Asemblance is the episodic debut game from Nilo Studios, which despite being a new studio is brimming with industry experience as former members from Bungie (Halo/Destiny), Monolith (Shadow of Mordor) and Visceral Games (Dead Space series) make up its development team. Asemblance is a first-person psychological thriller that challenges the player to relive recurring memories in order to uncover the truth to the events that have befallen your character. Despite its limited and somewhat repetitive gameplay Asemblance rarely feels tedious, and instead is quite compelling in urging the player to seek out the truths that lie within, which is largely thanks to its emotive narrative and soundtrack.
The memory bank ATM
The game’s first episode begins with your character waking up to the sound of alarm bells ringing and flashing red lights. As you come to, you are asked to answer a question that you will find yourself answering numerous times throughout the campaign. Here you will be introduced to your AI companion – a voice that to some extent acts as your shepherd throughout the game, despite repeating itself with its limited dialogue time and time again. But that is what makes Asemblance unique; it is a journey through incessant repetition that leaves the player feeling like there is always something new to uncover. From the onset it’s evident that Asemblance channels influences from parallel titles such as Soma and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, along with a pinch of Twilight Zone, as the game gives off more of a poignant sci-fi vibe than a horror vibe. Those expecting to experience another P.T. may be let down as trepidation in a horror sense is seldom found.
Asemblance takes place across five different small-scale locations in which your memories take place. Your task is to examine these areas and find whatever clues and remnants you can to help you piece together your past that’s shrouded in mystery. Subtle hints and clues are given as to what items need inspecting, but for the most past Asemblance does not hold your hand. It forces players to think logically about puzzle solving, something that is seldom found in video games these days. Adding to the game’s replay value is the fact that it features multiple endings, and in order to achieve these you must delve deeper down the rabbit hole. As you do descend further inside your own memories for clues, the puzzles increase in difficulty and can become a constant source of frustration as you go around in circles searching for answers. It becomes apparent that sometimes solving the puzzles is similar to the cult hit, P.T., where items need to be arbitrarily examined in a sequential order to unlock the next step. As of this point in time I have found four of the five endings, with the fifth and most veiled ending eluding many players so far (once the game ‘ends’, you can either continue from your most recent checkpoint or start anew). It is here where the game’s repetitiveness takes away from the experience. With no real logical solution to finding all the endings, it is easy to spend an excessive amount of time wandering in circles while your frustration grows.
This is as close as it gets to horror
Will Spacecat help you find the truth?
The use of simple and slow haunting melodies elevates the moments of lucidness and I often found myself theorising about the reasons for the main character’s plight while soaking up the audible delights.
Rent is cheap in your own head
Just waiting for a mate
Like most first-person thrillers Asemblance is simple by design, utilising a limited control scheme, with buttons assigned for interacting with objects, walking faster, zooming in and exiting your memory. Inspect-able items are few and far between, however there are hints scattered across the environments on items such as reports or blueprints. Not all of these are clear cut, and some may depend on your interpretation of the information you garner as to whether it helps you find the answers you seek.
Running on Unreal Engine 4, Asemblance looks tidy enough with some objects looking substantially better than others. The game’s environments are all well designed and feel quite immersive, despite their limited interactivity. The voice acting is well done and never feels tacky (as a lot of indie games can do), and even though a lot of the lines are repeated multiple times, the delivery is good enough that it rarely feels humdrum. However, the game’s biggest immersive boon is the excellent melancholic soundtrack that really drives home the overall tone of each memory. The game embodies the ‘less is more’ principle, and that is no more evident than in the game’s soundtrack in my opinion. The use of simple and slow haunting melodies elevates the moments of lucidness and I often found myself theorising about the reasons for the main character’s plight while soaking up the audible delights.
So far I have spent roughly eight hours attempting to put the pieces of my memory’s jigsaw back together, and you could easily spend several more chasing the elusive Holy Grail (the so-called Whiteshift ending). However, in essence the game is beatable in roughly half an hour, which may be a letdown for those content on settling for the one ending. Another disappointment is the illusion (rather than the reality) that your choices matter, as during my two playthroughs I tried as best as the game would let me to make different decisions, alas I ended up at the same destination on both occasions. As I said prior, it appears that doing things in the right order unlocks the different endings. Asemblance’s multiple endings are also a bit lacklustre, as each ending practically feels the same as the next, and a lack of variation may force some players to question whether it’s worth investing several hours only to experience minor differences in the game’s concluding moments. Hopefully in future episodes they can add a little more depth to the endings.
Nilo Studio’s addictive, yet equally frustrating Asemblance won’t appeal to everyone. First-person games that exemplify the need for patience and lateral thinking are an acquired taste, and while Asemblance isn’t a bad game – in fact it’s quite the opposite – it is a title in which you have to invest yourself in order to appreciate the experience to its fullest. For a game that retails for $9.99 USD (approx $14 AUD), I got more than my money’s worth.
Reviewed on PS4