By: Mike Chen
Released on Steam and PS4, Asemblance has gotten some online notoriety in the gaming community because of the depth of its mysteries. While this may make you want to go into it completely blind, that could also lead to rage quitting in frustration about two-thirds of the way through the experience. Instead, read this non-spoiler review and see if it’s up your alley.
Asemblance has only a few buttons that the game walks you through: a button to exit the memory simulation, one to interact with objects upon a visual cue and one to zoom in and focus. However, one critical item that isn’t described to you is a run button, which you have to discover on your own. Keep it in mind because it’s important for a segment about halfway through the game.
Most of Asemblance takes place indoors — an industrial science facility, an apartment, an office. The strength here is not in the visual beauty, but in the amount of painstaking detail laid out in letters, maps, blueprints, and other items that help tell the story.
However, one outdoor location is a painstakingly crafted ridge and meadow, with subtle movement of grass, plants and wind, along with exquisite lighting. Perhaps it’s from the lack of locations, but it’s clear that a lot of work went into polishing that particular section.
The main voice actor is the experiment’s AI, who is like Portal’s GLaDOS minus the over-the-top humor. Otherwise, the only real audio work comes from a serviceably tense soundtrack.
Asemblance takes a lot of its cues from Gone Home and Hideo Kojima’s PT, the bonkers interactive teaser for the cancelled Silent Hills. Walkthroughs show you can get through the game in about 30 minutes if you know exactly what you’re doing. General playthrough will take about 90 minutes to get through the first threshold of an ending, and that’s really where you’ll get the most exploration done.
In Asemblance, the story unfolds as you enter and exit the Asemblance memory machine, a sort of combination of Assassin’s Creed’s Animus and the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Your goal is to piece together clues as you loop through three different memories.
There isn’t much handholding along the way, but the intuitive adventure gamer will look at the written notes, articles, brochures, photos and other stuff in each environment to decipher what’s happened. Looking at specific items warps time forward or backward in the environment, thereby allowing different puzzle pieces to reveal themselves.
Up until the first ending, it’s a traditional walking-simulator experience. After that, though, it joins PT in levels of crowd-sourced clue finding. I realized this when I felt totally stuck and finally had to revert to walkthroughs.
There are four endings to the game, each one requiring deeper and more precise movements. Your patience for this will vary, though based on Reddit forums about the game, it took a lot of people a lot of time to figure it out, and the payoff is revealed in such small but gradual steps that it lacks much real catharsis (and in my opinion, turns out to be more clichéd than I would have preferred).
If you want to enjoy the game but don’t have days to trial-and-error tiny tasks, I suggest playing through to the first ending (you’ll get back to the opening title with the option to continue), then have a walkthrough ready for the next segments.
Asemblance takes a cool idea, and then proceeds to bog it down by requiring overly precise minutia in order to get any satisfaction from the game’s multiple serialized endings. It’s best experienced knowing roughly what to expect so you don’t lose hours in frustration.