The Assembly Review

By Marc Hollinshead,
If a game has a fantastic story, is that enough to warrant a positive reception? This is becoming more and more apparent in the industry today. A game doesn't necessarily need to be full to bursting with gameplay to be considered a shining success. However, when there's a perfectly balanced mix between gameplay and storytelling, a game is able to potentially excel in all departments. This is where nDreams' The Assembly comes in. Without any form of combat to speak of, and previously a VR game, is this title able to thrive on Xbox?

The Assembly

The Assembly is set in an underground scientific facility called The Assembly, which is cast far from any civilisation or governmental regulations. The secretive members of staff within this institute conduct numerous breakthroughs in scientific research for the good of the planet, but everything doesn't always run like clockwork. The game follows the stories of Caleb Pearson and Madeleine Stone, both of whom are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Madeleine is at the start of her journey, taking part in an initiation of sorts, whereas Caleb, better known as Cal, is a veteran of The Assembly and has begun to uncover something rather sinister. The motivations of these two characters don't always align and it is interesting to see how they react to what they see as well as to hear their own personal views on what they are experiencing.

Throughout the entire game, you always take it in turns to control both Cal and Madeleine, playing through their particular segments before moving back to the other character. Although the game begins with Madeleine, the main gameplay only truly begins with Cal. As Dr Pearson knows his way around The Assembly, his portions are very exploratory in approach. The game will assign Cal particular objectives to complete, but you are given a fair amount of freedom and can go at your own pace when playing.

Subtle.Subtle.

Each area of the facility consists of various laboratories and offices and almost 100% of the time, Cal will be given the chance to peek inside them and explore at his leisure. However, some of these rooms require key codes to enter so it will be up to you as to whether you hunt down the code to make it inside. This regularly encourages you to explore every inch of these rooms and corridors, rewarding you with dossiers on Cal's colleagues and experiments, or private computer emails that were never meant for his eyes. Every room always has something to interact with, and Cal will often share his thoughts on what he sees and hears to give us more insight into his life and emotional stance on The Assembly as a whole. There are a few side stories that Cal can uncover and continue with if you rifle through enough people's belongings. Put together, all of this helps to keep you both occupied and engaged as you wander through the deceptively large bunker.

Interactive storytelling can be a very entertaining way of unravelling a game's plot and backstory if done correctly, and The Assembly manages to do just that. There is just enough there for those who don't decide to go beyond the main objectives, but by design, the facility is meant to be explored and its atmosphere is there to soak in — what you do discover is certainly worthwhile. Although you may not see and interact with many physical people, the secretive bunker feels very much alive with activity. Rooting through every single drawer won't always yield a reward, but there is always a desire to do so, just to see if Cal says a passing comment or a lone audio recording lies within.

The CCTV cameras around every corner won't stop you from breaking into your third office.The CCTV cameras around every corner won't stop you from breaking into your third office.

While Cal explores the facility and delves deeper into the dark corners of scientific research, Madeleine takes a limited but slightly more creative approach to gameplay. In the hands of the ever observant Dr Chevez, Madeleine is put through a number of trials to see if she has what it takes to join the ranks of The Assembly's scientists. These trials take the form of different puzzles and Madeleine is free to take as long as she wants in completing them. Each of her segments consist of one trial, so if you are a puzzle savvy gamer then you can potentially finish them very quickly, drastically decreasing the amount of screen time with Madeleine. This means that more of your time will be spent with Cal, but nonetheless each of these puzzles are rather well done while also feeling diverse in their design.

Throughout these trials, Dr Chevez and Madeleine will regularly converse, giving you insight into what brought her here and what her true intentions are. Similar to Cal, personal thoughts and observations will be uttered by Madeleine as you attempt to solve the puzzles, expressing her frustration or curiosity of what she is experiencing. Despite the limited amount of time you are in her shoes, she still feels just as fleshed out in character as Cal, maybe even more so. A few moral choices are also occasionally presented to you towards the end of your time with Madeleine, adding an extra incentive to play through again as well as another type of gameplay mechanic.

All trials are radically different to each other.All trials are radically different to each other.

Throughout my own personal time with The Assembly there was one particular struggle when trying to transition to another chapter. The game crashed upon loading the next segment, and because of this the previous chapter needed to be replayed in its entirety before attempting to move on again. Unfortunately, the game then froze at the exact same moment as the previous crash, and the chapter had to be replayed once again before finally being granted passage to the next portion of gameplay. This caused a lot of apprehension whenever a load screen appeared, but thankfully these problems never arose after that issue had passed. Whether this was an isolated incident or more widespread is yet to be discovered, but it may be something to watch out for if your own Xbox is prone to being a little temperamental.

The Assembly has a total of 29 achievements. To acquire them all, you will need to explore as much as possible, as well as complete a few random tasks. It is possible to grab them all in one playthrough, but if you miss any, subsequent playthroughs will no doubt be much faster than the first when you will know exactly where to go and what to do. Multiple playthroughs should not feel like too much of a chore either because of the rate at which you can race through. This in itself brings more enjoyment.

Summary

Although it started out as a VR title, The Assembly feels right at home on Xbox, perhaps even better suited. The way in which its story unravels alongside Caleb and Madeleine's motivations will fascinate you throughout the game and potentially even have you asking what's right and wrong as you progress towards the end. The diversity between the two different characters and their gameplay adds variety throughout your playthrough, and exploration always feels worthwhile as you control Cal. Madeleine's puzzles are very creative, and the way in which the story progresses through your interaction will regularly keep you engaged until the very end. It's an enjoyable game that many will enjoy as it has managed to achieve a perfect mesh between storytelling, exploration and puzzle solving.
4.5 / 5
The Assembly
Positives
  • Intriguing story
  • Exploration feels worthwhile
  • Creative puzzles
  • Moral choices add extra replay value
Negatives
  • Madeleine controlled segments are much more limited than Caleb's
  • A few game freezes and crashes
Ethics
The reviewer spent 9 hours exploring The Assembly and uncovering the secrets within. All 29 achievements were earned in the process. A code for the game was provided by ID@Xbox for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.