I’ve always fancied joining a secret clandestine organisation – something like the Masons or the Illuminati. So it was with great excitement when a friend once took me to an exclusive group of people that met on a Tuesday night. I needed to keep our presence there secret. Unfortunately it was just Weightwatchers, not quite what I hoped for, but on the plus side I did lose four pounds. The Assembly is a proper secret organisation that contains a group of top scientists working deep underground in a facility somewhere in the desert. Here they work on scientific technology that is far advanced from anything we know in the real world. But what are the real motives? Is there something sinister happening at The Assembly?
The game is a first person adventure/puzzler that follows two hero’s journeys and their involvement with the organisation, The Assembly. The first protagonist is Dr Madeline Stone, who has been captured/recruited by the The Assembly group after her successful career has been ruined by scandal and a medical disaster. She, like us, is trying to work out and understand how this mysterious organisation works. She is given a number of trials to test her mental skills by the other scientists and as we move through these, we discover more about her disturbing past. The second hero of the game is one of the actual scientists who has been at the Assembly for years. He is called Caleb and early on discovers some disturbing news about the use of a secret germ warfare programme being tested by the group. He makes a decision to escape the facility with the truth, detailing the information with the world.
The Assembly was originally designed to work with VR on the PC, but it also works as a normal first person adventure experience. You wander around a room, interacting with objects, computers, animals and machines. You follow a set of objectives like “Find Lab 4C” or “Pick up a germ sample”, before going and completing them. This is very much the journey of rebel scientist Caleb, who, like a detective, is wandering around picking up clues and trying to find a solution to escape from The Assembly. We learn a lot about his journey and thoughts through phone conversations and an inner monologue. This journey works well enough; there are some interesting discoveries to make and some tricky puzzles to solve, but it is the less dynamic of the two storylines.
Dr Madeline Stone’s journey is one in which you have to complete a number of trials or tests to progress and gain the trust of The Assembly. These trials consist of a number of brilliantly designed puzzles that will test all your creative thinking practices. For example, one trial sets up a theatrical murder scene, whereby you have to solve it by weighing up the evidence and listening to the testimonies. Then there is another where you have to balance the resources of medical aid in an imaginary world filled with an extinction-looming disease. Towards the end of Dr Stone’s journey there are also some very clever ethical dilemmas and moral choices to be made. I won’t spoil those in this review though. It is Stone’s side of The Assembly which is very fun to play, while the puzzles/trials are completely unique and stimulating. I wanted more of these trials to be included, as I could of played them all day, and maybe it makes Caleb’s journey a tad redundant. The Assembly likewise does finish quite quickly and that’s a big shame because by the end it feels that it’s beginning to really hit the high points.
The game’s story is intriguing enough to keep your attention all the way to the end. There are little side stories as well; for example, your involvement in a romance between two shy scientists is a lovely little sub plot that enhances your experience in this game world. The looks of the game are fine and dandy, with some Portal/Half Life 2 influences found throughout the design. The characters do look a tiny bit dated, but you rarely meet other humans except in the background, so this isn’t much of a problem. The room design and especially those found in the trial sections are superb, with areas brimming with detail.
The audio levels found in The Assembly are fantastic as well, with great effects and a nice score which complements the game successfully. The voice over work has a mixture of some good work and some bits that sound a bit tired, with the tone jarring somewhat. But overall it is pretty solid in that department.
I’ve had a great story experience with The Assembly. It’s got a wonderful central premise that it explores beautifully, with a world that is full of integrity and intrigue. The sections revolving around Dr Stone are the more successful of the two, with brilliant puzzles and superb conundrums. The game finishes way too early, just as it feels like it’s really starting to find its feet, but maybe that’s okay when you take in the price. The controls are solid but can get a bit pernickety and come across as frustrating at times.
To conclude, I would recommend The Assembly for its story, concept and originality. I’m off to Weightwatchers again to see if they have a secret trial room in the back near the scales.