Preview: The Assembly

2014 is a landmark year for virtual reality (VR). Despite the fact that we’re unlikely to see any of the head-mounted displays (HMDs) make their way to retail before the year’s end, we are noticing a shift in software. It’s no longer five-minute tech demos by indie teams that are making the headlines; it’s professional studios with budgets that stretch beyond production and into marketing and PR. Sony Computer Entertainment, Epic Games, Square Enix and now nDreams, as today the UK studio revealed The Assembly.

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Though it may actually be the second VR production from nDreams, The Assembly will be the first commercial title for Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus from the mid-sized studio. Aiming to be offered as a launch title for both of the big name HMDs, The Assembly is a mid-budget videogame built on Unity that promotes the finer points of VR design: slow-paced movement from a first-person perspective, puzzle-based gameplay and a deep story played out in densely populated environment. In fact, the first few moments of the demo available at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) position the player with nothing more at their disposal than the ability to look and listen.

Strapped to a gurney as you’re marched down the corridors of some clinically clean and overtly distressing laboratory, taking note of the clues that are presented before you is your only option. Starring at the reflections of your virtual self on the spit-polished floor may grab the attention of a gamer, but in the world of VR it’s much more important to play the role you’re given. Room names and numbers; experimentations taking place within; a strange symbol mounted upon electronically secured doors: these are the details you should be observing.

Soon enough the demo build suddenly cuts to a second sequence. VRFocus was not informed at what point in the videogame these two set-pieces occur but would guess that it would be near the start, as the puzzle challenge faced in this second instance is the perfect conditioning for the player for the modern variant of point-n’-click challenges. For all intents and purposes, The Assembly is essentially a transplant of the traditional point-n’-click ruleset into VR. Players will collect items, combine them with other objects and environmental items in order to solve puzzles and gain access to new areas. There are two ways to end the sequence, VRFocus is told: successful escape or dismal failure. VRFocus worked within the remit given by the voice-over of our player character to solve the puzzle and escape intact.

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At the point at which the demo ends VRFocus is informed that the character that featured in this first instance of The Assembly, Madeleine Stone, is in fact one of two persons that the player will inhabit in the final build. nDreams plan to support the greatest strengths of VR in The Assembly, ensuring that each role is significantly different given their height, personal commentary and other dimensions. Exactly how the developer intends to deliver this over the course of a three-hour adventure remains to be seen, but VRFocus will of course keep you updated with all the latest details on The Assembly.

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