Remember Me — One Third of a Good Game
Remember Me is a 2013 game developed by the new company Dontnod Entertainment and published by Capcom. It blends the genres of beat-em-up and adventure in a strange new fashion. Unfortunately, it only does one of these well.
Fighting: Poorly Done
Combat is basically babby’s first God Hand. You select moves from a menu and can put them into custom combos. This might sound like it has great potential, but you’ll see right away that your options are limited. You can have different combo strings but the first move can’t be changed and your available moves–“pressens”, which are few (four for the entire game!)–are painfully shallow and uncreative. Regular attack, healing attack, cooldown reducing attack, boost previous move attack. The cooldown reducer should have made for some unique possibilities (1) but with the meager tools you have here, there is nothing you can do but mash that mouse button.
Early on Remember Me gives you moves that can heal you, making combat even easier. Mash your one most of the time, mash another combo to restore health, mash the space button once in awhile to dodge. You get some special moves (s-pressens), but they too are standard fare: force push, stun, shield breaker, stealth. There are few enemies that require their use. I don’t think Chris Wagar is ever going to do a “More than Mashing” column on this game.
Similarly to the tedious Batman: Arkham City, Remember Me‘s enemies are morons who die easily. You have all sorts of powers to quickly destroy them, but clicking the mouse button like you’re in a Skinner Box just fine. There’s an occasional dodge necessary but the game helpfully puts huge glowing reminder signs every time an enemy is about to attack, making it a childishly easy endeavor. Why not give them unique tells like the boxers in the Punch-Out!! so the player has to actually examine their surroundings and judge the proper time to strike?
Remember Me also has a pretty bad camera, but not on the Ninja Gaiden level of horribleness. I rarely got hit by enemies I could see–as said before, dodging them was simple and unfulfilling–but I was sometimes stuck by foes from off the screen. So I gathered that the best way to progress was to smack one enemy a bit, flick my mouse around to see if any were behind me, then continue my attack if I was free to do so. When I actually felt in danger, I could just bash my thumb into the space bar and avoid anything and everything. God Hand foresaw this kind of irritation in 2006 and gave you a radar in the corner of the screen, a simple solution to a simple problem (not to mention that God Hand actually takes skill to beat even the simplest enemies).
Not A Complete Waste
What makes Remember Me noteworthy is the adventure sections. Your character lives in a culture where people routinely alter their memories and you are really good at it. There’s a scene near the beginning where someone tries to kill you but you stop the action and go into their mind to change their memories to make them your ally. This involves watching a video of an event from the attacker’s past and you can make slight changes to specific objects in order to alter the event. History hasn’t actually changed, but the victim thinks it has.
This is such a cool idea that I wish they had based the entire game around it. Hell, a sufficiently creative mind could create a series of movies or books using this concept. Well, most of the plot of the game does feature memory alteration, but it only works into the gameplay during these uncommon segments. So much potential lost.
They took a lot of inspiration from 2010’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, and that is a good thing. During these parts I forgot that most of the game was a thin, linear beat-em-up with mediocre writing. I actually became invested in the otherwise flat characters, and that’s quite a feat. The “memory remix” sections are intriguing and all too infrequent compared to the rest of the game’s slog. I’m sure they were a lot harder to produce than the bland fighting segments, which explains their unfortunate scarcity.
Remember Me has some good visual design. It would have been easy to just have a junky hellhole where everything is a lazy brown, but there are remnants of a beautiful world here. Shreds of color poking through the garbage, ruins of once-proud buildings, glowing billboards for gadgets the proletariat can never afford, the sterile white-and-orange appearance of the antagonistic organization that belies their (seeming) true intentions.
And you know that thing in popular culture where an object appears to break down into little digitized squares to show that it’s a computer thing? (Also displaying as floating the green text in The Matrix films and their imitators.) You’re going to see that a lot in this game, usually indicating the presence of the memory-altering hardware that everyone in the world uses. But not as much as you’ll see orange.
Walking around areas is a chore. You have to jump color-coded ledges, look for climbing spots, and do some parkour flourishes, but none of it fits seamlessly in the plot like in the Uncharted series. Practically none of these obstacles have reasons to exist; who would willingly live in a dystopian city where you have to be a gymnast to walk more than half a block? I suppose it makes sense that only the mega-corporation would own a building containing more than 20 square feet, and to be fair you do in fact spend much of the game inside spacious factories and big orange corridors.
Also similarly to the recent Batman games, the male characters have all these cool wrinkles and scars and crags on their faces while the women all have nearly flawless doll-like faces, even the middle-aged ones. Can’t go for one second without some CG sex appeal, can we? Plus we see lots of closeups of protagonist Nilin’s supple buttocks. Why aren’t the social justice bullies throwing a fit about this and shaming anyone who likes the game?
Story, or: UNSKIPPABLE CUTSCENES, WHY WHY WHY
The year is 2084, there’s a guy named Quaid, everyone has a computer plug-in in their neck, memory-changing is all over the place. Lots of references to 1984, Total Recall, and The Matrix. The obvious theme of the game is memory: how we think, how our thoughts reflect reality, how reliable our recollections are. The ideas have potential but the writing doesn’t match up. The characters are all so one-dimensional that they could come from a first-party Nintendo game; even their dialogue is dull and predictable. It was only during the memory remixes that I cared in the slightest about what was going on.
The game lets the player pause during cutscenes, so why not let us skip them? Even the oft-maligned Metal Gear Solid cutscenes at least let you quickly bypass them if you’ve heard enough comic book gibberish for one day. But here agency is stolen from you and you must watch movies when what you really want is a game. Even in the memory remix bits–where it makes sense to watch the movie all the way through since you’re looking for items to change–you still can’t fast forward until watching the movie once. All this does is slow things down, and if your writing isn’t that good, many players will be irritated at having to endure it. Even the bland combat sections are more interesting than having to slowly walk down a corridor while a radio voice shouts exposition at you.
Remember Me has auto-saving instead of manual saving. OK, I can live with that as long as the rest of the game is sufficient. But it does mean having to rewatch the aforementioned cutscenes unless you quit at the right moments. The sound also doubled over itself or died out entirely when I alt-tabbed to take notes. This combined with the issues mentioned in the two previous two paragraphs equaled one unpleasant experience for a reviewer. It also wouldn’t let me take screenshots, but lots of games nowadays do that, and art is easily available online.
Once again I wish that the memory remixes took up more of the game. I could tolerate any amount of generic sci-fi technobabble from stock characters if I could keep altering people’s minds with interesting methods. It would do a lot more to ingratiate me to the writers.
Remember Me is a failed experiment. Mashing two disparate genres together was a bold move, but the action parts of the game failed to live up to the fascinating memory remix scenes. If you want a better beat-em-up, play God Hand, Otogi, or the Final Fight series. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and the Space Quest series (which are a lot more logical than King’s Quest) are superior adventure games. Here’s hoping that Remember Me’s creators will use their ideas in more enjoyable ways in future games.
(1) Imagine something in a fighting game or beat-em-up that could drastically change your moves’ frame data. New combos would become available, new strategies to explore with your newfound skills. Wait, they already did that once and it was called Genei-Jin.