The Assembly: VR Preview
NDreams has been making virtual reality games for a while now, one of the few developers specialising in the craft, but with the forthcoming release of The Assembly on July 19, they are gearing up for their first release on one of the "big boy" headsets. While it's not that there is any pressure as such - they have an excellent track record with VR - there's still the big question that dogs every big budget VR game now: 'Is this worth it?'
I sat down to play the first two hours, and so far it seems the answer is a resounding yes. While The Assembly might not tickle the taste buds of those of you that need the adrenaline surge of constant combat, it's an exercise in subtle storytelling that has a grander scale than the likes of Gone Home while also finding time along the way to throw some puzzles and detective work into the mix.
The Assembly drops you into a secret lab that is, perhaps, somewhere in England and is occupied by the titular Assembly organisation, a group of scientists for whom the end always justifies the means. It's got the eerie feel of classic BBC horror, from the Quatermass era, and manages to give you a compelling story by putting you in the shoes of both Madeline, a new initiate who has been kidnapped by the Assembly as a potential new recruit, and Cal, an old hand who has discovered a secret project that's too far even for the Assembly and has decided to take steps to notify authorities outside of the bunker.
Narrative skips between the two and the preview I played gave me roughly equal playtime with each character, ending shortly before the two characters first interact, during the third of Madeline's initiation trials, a series of tests she has to take to be considered for membership in the Assembly.
The gameplay is different for the two characters; Madeline is struggling with the guilt over a failed science experiment, and between these moments of angst she has to solve tests for the watching Assembly members to prove her worth as an Assembly member. These are quite well designed, with a murder mystery that you have to solve being a standout moment both in terms of aesthetics and in that it's a puzzle fairly free of hand-holding. To solve the murder mystery laid out in the room in front of you you'll have to listen to statements, investigate the suspects work areas and then try to identify the culprit yourself.
Cal has a role slightly more familiar to those who've played exploration games before: he walks around, looks at things and talks loudly to himself so you can make sense of the world around him. His puzzles, at least in appearance, are more organic and involve a fair bit of corporate skulking around, but it's still fairly hands off, with a combination of Cal's narration and clues in the environment giving you all you need to crack the puzzle. Neither character's puzzles are that taxing, but it's nice to have to engage your brain a tiny bit, and they may get more challenging later in the game, after all.