You wake up to blaring alarms — a red light dashes across your vision. The AI tells you that we are in an emergency situation, questioning why you aren’t helping. You rush for the terminal in front of you and everything goes dark. Blue lights flicker, the alarms silence and everything is immediately calm. How did I end up here? What is this place? How do I get out?
This is the exact situation you find yourself in Nilo Studios’ fledgling game Asemblance. A first-person experience/psychological-thriller, Asemblance presents puzzles in both story and progression. The PC and PlayStation 4 game is a bit of an odd-ball; built for a relatively niche audience, the game rewards you by how far down the rabbit hole you are willing to dive. Neither the story nor the mechanics are spelled out directly, meaning it is up to the player to discover who you are, why you are there, and what everything means.
Being as vague as I can, the game feels fairly heavily influence by P.T. and SOMA. Far more science fiction than horror, the game relies on the player to not only discover the story, but also to progress the game forward. The place you wake up in happens to be a memory holo-chamber: given the right input, you are able to explore your previous memories and interact with the environments. Unfortunately for the protagonist, the chamber has no exit doors and the AI seems vaguely malevolent, trying to prevent you from accessing certain memories.
At no point is the player given express direction about where to go, how to unlock the next memory, or why you are even locked in a memory chamber. The answers are in the game, but requires a fair amount of sleuthing.
The game takes places in only a handful of environments — roughly five — with scattered documents and messages around to give you an idea of what is happening. Like most first-person experience games, the controls are very basic. You are able to interact with a few objects, walk at a quicker pace, and zoom in on objects. And while this makes it sound like that doesn’t present enough variety, it is actually perfect. The game’s puzzle gets fairly challenging towards the end, so it is important to have direct knowledge about what the limits of your abilities are to impact the environment.
Another thing to note is Asemblance is stunning — running in Unreal Engine 4, the limited environments presented are perfect down to every detail. From an office environment to an impeccable apartment to a woody grove, it is one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 4 (especially for its $9.99 price tag). There are the rare visual blips that are fairly noticeable, only because everything around it is so perfect.
The game features multiple endings, each progressively more difficult to find than the last. As far as I understand, I’m (currently) the only reviewer to find the fourth ending, and no one has been able to find the fifth. This is the kind of scavenger hunt I love to see in games — it is what made P.T. so much fun, and the recent Resident Evil 7 demo so infuriating. In creating a puzzle so rigorous, the developer is either implicitly or explicitly asking players to discuss the game further, talk strategies, and pull out their hair collectively.
The only true downside (at least with the four of five endings I’ve seen) is they are entirely too similar. While there are some small dialogue variations attached to each of them, experiencing the endings never felt rewarding. Thankfully, the puzzle itself (and the accompanying trophies) were rewarding in and of itself.
To add to that, I mentioned the game’s audience is relatively niche — many people don’t play games to be intellectually challenged, or for a dense, puzzling story. The game is technically beatable in 15-20 minutes if you are going for the more basic ending. Meanwhile, I have spent roughly six or seven hours reading through the many documents strewn around, investigating each object, and trying to decipher how to unlock all the endings.
I’m hesitant to call Asemblance “fun” — but that isn’t what the game is trying to be. Instead, it is a challenge to overcome for those interested in experimental gameplay and hidden stories. The game is dense, but rewarding for those looking to make the investment.
The fact of the matter is, there aren’t a ton of experiences like this around on PlayStation 4 (perhaps with the exception of SOMA): puzzle-driven psychological thrillers are fairly scarce. And though the puzzles aren’t as rewarding or playful as The Witness, a small collection of my friends have been spit-balling theories and ideas back-and-forth for the past couple of days in an attempt to unravel the last mystery. For $9.99, it is an experience I highly recommend trying out, even with its faults and being designed for a niche audience.