Last week, I did something pretty cool. The VR-game-publishing company nDreams hosted a small press event at their studio in Farnborough, UK, aimed at allowing us press-folk the chance to preview the latest and greatest to come off their production line: a game called The Assembly. If you’ve read my article on this event, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to VR, and so this game had a whole lot riding on it; I was looking for something that would shift my attitude a little, maybe make me a bit more optimistic about the so-called “future of gaming.” And I have to say, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
The premise behind The Assembly is a refreshingly mature one, following the extra legal and morally dubious research being undertaken by shady organization par excellence, The Assembly. The plot essentially kicks off when an employee of the organization realizes that research of his – long since forgotten as a result of its moral dubiousness – is being reanimated and given potentially catastrophic purpose; it is up to said employee to find the evidence and deliver it to the outside world. Dovetailing this story of espionage and intrigue is another, revolving around a doctor who wakes up to find that she has been kidnapped by The Assembly because she might have accidentally expressed an interest in being hired that one time whilst she was drunk.
The player alternates between these two characters, each offering a distinct style of gameplay (which I’ll get onto in a bit); what I would like to see, and suspect that we probably will later in the game, is the coalescence of the two plot lines into one mega-plot. Suffice it to say that VR really does improve the experience in terms of immersion: it’s a great pairing, with a solid plot being complimented by a virtual reality for you to engage with.
The fact that we experience two slightly different aspects of gameplay throughout The Assembly means that the potential range of “stuff to do” in-game is pretty massive. The first of the two characters – the employee – offers some unsanctioned snooping, as he tiptoes his way around the many shady laboratories of that very shady organization. It is, in essence, the “go there, fetch that, do this” mind-set adopted by so many RPG style video games, but with interesting twists to keep you occupied: using microscopes to analyze tiny cell samples, for example, or turning the full force of your brain power on solving a riddle that offers up a password of some sort as a reward. I was particularly fond of the various secondary plots that ran through the portion of the game that I played, particularly because you have the power to influence them in some way or another.
The second character – that’s the “employee to be” – is being subjected to various trials, that aim to discern whether she would make a good member of The Assembly or not. These trails consist of all sorts of interesting things, from simple block shifting puzzles to full on, Cluedo style murder mysteries. VR really shines here, which I suspect may have been part of the point, and I’d even go as far as to say that these trials were the best bit, not least because they looked great but also because they held my attention for quite some time. I’d like to see more of the same in future updates, but do still maintain that combining these two elements of both plot and gameplay would be a neat idea as well.
One of the most amazing features of The Assembly, and I suspect most VR games to come, is the interactivity of the world within which you are placed. Every single cupboard, closet, draw, locker, and refrigerator could be opened and peered into, every sliding door hissed open to reveal a new area, and every PC could be used to read through the kind of hilarious emails that you might expect employees of such an organization to send one another. It’s attention to detail at its finest, simply put: I even noticed that the coffee mugs had what looked like stain rings on the inside. I mean, wow.
The Assembly looks good. That is a conclusion that anyone could jump to within 20 seconds of play, and to be honest I expected nothing less from a game of the 21st century. There is no corner cutting with VR, and so – as I just mentioned – the detail in-game is exquisite, and not only with regards to interaction: each environment looked neat, fairly authentic, and nicely rendered, and the clear effort put into both audio and lighting effects meant that the sense of actually standing in an underground lab facility was maintained throughout. NPCs wandered past on elevated walkways or behind glass panels, their voices swelling and fading as they passed, and even the elevators made all the right noises to make you feel as though you were traveling upward (or indeed downward, funnily enough). Top marks for effort here, then.
Thus concludes my preview of the opening chapters of The Assembly. I came away feeling suitably impressed (if not a little nauseous, but that’s for another article), and am looking forward to seeing how the team at nDreams moves forward with what is already a very solid game indeed. This is one first-person interactive story that any connoisseur of Virtual Reality ought not to miss, and it’s coming to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (PC, in other words) on July 19th: check out all the latest info on the title page.