’t about FORCING the player to play out a living novel. Aventure games were meant to be about the player being able to live in a world and solve probablems rationally and at their own pace. King’s Quest, specifically, had multiple solutions to puzzles so that you weren’t required to do JUST what the developer wanted to do. It’s YOUR story and YOUR adventure.