The Assembly is the perfect example of how many developers are making games and shoehorning in virtual reality for the sake of having the tech, even when that means the gameplay and graphics are deeply impacted.Not only is The Assembly one of the ugliest games I’ve played on any console this year, but it also has a convoluted story, puzzles that are little more than proverbial breadcrumb following, and god awful voice acting. On top of all that, I had to take frequent breaks from playing because the game made me feel physically ill. Thankfully, there were minutes long load times between scenes to provide some relief.
Still reading? Well if you must know more, The Assembly is a puzzle adventure game that has you walking in the shoes of two different characters whose paths eventually cross. One is a scientist turned whistleblower who works at The Assembly, which is an underground (literally) facility that runs experiments that aren’t approved by the government. The other character is a doctor who is kidnapped and wakes up at a job interview for The Assembly, because she had previously run some experimental tests to try to save her ill mother but ended up killing her instead.
While I’ll admit these storylines sound interesting on paper, the execution leaves much to be desired. Very little growth happens in the story, and the characters’ crossing paths had no impact on each other’s stories (that said, there are multiple endings, of which I will only ever experience one, because I refuse to play more of this game than I need to). The story is told through spoken dialogue with poor to bad voice acting between characters and through internal monologues, as well as through barely legible emails and illegible notes.
Which brings me to another issue: it seems the PSVR port of The Assembly is almost like playing the PC versions at the lowest possible resolution. Everything is grainy, with jagged edges that fluctuate constantly as you move your head, which makes for a nauseating experience. This is especially apparent when on the lengthy loading screens, as the logo of The Assembly rotates on the screen looking like something from the original PlayStation due to its jagged edges, and when trying to read notes found throughout the game. I realize that virtual reality is demanding resource wise and the PS4 can’t compete with modern graphics cards, but that is all the more reason why this should have never been ported.
Like many games that support VR, The Assembly has various control schemes, in hopes that one is comfortable for you. Yes, you can play with traditional FPS controls, but in my experience, that is asking to be sick without some kind of HUD. The default scheme has the right stick turning your character 90 degrees at a time and the left stick controlling micro movements in the direction you press, which feels like one of those first-person dungeon crawling RPGs from the ’90s (or now if you play the Vita). While this was the most comfortable scheme, it certainly didn’t lend itself to gameplay and I still found myself feeling queasy more than once.
Unlike the PC versions of the game, the PlayStation VR version must be played totally in VR, with no option to play on your TV. For PC, you can choose to purchase the game on Steam for $19.99 with an optional $10 DLC to enable VR for HTC Vive (which is ridiculous considering the Unreal Engine it runs on supports VR natively), or buy it from the Oculus store for $29.99, both of which offer a 2D mode. Meanwhile, the PS4’s version costs $29.99, is hideously ugly in comparison, and offers fewer features. Yuck.
If you’re still here and just foaming at the mouth for details on the gameplay, then let me tell you that the majority of the game consists of following breadcrumbs around hallways, offices, and labs that all look pretty much identical. Your character will say out loud what needs to be done such as “I need to investigate this room” at which point you’ll go there and click on items till you find the useful one, then continue on to the next objective. Over and over. This barely has more gameplay than one of those hidden picture puzzles you’d find in a child’s magazine, but hey, it’s in VR, so that counts for something right?
There are a few small puzzles, but they are so simple it’s hard to even call them that. One puzzle has you moving coloured blocks, which takes about as many brain cells as putting the square peg into the square hole, a game that you may have played in pre-school. Another is essentially a reading comprehension test that asks “Who done it” while practically screaming the answer in your face. Worse yet, one puzzle has no solution other than having you fail three times in a row. While I understand why this puzzle exists, to prove a point about the story and setting of the game, as a player it is incredibly frustrating to rack your brain about a puzzle whose solution is to fail multiple times.
I’m honestly relieved that I’ll never have to play The Assembly again. My stomach is upset, my neck hurts, and I’m continually getting more and more turned off of virtual reality by games like this. Whatever you do, play something else.