I quite enjoy myself a psychological thriller. There’s no shortage of them on the Xbox One, but very few tend to stand out as shining examples. Layers of Fear and Observer, although both leaning heavily on horror elements, are both fine additions to the genre. It’s important for any psychological thriller, be it a movie or a game, to continuously toy with the minds of the audience. This very aspect is what initially intrigued me the most when it comes to Asemblance. This is a single player first-person experience that throws players into the role of a character that’s stuck in a machine capable of simulating memories. The concept alone is exciting and full of potential, but that potential is never fully tapped into.
Furthermore, the game is said to be the first episode in what the developers hope to be a franchise, one that’s inspired by the likes of Black Mirror and The X-Files. This already sets a very high bar, one that Asemblance hopelessly struggles to meet. The best way to describe Asemblance would be to categorize it as a walking simulator with some light puzzle elements, not too dissimilar to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, only much less realized. You begin the game in front of a machine, with very little explanation as to who or where you are. The machine is your first port of call, a clever mechanic that enables you to boot-up memories in the hopes that you can piece together the overall arc.
It’s hard not to immediately fall head over heels with the visuals. In fact the visual design and presentation is most definitely Asemblance’s strong point here, grouped together with a decent soundtrack to set the tone. The environments are well detailed for the most part and do a good job at encouraging exploration throughout the somewhat restricted surroundings. I say restricted surroundings because that’s exactly what you get. Asemblance dishes up a band of small yet unique locations to explore, with some sections proving to be much more intriguing than others. Though, for all of its visual splendor, Asemblance fails to tack a worthwhile experience to it.
The game lacks structure in terms of its story and pace. I found that at first I was deeply intrigued by what I was about to dive into, only to be left almost entirely unsatisfied and even confused. We’re assured that news regarding the follow-up episode will soon be with us, but it’s important to keep in mind that this game first released back in 2016. With that in mind it’s safe to assume that the best way to describe this game is as a series of installations, rather than a bog-standard episodic affair. I would hope that the questions left unanswered in this installation have not been left for the follow-up, because that’s a prime example of poor story design.
Touching up on the story, it’s hard to go into any detail outside of what I’ve already provided without giving half of the plot away, so on that note I’ll leave it at that. What I will say is that it hardly does much to keep hold of your attention some ten minutes into the game. It’s of no use that the gameplay is just as underwhelming. The game simply has you walking from section to section and inspecting your immediate surroundings before eventually triggering the next memory sequence. This gameplay mechanic works in the likes of Layers of Fear because that game knew how to hold your attention and keep you questioning the plot. Asemblance on the other hand just doesn’t hit that note due to the lack of an interesting story, despite the solid premise.
To its credit Asemblance does deliver some truly clever moments, such as how some of your interactions can lead to environmental shifts. These moments, however, tend to be few and far between, and certainly something I hope to see built upon for the second serving. My biggest gripe with the game lays solely with its finale, or finales to be precise. Not once did I feel adequately rewarded for my time in the game, besides the few ups that Asemblance provides. Come the ending, I had far too many question marks floating above my head due to the sheer lack of closure that the story provides. Much like Open House (Netflix) the game has a strong opening, but utterly fails to maintain its creativity.
Asemblance does a good job at hooking you during the initial stages of play, yet fails miserably to maintain its creativity. Despite the decent visuals and some interesting moments throughout this confused experience, the game doesn’t quite live up to the quality of other psychological thrillers, such as Layers of Fear. The bottom line here is that if this truly is the beginning of a franchise, the second serving doesn’t have much to live up to. Make of that what you will.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.