We knew going in that the promise of Sony's cheaper PlayStation VR headset meant that the graphical output was going to be inferior to that of its competition. Even with this knowledge, some of the titles have been shockingly unimpressive. It's easier to work around the headset's lower specs when using abstract art styles that don't imitate reality. So, when a game does try and imitate reality, things look quite a bit less impressive. And this is one of the many problems The Assembly has.
A first-person puzzle game, this is pretty standard fare. As a virtual reality launch title, it's perfectly adequate we suppose, but it's unlikely that you'll have any interest in returning to it down the road. One of the most important things for VR is to consider whether or not the game actually benefits from being in VR. And after spending the four hours it took to beat, we've decided that in the case of The Assembly, that answer is a resounding no.
This is why the game is in VR, though: it would be wholly unremarkable if it weren't. There is nothing in this game that would really set it apart from anything else, or make it memorable – other than the fact that it's a VR game.
It's a game that sees you assume the roles of two different characters, one – Caleb Pearson – being an employee of this vague, mysterious group referred to as "The Assembly", while the other – Madeleine Stone –undergoes "trials" as part of the hiring process at the site. While overseeing Madeleine's trials, Caleb begins to uncover some unethical research problems in relation to a strain of a killer virus. Most of the narrative is actually rather vague, and it's unlikely that you'll find yourself particularly engaged with the story; the plot isn't bad per se, but it's not very good either.
Caleb's portion of the game is more of an adventure game, as you uncover all sorts of information pertaining to this research as you try and take your leave from the facility. Madeleine's portion of the game is where all of the puzzles come into play. Well, all five of them. Shockingly, none of them are even especially challenging, with obvious solutions telegraphed by the game. To be fair, they are actually kind of fun – especially one where the goal is to get all of the synapses of several artificial brains firing – but they never really push your mind to truly work. And simply put, there are not enough of them. For a puzzle game, we were really looking for more, er, puzzles.
Possibly the biggest problem with the game though is just how it looks. If you've seen footage of the PC version of The Assembly before, you'd know that it looks pretty good. Not incredible mind you, but still pretty good. This is not the case with the PSVR version. Some of the textures look nice here and there, and the character animations are impressively fluid, but overall the game looks like it's about two or three console generations behind. This game in particular feels like a much greater step backwards in visual quality than many of the other VR experiences that we've seen. In fact, the graphics are so poor at times, that it can cause some VR sickness.
It's actually really strange, because the sickness doesn't stem from motion. Instead, the act of merely looking at things just happened to induce nausea on occasion. There's a lot of text-based reading in this game, and considering how poor it looks, this caused us some real problems. Even with the game in sharp focus, text is a bit challenging to read, and it made it hard to play for long stretches of time.
PlayStation VR's tracking problems are on full display in this title, too, as we found screen jittering was rather frequent and head-tracking was problematic. We played at multiple times of day to see if natural light or any other characteristic had an impact, and the game was equally problematic in all times of day. Rebooting the PS4 entirely seemed to reduce the issue, however.
The Assembly isn't bad, but it's not good either. It's a puzzle game without enough puzzles, and a pretty forgettable plot. A massive downgrade from the PC version of the title, the visuals can induce headaches or nausea if played for too long, and this is made even worse by the fact that the game doesn't need to be in virtual reality to begin with. It's a title that's cynically riding on the coattails of VR novelty, and while that may make for smart business, it doesn't create a great experience.