The Assembly Delivers Gripping Tension and Storytelling in VR

Featured Stories, Virtual Reality

The Assembly is one of the most detailed, immersive and ambitious virtual reality experiences to arrive this year. Available for both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the game is designed specifically for Virtual Reality by nDreams, a UK-based company focused purely on virtual reality since the studio’s inception.

While The Assembly features a first-person perspective, it’s not a shooter but an interactive adventure that utilizes VR in several interesting and innovative ways. As the development team explains, The Assembly was designed as an interactive drama for mature audiences where there are always “two sides to everything” and the “truth is never clear.”

Set in a mysterious underground desert complex, The Assembly is bursting with moral choices and tricky dilemmas – and as in life, you can’t fully predict the impact of your choices. They may or may not work out how you want, and the stakes are high. With multiple endings, you could end up saving a lot of lives or simply tip events towards total disaster.

The Assembly itself is a shady scientific organization. It conducts its experiments underground, both literally and figuratively. The company has made some amazing breakthroughs, but only by hiding itself from view, from the law, and perhaps from morality itself. Yet it may still be hiding something worse. The question is, how far will it go to keep its secrets? It’s down to the player to find out.

The intricate world you unravel has been designed specifically for VR control, a realistic space to explore with intuitive movement and immersive freedom. You see it through the eyes of two characters, and switch between them regularly as the chapters progress. One character is totally new to the Assembly, while the other works for them – playing as both gives huge insight into your mutual acquaintances, as truth emerges in the gaps between the two perspectives.

The newcomer is Madeleine Stone. She’s put through an increasingly strange induction designed by scientists to test her potential, and while she’s clearly not too happy about it, it’s also obvious from the start that she has little choice. Some murky past disgrace is being used against her. Worse, so are drugs and physical restraints.

Her chapters lean towards puzzle solving, but they’re not the old-fashioned “put the missing wire in the generator” type fetch-quests, either. One early test, for instance, involves solving a brilliantly staged murder mystery from evidence and witness statements. To Stone, the Assembly and its staff are mysterious, motivated by unknown forces and potentially hostile.

For old-hand Cal Pearson, life with the Assembly is very different. He knows many of the scientists well, although he’s starting to realize he doesn’t really know them well enough. Already disturbed by their worsening treatment of him, Pearson is about to find evidence that his own research is being misused to justify potentially immoral – and perhaps plain evil – developments. While Madeleine Stone’s sections lean towards puzzle solving, Cal Pearson is focused more on investigation.

Personal relationships are as important as anything, and it’s an area where VR really adds to the experience. The characters have conversations, take phone calls and overhear others in the offices, labs and halls of the complex. The realism, and the deep sense of place and time it creates, has brought comparisons with Half-Life. The Assembly, however, is not an FPS but a slow-burning narrative to solve with your wits, one that’s never going to break the immersion by sending you to shoot enemies.