Konami's PT popularized a new game genre; one filled with puzzles that gaming communities work together to collectively figure out. Asemblance is in the same vein, but does it manage to deliver a satisfying experience once all's said and done?
Asemblance puts you in the very small world of someone trapped in a metallic room with only a simple computer and an AI voiceover. Your ultimate goal is to figure out why you're in this room and how to get out of it. The story is about as abstract as you can get and I expect there to be long wiki articles explaining it in-depth over time as people uncover all of the details. At a high level, you are involved in some kind of research experiment that aims at letting its subject relive memories. However, something has gone horribly wrong and it's up to you to survive the repercussions.
Asemblance's gameplay is extremely simple: select a memory on the machine and walk into it, interacting with the few objects that you can. You will mostly spend your time walking around and focusing on things, with the occasional press of X to interact with an object or triangle to exit the memory if you've exhausted everything in the current one. Knowing which thing to interact with or stare at and at what time is the key to progressing. There are only four memories to load so you can imagine that it gets boring quickly. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment when you do figure out how to trigger an event that progresses the story but I found that depends on how long it takes you to figure it out and how abstract the trigger is.
There are a handful of endings to Asemblance that are achieved chronologically and each one is harder to uncover than the last. The first few were quite fun and by the time I unlocked them, I was pretty satisfied. However, the subsequent endings made me waste hours of time walking around and staring at things to the point where I decided to sit back and let the online community figure them out for me. A few days after Asemblance's release, hundreds of comments on the steam community were posted as everyone tried to piece the puzzle together. Once it was done, the ending was a huge letdown for me. Considering the first three endings didn't really uncover much about the overall mystery, I was hoping for more from the final ones but they just didn't deliver as expected.
During the countless hours that I spent trying to get to those last endings, I hit many glitches and watched online videos of other people finding glitches, too. You can find yourself stuck in a side room of the house with nowhere to go and even warp outside the map without the ability to interact with anything. For a game that forces you to do such strange things in order to progress, it became impossible to know what was a glitch and what was intentional. If any game needs thorough testing, it's this one!
The presentation of Asemblance is actually quite fantastic. I was blown away by the awesome graphics from the moment I entered the first memory. I simply haven't seen an indie game with this level of detail put into its presentation before. That being said, the fact that there are literally only five variations in environments means that the developers had more time to focus on the graphics. In total, there's the metal room that you start in, a grassy cliff area, an office (complete with a Space Cats calendar), a home, and an outer-space area. Considering they did such an awesome job, I hope that when they work on the next game, they expand on it with more memories that have this level of detail. The sound is also done extremely well, with fitting effects and music tracks that establish the atmosphere perfectly. You'll hear everything from soft piano melodies to distressing effects that will keep you on your toes.
One thing that the developers did to take the mystery of Asemblance to another level was include out of game interactions. For example, there are multiple email addresses on pieces of paper that you find in the office and if you email them, you'll get actual replies. Some of the replies seem like auto-responses but others took into account what I was saying and they were written in a way that I felt like I was conversing with the character. If you email one of the addresses and attempt to sign up for an experiment, you'll get a response with a questionnaire and a disturbing video clip. If you go to the domain that the email address is from, you'll be taken to a site made just for those who attempt to find it. I also saw an IP address on some of the material but it didn't go anywhere. The fact that I felt compelled to try shows how well Asemblance pushes you to think outside of the regular video game boundaries.
I applaud Nilo Studios for trying something different, their outstanding quality of graphics and sound, and for creating something that forces the player to think outside of the confines of the average video game. However, the vast number of glitches, small game world size, and the sheer frustration that it creates means that I can't give it a great score. In the end, it feels more like a demo of what can be done; one that needs to be expanded upon vastly and tested thoroughly in order to become something worthwhile.
- + Impressive graphics for the small environments that you wander around
- + Great atmospheric soundtrack and effects
- + Real world interactions are intriguing
- - Way too many glitches that take away from the overall experience
- - Very short with a confined game world
- - Abstract progression becomes frustrating