Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
In a world full of endless sequels, three-quels, and tiresome reboots, it’s always a breath of fresh air to hear about a brand new IP; especially when it comes from one of the big name publishers who are so rarely willing to take risks. Placing the burden of originality of indie developers who have to cut corners just to stay afloat often results in experiences we can only appreciate for what they strive to be, and not what the end result often reflects. That said, when a AAA publisher decides to invest in an original project, the hope is that they’ll give the “risky venture” the funds and resources it needs to most closely resemble the developer’s vision. Theoretically, this should result in a mechanically-sound game that lives or dies on its own merit, often based on the subject matter. Unfortunately, for DONTNOD Entertainment’s cyberpunk-inspired Remember Me, the result didn’t quite turn out the way they hoped.
The central issue with Remember Me is the unpolished game mechanics. To begin, and I hate to describe how a game plays by just describing another popular game, but bear with me because I’m actually making a point by doing this: Remember Me marries the action-platforming segments of Uncharted with the combat mechanics of the Batman: Arkham series. On paper, this is a fantastic idea. In fact, the only scenario in which this isn’t a good idea is if the execution falls flat; which, in this case, it does.
During the exploration segments, and I use that term very loosely because Remember Me is a decidedly linear experience (which, is NOT, by the way, a detriment in and of itself,) the protagonist Nilin moves throughout the futuristic 2084 world of Neo-Paris in a very realistic manner. She’s not outrageously acrobatic and she doesn’t run at light speed; she goes about her day strolling along the same way most people walk around the mall. While this certainly makes the experience more cinematic and lifelike, it often times leads to frustration when platforming mechanics are needed to progress. Her sluggish movement makes perfectly timing tricky jumps in high stress situations (of which there are a few) unreasonably difficult. Combine that with one of the worst cameras I’ve seen in a long time, and even the simplest leap across gaps can lead to instant death. In this regard, Remember Me only manages to borrow Uncharted’s concepts of platforming, and not it’s wonderful execution. Along the way, there are collectibles to find which either add to Nilin’s overall health gauge, increase her focus meter used to initiate special attacks, or provide additional story details through dossiers that better flesh out the city of Neo-Paris and it’s inhabitants.
Then there’s the combat. What should be a fluid and free-flowing mix of chaining combos and elegantly dodging attacks becomes a mind-bogglingly inept test of both patience and will. It all starts with the “Combo Lab,” one of two of Remember Me’s unique gameplay gimmicks that were supposed to differentiate it from the pack. The Combo Lab promises players the ability to customize their attack combos; this is a half-truth. There are only four combos in Remember Me, one of which is a simple three-punch attack completed by tapping the A button thrice (“X” for you good PS3 folk.) These combos are set in stone and cannot be manipulated at all. What can be altered, however, is the result of successfully completing an attack chain. This is done by customizing the four combos with “Pressens,” unlockable attributes which have one of four desired effects: Regenerating health, reducing cooldown times of special moves, adding extra damage to an attack, or adding a “chain” Pressen, which multiplies the power of whatever subsequent Pressen proceeds it in the combo. These Pressens simply overlay preexisting combos so that when executed, they achieve the “customized” result. (i.e. Players can throw a couple “Regen Pressens” onto that simple combo I mentioned before to regain health every time they successfully triple-tap the X button in a fight.)
There are a few problems with this system, one of which is that there can only ever be a single set Pressen combination at a time. Using the example above of a Health Regen combo, once the combo is set, hitting an opponent three successive times in a chain will restore my health. Should I want to switch to a more damage-focused quick combo, I have to pause the game, go back into the Combo Lab, and spent a few minutes removing the Regen Pressens and applying the Damage Pressens. Allowing players to preset a number of combo strings that could be swapped out on the fly would allow for a much more intuitive experience that offered true customization. Instead, what we’re given is a clunky mechanic that is such a bother to trifle with, players will likely only ever customize a Pressen chain for each of the four combos a single time and never tinker with it again.
Another glaring issue with the combo system is that there is no enemy lock-on. In a game where the character is constantly surrounded and outnumbered by enemies, players need to be able to see all around them at a moment’s glance. I mentioned before how operating the camera is a constant battle while platforming, but that frustration is exponentially multiplied when facing down a room full of enemies. It only gets worse when considering the fact that combo chains count only so long as Nilin attacks the same enemy. That’s right, no matter how far along into a combo Nilin is (which, at most, is only ever 8 hits long,) the chain is immediately broken if Nilin hits anyone other than the enemy currently being attacked. I mentioned Remember Me doesn’t have any sort of enemy lock-on during melee combat, right? Without any sort of lock-on, there’s a certain element of prayer involved in completing combo attacks during any prolonged fight against large groups. Throw in the mechanic of enemies that must be defeated using certain attacks, including ones that can only be brought down by successfully chaining a Health Regen combo, and it’ll be a miracle if folks don’t pull all of their hair out during their brief time with the game.
There are a few high points to Remember Me, though. In fact, nearly every aspect of the game’s design is nothing short of magnificent. The world of Neo-Paris is stunning; with beautiful backdrops that display such a caring level of detail it’s almost impossible not to stop and stare just to better appreciate the city the talented folks at DONTNOD have created. Early on during Nilin’s adventure, she will explore both the downtrodden lower level known as Slum 404, as well as the high-society, gated community of Saint-Michel. The wonderful design showcases a staggering difference between the unkempt slums and the upper echelon of Neo-Paris’ wealthy privileged.
Further encasing players in the experience is a diverse soundtrack that perfectly accentuates each and every moment; an accompanying score that mirrors the narrative’s tone while reflecting the emotional connection players are making with their environment. Neo-Paris, and it’s residents, are teeming with life. The background NPCs comment on Nilin’s actions and appearance while billboards and news broadcasts constantly bombard Nilin with a relatable sensory overload reminiscent of the over-saturated media today’s generation actively consumes. Even little touches like the way clocks and other electronic accessories spring to life while Nilin is exploring inside the homes of Neo-Paris citizens (during linear platforming segments, mind you) adds another aspect of authenticity to the already layered design. In a way, I almost wish Remember Me took out all of the combat and platforming, as the most fun I had with the game came from just appreciating the world the developers managed to beautifully craft.
As much as I’d love to praise Remember Me some more, I have one final criticism of the game: The story. What could have been an incredible tale focusing on a theme that’s actually much darker than one initially anticipates, the narrative falls flat each and every time it attempts to approach greatness. Nilin is a memory hunter, a person capable of both extracting and “remixing” a person’s memories. She is also an “Errorist,” a freedom fighter of sorts who gets roped into this grand scheme of bringing down a corrupt corporation known as Memorize, who have monopolized the sharing and storing of memories. The game begins with Nilin having her memory mostly wiped, to the point where she can recall her name and little else. Over the course of the game, Nilin fights to restore her memory, uncovering along the way a villainous plot that’s tearing the world to pieces. Heeding the instructions of her friend Edge, his voice connected to her through her Sensen, Remember Me’s sci-fi device that allows the sharing of memories, Nilin adventures all across Neo-Paris in an effort to bring down Memorize and liberate those whose lives have been destroyed by the organization’s villainous intents. I’m being vague to avoid spoilers, but that’s the basic idea.
The problem here is that Nilin is capable of doing some pretty horrific things. By remixing someone’s memories, she can effectively warp their personality and bend them to her will. She can get inside someone’s head and implant false outcomes of memories, resulting in effects ranging from severe depression to a strong desire for repentance. This brings up an incredibly crucial moral dilemma: Nilin is basically a God. She wields this amazing power, and without her memory, she is blindly following the instructions of a man she doesn’t recollect. She is drastically altering the personalities of people whose motives she doesn’t quite understand. This concept should make for a powerfully intriguing narrative, except that Remember Me only ever paws at the surface of tackling such thematically important philosophies.
During internal monologues, Nilin will actually point out the fact that her abilities frighten her, and that she’s unsure of how to find justification in the moral atrocities she commits. The game goes out of its way to preface each chapter with a heaping helping of exposition posing the very questions Remember Me should be answering, only to have Nilin’s thoughts float away in the breeze when the action ramps up again. I want to know how Nilin copes with such terrible power, and the guilt of remixing people she admittedly doesn’t want to hurt; but the only answers Remember Me ever provides are “I have to keep pressing on until I get my memory back” or “Memorize must be stopped at all costs.” Then, without spoiling anything, and considering the points I’ve just discussed, when the ending twist finally comes and the villain’s motivations are revealed, it only makes answering these philosophical questions all the more pertinent to the story; leaving a feeling that Remember Me is mostly flash with little substance, lasting only 7 or so hours even on the hardest difficulty setting as the game unfolds across 8 chapters.
It kills me that Remember Me isn’t as good a game as it could be. It hurts even worse because publishers like Capcom will look at this kind of criticism and compare it to poor sales, and then use Remember Me as an example of how successful franchises can’t have female protagonists. So, let me make this clear to Capcom: I don’t have a problem with this game because the protagonist is female! I have a problem with this game because the mechanics are poorly implemented and plagued by issues other games have long since refined away into nothingness. I would love to continue adventuring alongside Nilin and seeing how she moves on from the events of Remember Me, so long as DONTNOD fixes the games many, many gameplay deficits.
As for my final thoughts on the game, Remember Me is exactly what I hoped it wouldn’t be from the footage shown leading up to its release: A mediocre mashup of unpolished mechanics tied together by a threadbare story that infuriatingly glosses over the most interesting ideas it presents, resulting in an experience that’s both unsatisfying and disheartening in that it’s such an obvious missed opportunity of something that should have been great. It’s not broken to the point of unplayability, but it’s certainly not the most fun you can have for $60. With that said, I can only recommend Remember Me as a rental at best. Neo-Paris is certainly a great place to visit; I just wouldn’t want to live there.
I really hope Capcom doesn’t give up on Remember Me. With a lot of polish and some better storytelling, this IP could turn into something more powerful and emotionally engrossing than the majority of this industry’s best franchises. I love the world DONTNOD has created and would absolutely be willing to give Nilin and Neo-Paris another shot at charming me, so long as the team turns this first experience into a teachable moment. As the denizens of Neo-Paris would say, “remember you soon.”
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