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.
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, www.ndreams.com, 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.