The Assem­bly



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

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