Review: Asemblance

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A red flashing light pulses to a loud alarm filling the room with a dark, eerie urgency. The alarm has been tripped as a test to see whether or not you can follow directions. Glowing red, the industrial room is sparse. A computer terminal with one active screen glows in front of a grid-like holodeck room. Turning around, a corridor is to the right and a blocked passage is directly behind the computer terminal. Lighting is poor. The corridor to the right is pitch black. 

This is how Asemblance begins.

A mysterious and looping first-person adventure mystery from Nilo Studios, Asemblance is a dark examination on memories and whether or not they can be shifted or tampered with. Interacting with the computer terminal in the beginning, one lone memory can be accessed, which then activates a simulation in the grid chamber. Stepping into the chamber, the world immediately changes from the stark industrial room to a vibrant forest. Button prompts appear on the screen, indicating how to interact with the world: R2 zooms the camera, Triangle resets the simulation and returns players to the industrial room.

Asemblance continues the story loop by adding another memory to the computer terminal, this time an office space from Asemblance labs. Entering the simulation room, a reel to reel tape record sits on one desk, a clock against the wall in the center of the room indicates that the memory is from just after midnight. A computer on another desk has a monitor displaying the words, “Look closer.” Pressing R2 to zoom in and look closer, suddenly the game glitches for a moment and the words change to, “Remember when she saw the blue butterfly.”

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Hints like this give clues of where to look next. Of course the next obvious place to look for a blue butterfly would be back to the forest. Resetting the simulation and playing the forest once again, there is indeed a blue butterfly gently flapping it’s wings. Zooming in on the butterfly triggers yet another glitch, but this time the memory simulation shifts entirely to a new location without resetting. An apartment where a blue butterfly has been mounted and framed and used as art on the wall suddenly appears. Looking up from the butterfly, a woman can be seen standing in the living room. Moving toward her, the simulation glitches and the game is suddenly back at the opening red flashing alarm in the industrial room.

Playing through Asemblance is at times a spooky joy and at other times a sluggish exercise of repetition. I don’t want to spoil all of the sequences of events that unfold in the game because the experience is best played going in blind. But as I mentioned above, zooming in on various objects in each location triggers different moments throughout the entirety of the game. Some triggers include shifting time backward or forward, some play recordings or offer different hints as to where to look next, while others allow forward progress, indicated by causing a glitch to erratically alter the screen for a moment, but otherwise leave players guessing as to where to go next.

Asemblance ends, but then the menu offers the chance to continue, which starts the whole routine over, yet with a slightly different feel. The colors to the rooms aren’t the same. A recording may change. The time shift when looking at clocks places memories in different locations. The voice guiding players changes his tone as the game progresses as well, but the library of phrases he speaks isn’t nearly as full or robust as it could be given how many times I replayed sections in the game.

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I enjoyed playing through Asemblance on my own, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t reach the final end (or the hidden ending) without help from the Internet. I was able to wrangle my way through the first ending, the blue shift ending, and even the green ending without resorting to the multiple pages of forums on Steam, Reddit, and Neogaf. But the White Shift ending (which baffled many players for days) was something I spent several hours combing through posts trying to sort out and make sense of the journey I had already taken up to that point. I will say, though, that the White Shift ending is spooky and satisfying and worth the effort.

Asemblance is a game about stretching your mind and exploring the possibilities of “what could be” or “did it really happen?” or “can I change the past?” This is done by reusing the same locations, but Nilo has done so with a smart approach to the assets they have created. Shifting color tones and changing the time period by resetting memories makes the same room light and warm and safe one minute, while feeling scary and foreboding and dangerous the next. My only complaint is that movement throughout is sluggish as hell. There is a way to increase the pace of movement by holding down L1, but the uptake in speed is barely noticeable. I mention the speed as being an issue only because replaying the same room over and over again at a slow pace can feel overly daunting at times.

Players who enjoy a twisted mystery that encourages experimentation and deep observation should not miss Asemblance, nor should fans of Lost, Groundhog Day, X-files, or pretty much anything supernatural. All told, the time to full completion takes maybe two hours, but that’s for anyone who is either a complete savant and can piece together EVERY hidden clue, or has a guide sitting in their lap while playing. But where’s the fun in that?

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Engaging and mysterious story
+ Clever time loop mechanic
+ Smart use of similar assets to provide new atmospheric tension

Cons:
– Slow movement

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also on PC
Publisher: Nilo Studios
Developer: Nilo Studios
Release Date: 6/21/2016
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: PlayStation Store or Steam for $9.99

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.