The first game from Seattle-based Nilo Studios, Asemblance is purported to be the start of an expansive new video game franchise. Unlike the constant flood of first person horror games in circulation, Asemblance positions itself as a psychological thriller, aiming to be a more engaging, thought provoking narrative inspired by cult television shows such as The Twilight Zone, X-Files, and Black Mirror.
It’s clear to see, within several minutes of starting out, the kind of ideas Nilo has put into practice. Without giving too much of the plot away, you find yourself in a dimly lit test chamber – a high tech lab housing a machine capable of simulating memories. With nothing but an AI monitor and a handful of clues to guide you, players are tasked with making sense of what’s happening.
If there’s one thing Asemblance nails, it’s the quality of what players see and hear on-screen. The voice acting and script are well delivered and help to unravel the game’s somewhat confusing narrative. Being a psychological thriller, there are some neat audio and music effects at work that adapt to the slowly rising tension.
Accompanying this great sound soundwork are the environments themselves. Although there are only a handful to explore, each one is compact and atmospheric, brought to life with clever use of lighting techniques in Unreal Engine 4.
Those who have previously experienced games such as Slender and P.T. will have no problem adjusting to Asemblance. There’s a major overlap in that players literally do nothing besides explore each memory in first person, occasionally inspecting objects of interest. It’s a video game format we’ve grown familiar with over the last few years and one that prioritises immersive storytelling above all else.
Although players are free to roam at their own pleasure, they will need to locate a series of pertinent objects within their surroundings in order to progress. Homing in on these specific points will trigger a shift of sorts, causing a time lapse or revealing something within the environment that wasn’t there before.
The hope is, for both Nilo and its players, that finding these clues will begin to form some kind of narrative thread. Again, not wanting to spoil what happens, Asemblance hints at several characters, concepts, and events that start to form a vague backbone to the story. However, after two playthroughs, I still couldn’t get a grip on what was actually happening and why.
In a way, this feels deliberate. There are no doubt bonus clues to find, such as additional lines of dialogue and text that fill in the gaps. However, for the typical player, many of these will slip under the radar, and that could easily lead to feelings of confused frustration.
The fact that Asemblance is being billed as “the first episode” in an ongoing saga – despite none of this being signposted in game – gives Nilo an excuse to withhold details, hoping that the mystery will generate a buzz among players as it moves onto developing the next instalment.
Some parts of the Asemblance are executed incredibly well, but having clocked in at just over an hour, it’s a tough one to recommend. Those who enjoy tearing apart this specific type of interactive thriller will have a ball searching every detailed nook and cranny for fresh clues, while the majority of gamers simply “won’t get it”. Either way, we’re intrigued to see where Nilo goes next and whether its ambitions for a landmark narrative series can actually materialise.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
The EU PS 4 release is delayed for a few weeks, pending a PEGI rating. For more info, see Nilo’s dev blog.