A cacophony greets your ears upon starting up Asemblance. Alarms blare somewhere in the distance as a synthetic voice asks you why you aren't helping, how you feel, and what you remember. The problem is, we don't remember anything. How could we? We just started. Nilo Studios' debut makes a rather striking first impression.
For those that don't know, Asemblance is a psychological thriller/walking simulator-type game. While some of the more prevalent games in the walking simulator genre – like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, for example – have, well, a lot of walking, Asemblance has more in common with the oft discussed P.T..
You assume the role of someone seemingly stuck in a time loop at a facility which is able to recreate memories from your past – three of them in fact. There are a couple of other environments, too, but for fear of spoilers, we'll let sleeping dogs lie. These five or six rooms comprise the sum of the game, which doesn't sound like much at all – but it's in this that the beauty of the game lies.
The game sees you exploring the aforementioned memories trying to find clues to explain what exactly is going on. This search for clues comprises just about the entire game, but it's done in such a way that it never stops being engaging or exciting. The title offers very little hand holding in this regard.
In essence, you are thrust into each of these rooms, and you either explore until you find what you're looking for, or head back to one of the previous memories to see if you missed something. And finding these clues is very satisfying. There are audio devices in the some of the memories, like answering machines, that help inform things that you should be searching for within the rooms, and they excel at telling you just enough. Everything needed to find the requisite clues is presented, so long as you do one thing: pay attention.
This game, more than any other in recent memory, makes it an absolute necessity to pay attention to everything that you look at and hear. And if you're lucky, you may catch a whiff of the title's ARG that involves e-mail. Sure, we suppose you could go from item-to-item in each room, zooming in – zooming tells you if something is significant – and brute forcing your way through, but that would take far longer than the hour run-time that comes from playing the game normally.
It helps that the title is actually worth paying attention to, though. Some very unsettling ideas and imagery –paired with an equally foreboding score – help to make the adventure a lasting one. It seems to share its DNA with several television programs, like the ever-amazing Black Mirror. It's no accident that Asemblance feels this way either. This is intended as the first episode of a sort of anthology series – sounds familiar, no? – delivering short but engaging experiences. And the pilot episode is just short of a universal success.
To be fair, the game doesn't exactly wow from a technical standpoint, with some pretty unimpressive texturing and animation. Sure, it's a small game in a small environment, but it still feels like something's missing from the presentation. This doesn't actually hamper the experience any, luckily, but the game's biggest flaw does: it's ending – or should we say endings.
We've avoided talking about any of the specifics of the narrative, because just about anything we say could be a spoiler, and this game's narrative is every bit deserving of discovering it for yourself. The endings are a definite weak point for the game, though. The clues of the narrative are woven into the game so well that the endings just fall flat. This problem stems from the fact that all of the "eureka" moments will have come and gone by the time that you reach the credits. Subsequently, the endings – well, the ones that we found – offer far less to think about, which is a tad underwhelming.
Asemblance delivers an intriguing narrative based around a time looping mechanic, and makes a lot out of very little. The game may not have many environments to explore, but each one is carefully layered and crafted to allow the story to emerge at whatever pace you're able to keep up with. It helps that the title has genuinely interesting – and, oftentimes, unnerving – ideas, which, when paired with the menacing music, makes for an engaging experience.