In­ter­ac­tive story from a VR spe­cial­ist


READ­ING THAT A GAME is made for VR may give you the same sink­ing feel­ing as when a movie is made for 3D. Great—there will be lots of un­con­vinc­ing CG, and loads of bits where some­thing big and pointy is pushed to­ward the au­di­ence. So, in a medium that’s en­tirely CG, what can a game built for VR of­fer that one for flat screens can’t?

One thing is the con­trol scheme. Among the lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of VR hard­ware is the un­pleas­ant nauseous sen­sa­tion some peo­ple get when mov­ing. De­vel­oper nDreams clearly knows this, as TheAssem­bly has one of the best VR con­trol set­ups we’ve seen. Hold­ing the left trig­ger pops up a ghost of your char­ac­ter, which can be moved us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of sticks and head move­ments. Get it in the right place, press A, and you warp to its lo­ca­tion. The ghost is in­tel­li­gent enough to bend over desks, and put its hands against doors, so you know if some­thing’s in­ter­ac­tive. You can nudge your po­si­tion with the left stick, if your warp­ing is im­pre­cise.

It’s not a stan­dard FPS con­trol scheme, but it’s not a stan­dard FPS game; there are no en­e­mies, no time lim­its, and you of­ten get an­other go if you mess some­thing up. Two in­ter­twined sto­ries—in one, a pro­tag­o­nist un­der­goes “test­ing” af­ter be­ing kid­napped as part of a job in­ter­view, while the other pieces to­gether a de­tec­tive story about dis­ease out­breaks—play out in a mys­te­ri­ous science com­plex, all smoothly ren­dered by Un­real En­gine 4. You break into of­fices, cause un­der­whelm­ing ex­plo­sions, and read other peo­ple’s emails to dis­cover their love sto­ries and door codes; com­plete block-shift­ing puz­zles like it’s 1996, stab man­nequins in the back, and at­tempt to man­age a global pan­demic, with no sec­tion last­ing long enough to over­stay its wel­come.

Yet while they may be com­pact and nicely de­signed, they’re not very ex­cit­ing. The game has no sense of jeop­ardy or the im­pres­sion that your ac­tions mat­ter. That’s not to say there aren’t any nice touches—dis­cov­er­ing a crow­bar trig­gers a com­ment about IT be­ing ac­tion-packed— and the con­stant nar­ra­tive mono­logue the char­ac­ters keep up while you con­trol them is well writ­ten and per­formed. In what is a puz­zle game at heart, this may be ap­pro­pri­ate, but it makes for a slow game. There’s too much con­sult­ing of maps and emails for clues, and not enough plea­sure at your own clev­er­ness for work­ing some­thing out.

This is solid VR work from a stu­dio that knows what it’s do­ing, but like many hel­met-based ex­pe­ri­ences, TheAssem­bly feels slight. You’ll have it all wrapped up in three hours or so, and in this cold world of im­per­sonal of­fices, you’re left feel­ing that the whole is some­how less than the sum of its as­sem­bled parts.

The Assem­bly

ASSEM­BLY Clean, sharp looks; thought­ful VR; clever con­trols.

DIS­IN­TE­GRA­TION Lacks ex­cite­ment; con­tains a block-shift­ing puz­zle; quite short.

REC­OM­MENDED SPECS In­tel Core i3-2120 3.3GHz or equiv­a­lent; 4GB RAM; Nvidia 700 se­ries or AMD Radeon HD7700.

$20,, ESRB: T

The un­der­ground lab has a suit­ably im­pos­ing en­trance.

The lab is neat and ef­fi­ciently put to­gether.

Block- shift­ing. Why did it have to be block-shift­ing?

Man­nequins are used in the tests to creepy ef­fect.

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