Asemblance Review

By Mark Delaney, 3 months ago
The majority of narrative adventure games base their gameplay mechanics on exploration in service to storytelling. They put you in an unfamiliar world and ask you to piece together a narrative from clues given out of sequence and in small doses, but eventually that story unfolds to make sense and is often even quite moving in the end. Many such games have found success doing this over the past several years as the genre has risen to popularity. Asemblance is the latest such game to attempt this, but it goes too far down the path of obfuscating its own story beats so that the characters ultimately feel like strangers and the story is completely lost in a haze of confusion.

Developed and published by Nilo StudiosDeveloped and published by Nilo Studios

In Asemblance, you're not formally told who you're playing. You're not told why you're in the strange laboratory in which you begin. You're almost never told anything of substance at all. Context clues can be found in each of the game's few explorable areas, but trying to piece the plot together without the help of the game's subreddit community feels nearly impossible. In what little can be gathered from the game's story, the protagonist is manipulating some sort of memory machine. Picture Asemblance as a darker, more tragic Eternal Sunshine, only without any of the brilliant directing or dynamic characters. As you weave your way through the game's several endings, in and out of this memory manipulation machine, a little bit more of the haze is lifted each time — or not. It seems the developer expected that to be the case, but it doesn't really play out that way, unless you again seek extracurricular content online.

Asemblance seems to have attracted a small but passionate community when it debuted on other platforms over a year ago. Mixing in elements of an alternate reality game (ARG), which is like an online scavenger hunt for those unfamiliar, the game's merits were more evident to those playing along together trying to unravel a mystery. Sadly for Xbox players, that ship has sailed and the answers, though not at all evident in the game itself, can now be summarized briefly and unceremoniously with a little googling. Whatever magic was there for Asemblance at its original launch is missing for new players today.

Missing the ARG boat wouldn't be the death knell it is if not for the game's inability to make us care about the characters in any way. If it stood on its own as a bizarre but intriguing adventure game that drove us to seek answers, finding them in bulk wouldn't be so bad because that revelation care package would follow at least some emotional connection to what we saw on screen. Sadly that's not at all present in Asemblance. For the player that hasn't a clue what's going on in their brief stint and decides to find answers online, there may be some minor enjoyment to be had, but only by looking at what the story details actually are, not how they were presented.

You'll return to this area often during the game's short runtime.You'll return to this area often during the game's short runtime.

On paper, it's a compelling narrative. In practice, you'll come away after an hour wondering what even a single moment was depicting. If nothing else, Asemblance is unique in this way. It's a boldly experimental game, and it seems if Xbox was part of the early wave of players, it may have been a better time for fans of this sort of thing. Can you give an A for effort? Sure, although even in that regard Asemblance would earn a middling C at best. It likens itself to The Twilight Zone and perhaps with a makeover it could have been that. There's just almost nothing here that makes it a game worthy of such a lofty comparison.

Aiding the game in its failure to establish itself is its remarkable brevity. Playing through to the first ending takes only about 15 minutes, and to achieve all the game's endings takes about another 15 once you know what you're doing. That know-how would be nearly impossible to obtain given how obtuse the whole game is, so most players will likely reach for a guide quickly. In that one way, it is quite like The Twilight Zone in that it unfolds within a half hour.

Despite the problematic storytelling for a game that offers storytelling almost exclusively, there is one point of salvage for members of this community: it's a simple 1000 Gamerscore. Only the last achievement, which requires very specific guidelines, may hold you up. If you follow our site guide, you shouldn't need more than a few retries to nail it, putting the entire completion somewhere between 25 and 60 minutes.

Check out our The Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Asemblance is the type of game worth rooting for because it dares to try things in its own unique way. Having said that, its execution leaves far too much to be desired. You can't commend the game for being weird, because it's so weird that it fails to connect at all. It's one of the shortest games you can find on the Xbox One, which should not inherently be an issue, but in this case it is. There needed to be a few more breadcrumbs to help players care about the bizarre sequence of events that unfolds over the game's 30 minutes. Lacking all resonance and intrigue in its playthrough, Asemblance is a decent story once you look it up online later, but more of it needed to be expressed in the actual game.
2 / 5
Positives
  • May be enjoyed by those who like to piece together a story all on their own
Negatives
  • Obscures its own story to a problematic extent
  • Brevity of it all doesn't allow for any characters to be fleshed out
  • Devoid of any resonance
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 45 minutes completing all the endings of Asemblance and still needed to ask Reddit to explain what any of it meant. He collected all 10 achievements for 1000 Gamerscore. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purposes of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.