You’ll spend a great deal of time reading emails on f latscreen monitors in The Assembly. It’s a hoary mechanic that ironically serves to highlight the unfulfilled potential of this made-for-VR sci-fi adventure. The story, told from the alternating perspectives of whistleblower Caleb Pearson and disgraced neurologist Madeleine Stone, is breezy enough – even if the cringe-inducing am-dram performances make it impossible to ignore a weak script and heavy-handed exposition – but nDreams never once uses VR for gameplay reasons.
It does employ some smart structuring, however. Stone’s chapters see her endure the heavy-handed interview process of the titular secretive organisation as she tackles simple block and shape puzzles, as well as some light detective work. The latter offers the game’s only real peak in the form of an intriguing murder mystery, but while it explores entertaining ideas, none of them draw on VR’s potential. Pearson, meanwhile, spends his time unlocking doors and exploring the facility in his attempt to expose the unethical practices of some of its occupants.
Despite nDreams’ apparent reluctance to push VR’s gameplay scope, the sensation of presence makes the warren of labs and offices a pleasure to explore. As does the game’s only innovation: a fine-tuned warping system. Termed ‘blinking’, nDreams takes the familiar mechanic and dispenses with the usual predetermined endpoints, letting you choose where you want to appear. Holding the left trigger will bring up a silhouette of your character, which you can place by looking around before tapping A to blink over to your destination. You can fine-tune your position, while f licking the right stick will see you move instantly between the four compass points. It’s a considered system that eliminates nausea and also lets you move around with satisfying, liberating speed.
Your progress will be somewhat slowed by all those emails, but also by the empty drawers and cupboards you’ll feel compelled to open in your search for the occasional story-critical item. And there’s a small, but frustrating, delay after a piece of dialogue has played out before you’re able to interact with anything again. Given the game was built from the ground up for VR, its underuse is disappointing, and the paucity of memorable moments is especially painful given the series of amusing allusions to groundbreaking games such as Mario, Half-Life and Resident Evil. The Assembly is yet another example of mundane game design attempting to hide behind the novelty of VR. The mileage in this strategy is running out.
The sense of presence imbued by the game’s incorporation of virtual reality makes this sequence, in which you must determine the identity of two conspiring murderers from a lineup of manikins, particularly eerie