I have long said that gameplay is the most important factor when determining whether or not a game is good. Games are allowed to have wacky, complicated plots – looking at you Metal Gear Solid – as long as in the end they have a great gameplay loop. Taking this into account, how would I judge a walking simulator which has little to no gameplay elements combined with a confusing, disjointed plot? Let’s find out.
Asemblance is a first-person walking simulator from the recently founded Nilo Studios. The game begins with you waking up to find yourself trapped in a room with a machine. An AI prompts you to activate this machine and enter into the simulations that it creates. You then learn that these simulations are actually your character’s old memories. As you advance through these memories, you try to piece together what has happened to your character in the past. What caused you to get stuck in this room with the machine? Are any of these memories actually real? Are you even the one in control? Sadly, none of these questions ever really get answered.
I liked the tone of Asemblance and I think the developers at Nilo Studios had a solid foundation for a story. Unfortunately, I often felt like everything was going right over my head and the deeper I went into the game, the less I understood. It reminded me of this scene from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
What sucks is that I really wanted to know what happened at the game’s “conclusion.” Asemblance is one of those games where notes and other pieces of random info detailing the story are strewn around the environment. I had read a decent amount of these pieces of information and had started to think that I had understood what was happening in the story, only to have my ideas be shot down later on. While it is fun to go and theorize with people on the Internet after finishing a game, I instead went on the Internet afterwards to try to understand what had happened. Even then, I still had a hard time understanding the plot. I don’t consider myself an idiot and I have no problems with someone telling a story in an obscure way. Still, the fact that I had almost no idea what occurred in Asemblance after finishing it says a lot. Then again, maybe I am just an idiot.
Another thing about Asemblance that disappointed me was its lack of environments. The game is about revisiting old memories but it only ever gives you three different memories to revisit. Each of these areas are extremely small and none of them have much to do in them. As I mentioned, there is some info you can gather from the environment around you but other than that it’s very empty.
One thing that did surprise me about Asemblance was the puzzles. While the game is mainly a walking simulator, you do have to complete small puzzles to advance. These puzzles were hard enough to challenge me for a few moments, but they never made me want to rage-quit.
Despite this, I think it’s important to mention that even though the game has now been out for almost a week, no one who has played Asemblance has been able to solve the final puzzle in the game. You may have noticed earlier that I put the word “conclusion” in quotes. This is because the game has about five different endings, of which I have seen all but one. To unlock the final, true ending, you have to finish this last puzzle, which once again, no one has yet to do. While I appreciate Nilo Studios creating an enigma that forces the Internet to come together and figure out collectively, I think it’s a tad bit ridiculous that you can’t even see the true ending to the game unless you accomplish this feat. If you’ve created a challenge that’s so ridiculously complicated that hundreds or thousands of people, collectively, have yet to figure it out after days of combined effort, then that’s a problem.
The music to the game is fantastic and is probably my favorite part. Underground electronic artist Kid Smpl created the soundtrack and it really dictates the entire tone of the game. There are a few moments in Asemblance that feel incredibly creepy, akin to PT, and I think that a vast majority of what made those moments so tense was the music. If you can, play this game while wearing headphones.
In the end, Asemblance has some good ideas but it feels like they never really come together in the proper way. Nilo Studios says that Asemblance is supposed to be the “first episode” in a new series of games that are supposed to be similar to The Twilight Zone. While this sounds like a fantastic idea on the surface, every episode of The Twilight Zone at least makes sense by the end of the thirty minutes. Asemblance was just a ninety-minute experience that kept me scratching my head.
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