Developers: DONTNOD Entertainment
I want to love Remember Me so very much. DONTNOD's imaginative action title has some moments of real wonder. There's a moment early on when you're climbing up the side of a building and Neo-Paris unfolds before your eyes, a gaudy city of cyberpunk metal and neon wrapped around a famous urban landscape that's enormously familiar.
It's the perfect antidote to an industry that constantly settles for the bland blocks of New York, and it's just the start.
Here's the elevator pitch for Remember Me from my perspective: Borrowing from a sci-fi literary legacy laid out by the likes of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson, DONTNOD have fashioned a game set in futuristic world where memories are commodities to be bought and sold -- a world where you can relive the finest moments of your life (or indeed someone else's) and yet, like all drugs, run the risk of overdosing should you overload your brain. Into this world steps Nilin, an imprisoned amnesiac who finds herself befriended by a seeming stranger who helps her rediscover who she once was: a memory hunter who hunted people down, and hacked their minds for memories as one might a computer.
Sounds great, right? It's such a good premise, it's a wonderful IP, and Neo-Paris is positively screaming out to be explored. But you don't get to, the story dissolves into flat characters, awful soliloquies, and the game's fundamental premises is lost in a sea of clunky combat and poor platform puzzling.
It's disappointing, given the promising setup, just how much Remember Me relies on its clunky, unimpressive combat system. Again, the foundations are sound: create a combo system whereby players unlock moves with specific functions -- be that pure damage, regenerating health, or boosting a special meter -- and can then create their own combos. It sounds incredibly inventive. Sadly, though, once again the execution is sorely lacking. Spoiled by Platinum and Capcom's own stablemate Devil May Cry, there's no room for clunky systems lacking in fluidity.
The joy of Bayonetta came in essentially playing with the mechanics and discovering your own combos and chaining moves together almost by accident before refining and perfecting your combat style, and tailoring the game to suit your approach. But you'll play for several hours in Remember Me with only two or three combos available. Enemies are damage sponges and you could make a cup of tea in the languid response windows. The game's endless corridor approach means that you're constantly funnelled into combat zones, with no other options available to you, and Nilin's memory-warping glove is sorely under-used. It would have made for an extremely innovative stealth tool in the right hands, but here it's a MacGuffin that's used only for finishers and other prescribed interactions.
The Combo Lab is truly disappointing and a fundamentally wasted opportunity. Combos are laid out already, and the only choice to have is whether to place down damage buttons (or Pressens) or regenerative ones. There's no real creativity, every bit of player agency is more or less dictated, and you encounter some practical difficulties later on. There are special moves to unlock, but they're all fuelled by your "Focus" bar, which recharges over time, or by liberal use of certain Pressens in combo chains. However, later on, when for some inexplicable reason DONTNOD put an enemy who damages you when you punch them into a game all about punching things, you're forced into continuously chaining together regen and cooldown Pressens.
It's not a broken system, but it quickly gets repetitive and laborious. You're a near-superhuman memory hunter whose job is kicking ass and taking names, but DONTNOD never want you to feel like that.
There is one part of the game, though, that feels genuinely innovative and terrifically exciting: the memory remixes. Essentially, you dive into someone's brain and are presented with a short scene that plays through once. Afterwards, you're invited to go back through that scene and look for memory glitches -- little bits and pieces in the scene that can be changed and altered to possibly revise and redetermine the scene's outcome. The first one you encounter, for example, has you changing the elements of an operating procedure to affect the patient's final condition. You can do this by swapping vials, diluting anaesthetic, moving objects and items around the room, loosening the patient's restraints. There are numerous aspects of the scene to play with and combine to try and achieve the end you desire. It's deeply voyeuristic and utterly fascinating.
It's also completely underused. In the whole game, which takes around 10-12 hours to complete, we encountered four, that's right, four memory remixing opportunities. That's absolutely ludicrous. Instead of bulking out the game with mediocre combat, we could have been rearranging the recollections of government ministers, police officers, fellow operatives, criminal underlords. The first one comes really early on in the game, and for the rest of your time in Remember Me you wonder why the hell DONTNOD didn't make that the central mechanic rather than "Press A to dodge". The interface for the remixing process could perhaps have been a little more refined on console, but it works pretty well, and it is thoroughly vindicated by the sheer strength of its imaginative implementation.
You'll just wish there was so much more of it.
Remember Me does a fair job of breaking up its combat with non-violent stretches, but it does so via platforming mechanics that constantly scream at you in gaudy orange pointers, never leaving things in your hands, and never providing any sort of challenge. Instead of challenging the player to find their own way about the city such as in Tomb Raider, or providing mini platforming puzzles that require smooth timing and deft execution as in Prince of Persia, Remember Me points you towards The Only Ledges Upon Which You May Climb with glowing indicators that make traversal a means to an end rather than a fun aspect of gameplay.
And that's the trouble at the heart of Remember Me: it's just the incredibly formulaic and repetitive bundled up in delightful, exciting wrapping paper. The strength of the IP does shine through in places, and Nilin herself is a great protagonist. DONTNOD haven't tried to play on the fact that she's a woman, she just gets on with stuff and handles whatever the world throws at her. There are perhaps a few narrative bum notes, such as the fairly horrible soliloquies and the fact that the consequences of Nilin's actions are never really touched upon, but for the most part she's a strong, capable female lead, and we could do with more of those.
There are ideas aplenty here, great ideas, innovative and interesting gameplay feature begging to be explored, and I really hope that the IP gets pursued, a sequel greenlit, and some off the more unique gameplay opportunities have a chance to be expanded upon. The game is a mixed bag, but one that sticks in the brain a little, even if that's only because of the frustrated potential.
- Really interesting premise and setting
- Nilin shows there's no reason why you can't have kickass women fronting games (it's depressing I even need to write that)
- There's some satisfaction to be had from pulling off an 8-string combo
- Memory Remixes are enormously imaginative and fulfilling
- But there are only four! FOUR!
- Combo Lab and combat is limited and repetitive
- Incredibly, sometimes patronisingly, linear
- Fails to fully embrace its most interesting ideas
The Short Version: There's lots to like in the ideas behind Remember Me, and Neo-Paris is wonderfully presented. But the execution never really goes beyond solid, with the combat and platforming swiftly revealing themselves as pretty shallow and mediocre. There's a lot of potential here, though, and it would be an awful shame to see an IP such as this leave behind this sole mixed bag as its legacy.