Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
This late in to the console generation launching a brand new IP seems like a rather risky thing to do, and yet here we are with two launching in the same month. Naughty Dog have again managed to capture critical acclaim with their postapocalyptic title The Last of Us, while a brand new studio called Dontnod have released their first ever game in the form of Remember Me. But is this a new IP we should all be flocking to play?
As humans we seem inexorably drawn to the concept of technology gone wrong, of seemingly beautiful utopias hiding dark hearts, and Remember Me is no different from many other titles in its desire to tap into these themes, but unlike the majority it manages to do it well and tell a story worth telling.
The game begins with our hero Nilin staggering forth from her captivity, her memory wiped as punishment for the very crime that resulted in her imprisonment in the infamous La Bastille. Once free from your prison you’ll find yourself in the world of Neo-Paris in the year 2084, where a device called a Sensen allows people’s memories to be stored, transferred and even deleted, creating a culture where good memories are a commodity, highly sought after and prized. One company alone, Memorize, has control of this powerful Sensen technology, and 99% of the world’s population use it, choosing to delete their painful memories in favor of ignorance and bliss. This if course gives Memorize a horrific amount of control and power over the people, because political dissonants can simply be captured and have their memory wiped, resulting in a population under constant surveillance and tight control. There’s also another, darker side to the technology in the form of Leapers, people who have absorbed too many memories, thus causing their Sensens to degrade and send them into a spiral of madness. Leapers are mutated horrors, yet because of Memorize the general population simply don’t care about them.
Upon gaining her freedom Nilin learns that she was once an Errorist, somebody who chose to fight against Memorize and their control rather than simply submit. With her memories gone and only the voice of Edge, the mastermind behind her escape, to guide her, Nilin reluctantly takes up the fight once again, determined to regain her memories in the process and learn the truth. What follows is a surprisingly engaging tale, one which follows a classic sci-fi tradition of using advanced technology to examine the human condition. Nilin herself is the voice of this, always questioning the morality and ethics of not just Memorize, but of herself and the Errorist movement as she steal memories and alters others in the name of the cause. Twists, turns and superb pacing keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, and while there is plenty of clumsy dialogue the end result is a fantastic storyline, albeit one that doesn’t seem to dare venture as deep into certain aspects of its own plot as I would have liked to have seen. Even the ending manages to deliver, something which other games seem to have struggled with lately.
At the core of it all is Nilin, who quickly proves to be one of the stronger characters to come along in recent memory with a layered personality that makes her feel real. She projects confidence with her walk, has a fiery and intense personality that makes her a force to be reckoned with, yet also shows vulnerability in how she’s unsure of who she is or whether what she is doing is actually right. She follows Edge because he broke her out if prison, but otherwise mostly has to take his word for what she was like before her personality was wiped. It’s a shame that the other characters in the game don’t show the same level of depth as Nilin, tending to be little more than cardboard cutouts that briefly appear to utter a few lines. More disappointingly, though, are two characters introduced fairly on in the game who boast potentially interesting personalities and seem set to play important roles in the narrative, yet disappear almost entirely from the story, with one never seen again and the other appearing only once later for the sake of convenience only.
As for Neo-Paris itself, it’s nothing short of a graphical masterpiece. The game is artistically beautiful and has the technical prowess to pull it off, creating a visual feast, if I may be so utterly bloody pompous for a second. The game marries dirty slums with sleek, futuristic designs brilliantly, creating a seamless word that’s packed with detail and that also boasts a striking color palette, proving that with all the tricks developers have had to learn over the years the current-generation is still able to produce jaw-dropping graphics. Even the soundtrack deserves a mention with some stellar work that suits the story and on-screen action perfectly. And speaking of the audio, the voice acting is also surprisingly impressive throughout. What I’m getting at here is that on a presentation front, Remember Me is pretty damn hard to fault.
It’s a world that leaves you wanting more, leaves you with a desire to explore and admire, and yet Remember Me is the very definition of a linear game, herding you down tight avenues with barely any room to step to the left or right. There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with linear games – quite the opposite, in fact, some styles of game suit it perfectly. Just look at examples such as the Uncharted series, or even BioShock: Infinite. The important thing is, though, that in all of their linearity they don’t feel too confining, and actively try to at least create a sensation that while you’re being poked along by an unseen force you’re still part of a larger world, usually using epic vistas and some open spaces. BioShock: Infinite may be linear, but at least you’ve got room to breath and are given the occasional chance to wander off the beaten path. Remember Me, on the other metaphorical hand, is one of the more frustrating linear games in quite a while, one where the paths you walk and run along are often barely more than 5-10ft wide. No matter where you are there’s never the sense that you’re part of a bigger city, instead you’re hemmed in at every turn, the only relief coming when you arrive at one of the game’s flat, open areas which almost always signify that you’re about to put the boxing gloves on and beat the snot out of some baddies. Even something like DMC: Devil May Cry, doesn’t feel quite this linear.
The awkward camera system isn’t helping matters, either, positioned in just the right way to somehow make the game feel even more claustrophobic and confining. It often gets in the way, especially in combat, or simply isn’t well positioned during platforming sequences. In the few moments where you are given a brief glimpse at the city outside of your little corridors it feels like you are fighting the camera for a good look.
While it may tell a great story, where Remember Me ultimately stumbles and falls is the execution of its core gameplay, starting with its somewhat lackluster combat mechanics. Again, much like the plot the ideas presented here are intriguing: Nilan can literally build combos using “Pressens”, each of which offer a certain benefit when successfully executed in a combo. Regen Pressens regenerate health; Power Pressens deal heavy damage; Cooldown Pressens recharge Nilans special abilities fast, and Chain Pressens inherit and amplify the effects of the previous Pressen in the combo, making their careful placement invaluable. The further along the chain you place a Pressen, the more effective it becomes, giving you reason to pause and carefully consider where you should place each Pressen in order to get the best effect. Certain enemy types that you’ll face off against require you to occasionally adjust your tactics, as well, which is easily done as the Combo Lab can be brought up whenever you desire and combos re-done at any time. For example, one enemy type damages you every time you hit him, and so to counter this you head into the combo lab and construct a combo which heavily uses Regen Pressens, allowing you to maintain your health as you lay the smackdown on his candy-ass.
Sounds good, right? In theory it’s great, but in practice I’ve got some issues with it. Firstly, combos are preset inputs made up entirely of just two buttons. You cannot change the input sequence, and there’s only a total of four combos to unlock throughout the game. Second, the timing required for each combo is exactly the same. As a result, combat begins to quickly feel repetitive as you continously hammer out the same string of inputs, and while the different enemies do a decent job of keeping you on your toes, by about half-way through the game I rarely found myself having to go into the Combo Lab and change-up my Pressens as I had already combos built for the most common scenarios. Nor does occasionally having to swap out a couple of Pressens add very much to the combat as it doesn’t require any real skill or even thought on behalf of the gamer, because after the first time you encounter a new enemy type you know exactly what needs to be done in order to combat it. There’s also the very good chance that once you unlock the final of the four combos you’ll only ever actually use it and the third one, promptly forgetting about the first two.
In action combat feels…okay, but it just doesn’t flow as well as it should. A tap of A lets you leap over an enemy in order to dodge the clearly telegraphed attacks, and doing so allows you keep a combo going, but for some baffling reason there’s no way to swap between foes mid-combo without using the dodge mechanic, making crowd-control more awkward than it really needed to be. Attacks come every few seconds, as well, making it hard to get a fluid pace going. Worse still attacks will often come from the edge of the screen, resulting in you getting hit because there was really no chance of you dodging them. The general rhythm of combat is to tap two attack buttons, hit dodge, tap two attack buttons, hit dodge and continue in this fashion until everything is defeated or you decide to invest in one of those nodding cuckoo toys to do the job for you. Different enemy types help to keep things a little more interesting, some of which can turn invisible or others that require you to use your wrist-blaster to take out their shield, but even they can’t entirely combat the repetitive feel of inputting the same string of commands over and over.
Nilin, then, is very much a defensive character, rarely given the opportunity to go on the attack, with the only exception coming in the form of S-Pressens, special moves with cooldowns that can quickly change the tide of battle. There’s a total of five of these things to use, with a few interesting ones throw in to the mix, such as the ability to attach a Logic Bomb to an enemy, shove him or it into a crowd of enemies and then dodge out of the way of the resulting explosion. There’s nothing wrong with combat mechanics that force you to go on the defensive. Take the Assassin’s Creed franchise, its combat relies heavily on waiting for enemies to attack you, and Remember Me’s S-Pressens do at least give you brief but satisfying opportunities to take the fight to the enemy, but the simple truth is combat just isn’t very much fun. The first few hours felt fine enough, but after that I entered a sort of haze where I ran through every fight on auto-pilot, barely paying attention to what was going on and vaguely wondering why nobody seemed to use guns against Nilin, even though at one point a lunatic lawman in a VTOL clearly demonstrates that they still exist.
When you’re not beating down goons with your fists of mighty fury you’ll mostly be spending your time traversing the environment using the now pretty typical Uncharted style of platforming, with your route very clearly highlighted and the only possibility of death coming if you deliberately hurl yourself into space. Of course the recent Tomb Raider reboot also used this style of cinematic clambering to great effect and I mostly praised it, but the difference is that Tomb Raider managed to create the illusion of danger, the sensation that every leap could be Lara’s last, despite you knowing better. In Remember Me there’s absolutely zero sense of danger to the platforming, making nearly every section where you need to shuffle along ledges and leap across gaps feel mundane.
Thought combat and platforming may not hold up as being anything more than merely okay, the few sections in which Nilin gets to excercise her unique skillset by “Remixing” people’s memories are actually rather great. Nilin is something of a rare gem in that she is able to access and alter other people’s memories with great skill, allowing her to change how they remember events in order to achieve her goals. For example in an early example you must change a womans memory so that a doctor ends up killing her loved one, rather than helping him. These Remix segments take the form of what are essentially videos that you can rewind, pause, play and fast-forward at will, with interactable objects scattered around the memory that change how events play out. To achieve the objective you must figure out what needs to be changed in order to get the correct result, turning each Remix in to a simple but enjoyable challenge. It’s just a shame you don’t get to Remix memories more often, but then had the developers included more Remix segments they would likely have lost some of that special allure that they have. Their rarity makes them more memorable, and feel more special.
Outside of the two core gameplay mechanics of combat and platforming there are a couple of other light elements thrown in for good measure, though they don’t add anything to the game as they’re not explored in any real depth. Nilin gets access to a handy blaster of sorts that’s attached to her arm fairly early on in the game, which is sometimes in used in fights, as mentioned before, but mostly used to open doors by the simple expedient of shooting them, an idea that’s never really adequately explained, though I’m sure that we can all chalk that one down to the simple reasoning of it being a game, and that a lot of stuff doesn’t make sense in games anyway. Later the blast receives some upgrades which allows it to absorb power sources and even move certain objects around. Even with these upgrades, though, the most you’ll ever do is absorb a power source so you can shoot it into a door to open it, or move a crate 10ft so that you can jump on it or go around it. Of more important note are the games all too infrequent puzzles which are surprisingly entertaining. It’s just a shame that the developers didn’t include a few more of them, or flesh out the blaster’s gameplay elements more by introducing them into more complex platforming sequences, in order to create a more rounded game.
While riddled with flawed execution, Remember Me is nonetheless a pleasant surprise, delivering a fresh, new IP from an untested studio that shows there’s plenty to be gotten from the current generation of consoles, especially in terms of graphics. It leans heavily on the modern trend of cinematic linearity, but brings to the table a great story and gorgeous world, building a solid foundation for the studios future work, be it sequel or something new.
+ Looks very, very good.
+ Tells a great story.
+ Remixing memories is cool.
– Clumsy camera.
– Combat system needs work.
– Mundane platforming.
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
Remember Me is certainly one for those looking for a good sci-fi story, but no so much for anybody looking for a great gameplay experience. Flawed execution of the core mechanics let down the otherwise great tale of Nilin.