The Assembly is a VR game that can't compete with Halo and Call of Duty for action. And as David Cornish finds out, that's a very good thing
"So you can look around as you move through this section. And then. if you look down at your feet..."
This was the moment that our mind went into sensory melt down. We knew our feet were placed firmly on the carpet of a conference room in the offices of UK Interactive Entertainment. What we were seeing suggested that we were actually strapped to a gurney, wheeled by unseen scientists through a remote desert location.
This is how The Assembly will introduce many gamers to the new wave of virtual reality titles. Bullets don't fly, there's no "X to Sprint" command - and you're going to be glad of it.
"Virtual reality introduces a new subtly to the world of video games," says Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams, the group behind The Assembly. With new VR worlds slapped across your eyeballs via headsets like the Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus, developers have had to learn some new tricks. "There has to be more detail in the art work - you can look around at everything - under desks, in cupboards - so there has to be something there."
An adventure game at its core, The Assembly has detail by the bucket-load. Open a cabinet in the mysterious underground bunker in which the game takes place and you literally "look" inside it, leaning forward to examine the contents. Bring up your mobile as you search the lab for answers as to why you're stuck down here and it realise how clunky menus looked in old, flat-screen games.
Extra objects to poke might sound like a gimmick - but these immersive details add up.
While the bleak, grainy corridors and overheard conversations of The Assembly are reminiscent of the storytelling marvels of 1998's Half-Life, the VR medium isn't suitable for the fast-paced gun action and on-rushing aliens that drive the industry's major titles.
"As you're looking at things from a first person view, it's got to be like real life," explains O’Luanaigh. "If you sprinted like a super soldier from Call of Duty, running through a battle field before jumping behind cover, you'd be sick within 10 minutes." Movement is odd, camera panning is different - even shuffling around a deserted lab is a touch confusing. If anyone popped up with a rifle at this exact moment, you'd either be shot in seconds or empty your stomach attempting to strafe-while-firing.
Launching "soon", in time to be played on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, The Assembly will be one of the first full VR experiences available to gamers - introducing them to how the first VR games will work. It doesn't so much hold you by the hand, but rather eases you in to the confusing, incredible experience. If you were hoping for Uncharted with sci-fi goggles, you'll be disappointed - and for good reason. It's going to take your brain a while to get used to this.