As video games become more and more experimental, we get new and interesting ideas being tested by indie studios. Asemblance is a walking simulator-type game with some light puzzle game elements, but it also has an extensive ARG attached to it. Similar to something like P.T. or the Resident Evil 7 demo, it’s the kind of game that provides pieces to the player and asks them to talk to other players to try to connect them. Does that make Asemblance worth playing, or is it too ambiguous for its own good?
Asemblance never really makes who you’re playing as very clear. You play as someone trapped in a machine that lets them relive their memories. They’re being assisted by a creepy AI that is attempting to help them with something, though I’m not entirely clear what that something is yet. The person you’re playing as has to try to relive some horrible memory involving a woman, something that is also never really made clear. Actually “never really made clear” is Asemblance‘s calling card. I know the game is supposed to be the first episode in a series of games, but it does a very poor job selling me on the story.
Part of the problem is due to the reliance on the ARG bits. You can’t just play through Asemblance and get the full story; you have to do quite a bit of research. At one point a computer flashes a screen on Reddit in where you can investigate their Reddit account to find a single post. This leads to an Imgur account which has a picture that you need to overlay with an in-game screenshot so you can figure out a vague idea on how to access one of the game’s five endings. Or, if ARGs aren’t quite your thing, you can watch the community do it instead. To be blunt, if ARG’s aren’t your thing, then this isn’t the game for you.
It doesn’t help that there’s not much to Asemblance outside of the story. You’ll be exploring three different memories from the main character’s past: a peaceful stroll on a grassy hill, a visit to the office on an important day, and an important moment at the character’s apartment. Your only ability is to zoom in the camera to focus on objects, and doing this can sometimes either alter the current memory or one of the other memories. For example, during your first trip to the office, the computer will ask you to zoom in on it and, upon doing so, advise you to examine a butterfly in the grassy hill. Upon going back to the hill, you can find the butterfly which, upon examining, reminds you of the apartment memory and makes it accessible now. Even with this it only took me about an hour to get through all the puzzles and reach the first couple of endings. At that point, all that was really left was solving the ARGs (or, in my case, looking at a guide) and taking the few hidden steps for the last few endings.
The good news is that Asemblance is a gorgeous game. While there may not be many scenes here, every single one is beautiful. Everything from the way the light shines into the apartment to the trees on the grassy hill are lovingly designed and show some serious technical skill. This is the kind of game you can open up and just take screenshots from to use as wallpaper. As beautiful as the graphics look, the soundtrack is almost absent. It’s done by a pair of electronic artists, specifically Kid Smpl and Johnny Goss, but I honestly don’t even remember it playing at any point outside of a few stray piano notes. The only other thing that really bugged me about the design was the lack of subtitles, something that occasionally drove me nuts in such a dialogue heavy game.
Asemblance caters to a very specific audience. If you’re a fan of ARGs, or just love tearing apart minor details and discussing how they may be relevant to the game and its possible sequels, then you should look no further as Asemblance is probably going to be remembered as one of the greats in that niche. For everyone else, this is just not a game you’re going to get much out of it. It knows its audience well and it plays up specifically to those people, but Asemblance isn’t really interested in mass appeal. Honestly, that’s okay though.
I believe that Asemblance caters to a very specific niche of gamers. If you love tearing apart a game and trying to figure out how every little secret and every item placement is relevant to the grand scheme of things and you really love a complicated ARG, then this is the game you need in your life. Everyone else will probably only be confused and frustrated.