Virtual reality works best when games utilize it in ways that are inherently unique to the technology. Still, plenty of developers shoehorn games into VR that fail to live up to the technology’s potential. Unfortunately, The Assembly falls into this category.The Assembly is a first-person adventure game that throws you into the deep end of an ongoing story. A group of underground scientists–the titular Assembly–conduct experiments without the government standing over its shoulder. You take on the role of two different scientists: new recruit Madeleine Stone, and Caleb Pearson, a veteran looking for a way out. These characters only come into contact with each other for a brief period of time; otherwise, their stories are separate
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.
Stone, a scientist whose career was recently ruined, is undergoing trials to see if she’s fit to join The Assembly. These trials will, at times, involve simple tasks like moving blocks around or choosing the right shapes. Other puzzles, however, expect you to move around the environment to inspect various objects, listen to audio tapes, or use in-game terminals to gleen information. These trials can be compelling; investigating a simulated murder to uncover the culprit is an unexpected-yet-captivating twist. Some of these quests push Stone to confront her past, though the game doesn’t offer you enough of a chance to care about the character before it throws you into her troubled family history. This makes the choices feel less impactful than they should.Pearson, on the other hand, discovers that The Assembly is creating something sinister based on his past research, which prompts him to take all the evidence he can find to expose the organization. His path is definitely the more interesting of the two and makes The Assembly feel like a dystopian society, where “The Man” is always watching. You travel through the facilities, identifying evidence and solving simple puzzles. Pearson will talk to himself, letting you know what you need to find or do. His story goes in some intriguing directions, but it seems to stop short just as you start to get engaged.
Viewing The Assembly’s world through a VR headset won’t enhance the experience, either. The most it offers is the chance to move around its environment, which doesn’t feel like enough of an incentive to jump into an Oculus Rift. It doesn’t feel like you’re living in the world. Stone and Pearson’s disembodied voices come from what’s supposed to be your virtual body, which makes you feel even more disconnected from the game. Elements like these, coupled with the non-optimal control experience, make it difficult to recommend playing The Assembly in VR.The Assembly feels like a small part of a bigger, much more engaging game. It’s a good foundation for a world full of mystery, but it ends just as it starts to get interesting. A game that fully explores the dystopian facility, its history, and the state of the outside world is something I’d be interested in. However, as it is, The Assembly is hard to recommend.