Nilo Studios, the visionaries behind Asemblance, have made it very clear that their game is a “mind-bending franchise inspired by The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and Black Mirror.” This put me in a very difficult situation, setting me up for what could be the weird, obscure and down-right haunting game I’ve been waiting for. On the other hand, it could fail catastrophically as each of these inspirational materials have a very serious following and it could well trip at the smallest hurdle. So, will it live up to its claims?
The second the game begins there is an alarm blaring, as a soft voice – one not too dissimilar to that of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey – is heard telling you “this is an emergency, life or death situation.” So far yes, very Black Mirror. Something is happening, it’s stressful, I am uncomfortable.
The game takes place inside a memory simulation machine, you have no recollection of how you got there, meaning you don’t really know where to go or what to do, it’s the rare sort of game that in no way holds your hand, something I’ve greatly missed in games. See, too much nowadays is the idea that gamers have zero patience and need to get from A to B as quick as possible and, if you don’t, the game is seen as tedious and “broken”. But the main aspect about Asemblance is exactly that, patience. You will spend a very long time looking at everything, zooming in on documents, reading clues that may or may not help you. You will walk around the same spaces over and over again, knowing there must be something you’ve missed.
Graphically, Asemblance sadly shoots itself in the foot. The premise is to walk around these small areas and interact with specific items to give yourself clues and progress the story. Aesthetically, the surface of Asemblence is beautiful; it is simple, minimal and there doesn’t seem to be anything out of place. Sadly though, the rendering is extremely poor – there are rough edges, pixels are huge and it looks like an early Xbox 360 game. It really takes you out of the setting as it makes it very clear it’s a game. Unfortunately, every item looks terrible when zoomed in, and you would really think that, if the whole premise of the game was to zoom in on items, they would make those look as good as possible when zooming in. That seems simple enough right?
In regards to controls, and Asemblance has a really nice fluid feel. The sensitivity is very low and creates this, almost, cinematic feel when the camera pans left and right, slowing down the game in the best way possible. It made sure the experience wasn’t rushed and meant nothing was missed. Whipping the camera around quickly wouldn’t have made this possible.
I will be the first to admit it isn’t all simple. Asemblance threw me for a long time and I got frustrated, knowing I was missing the smallest thing to make this, very short, story progress. I checked every inch of every detail to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and considering the game only takes place in a total of three main areas, I only got more frustrated. This eventually made it all the more rewarding, though, as when I finally found the right sequence or the correct clue to edge ever closer to the conclusion, euphoria would hit. Some people may find this lack of areas repetitive, which I can understand, but considering the game is only around an hour long, it wouldn’t have made sense to over complicate the, already, complicated game by adding far too many areas to explore.
So that gets me on to the audio and the voice acting found in the recordings and the main AI is very good, completely engrossing me in the story. You really do hear the dread in certain voices that makes you fear what will come next and the AI’s deadpan persona ensures an incredibly uneasy experience throughout. These voices do become a tad repetitive though – especially if you get stuck for a bit – hearing them again and again. The music that accompanies the game is very minimal too; soft and calm when needed and excruciatingly tense at others. Whatever audio comes your way in Asemblance though, it is absolutely spot on!
Asemblance is a very short and very sweet game. On the surface, the graphics are a delight, but once you zoom in (which is one of the main ideas of the game) it falls drastically short, which is such a shame. It is confusing, weird and tense, but I still love it. Yes, it is frustrating and repetitive, but that is made it all the sweeter once the puzzles are figured out. Understanding that this is only the pilot episode to a longer series, I am very much looking forward to seeing where this series goes and what other mid-bending elements will be added.