Science fiction has always been the realm of thought experiments. From Blade Runner’s querying of the fundamental nature of humanity, to Orwell’s or Huxley’s musings on society and control, to The Matrix’s slow-motion Jesus backflips, sci-fi has always examined the hypothetical – projecting possibilities on to humanity and society and reflecting them right back at us.
How, then, does DONTNOD’s action-adventure title Remember Me fare on the science fiction quality scale? Is it a futuristic Space Odyssey? Or a veritable Plan 9? Let’s find out, before I forget what I’m doing.
Why are you who you are? Where does the you that is recognisable as you reside? In the heart? In the soul? In the brain? Is there an inherent continuum of self, or are you just a collection of conditioned responses based on learned experiences? In other words, do you have your own identity, or are you just a product of your memories, as philosophers like Locke and Hume theorised back in the 17th and 18th centuries?
This is the mind-invading theme Remember Me remixes into video game form. You play the part of Nilin –a former Memory Hunter and Errorist, captured and mem-wiped in the Bastille for crimes against the corporation Memorize. Yes, I understand that’s mostly gibberish – rest assured it’s the basic futuristic mega-corporations are bad, fight back for great justice premise that we’ve heard a million times before. What elevates Remember Me’s story above the clichéd dross are the details, and the telling.
Remember Me is set in 2084 Neo-Paris, in a world dominated by Memorize and their memory transferring Sensen technology. The Sensen is a plugin for the human brain that allows the storing, transferring, and implanting of human memories. Naturally, some individuals don’t appreciate the monopoly Memorize have on human memory, and band together into a group called the Errorists to expose the dangers of their dominance. Fortunately for the Errorists, the Sensen is not a completely secure technology, and individuals with special mental talent – called Memory Hunters – are able to steal and manipulate the memories of their targets. Nilin is, or was, a top Memory Hunter, capable of the rare talent of remixing memories – tweaking small details of a memory to change the way that memory is recalled. After a particular memory remix has some unintended consequences, Nilin finds herself thrown in the Bastille, having most of her memory confiscated. We join her for her escape and subsequent quest to recover her memory and take down Memorize. There are the expected conspiracies, plots, and secret evil doings that Nilin uncovers and deals with. Despite the predictability of its premise, Remember Me’s story is actually delightfully told. Some unexpected twists (and quite a few expected ones) deliver a freshness to the plot that is most welcome.
The first major hint that Remember Me is not the average sci-fi slog starts with Nilin. Her character is instantly relatable and her situation is empathetic. Yes, she’s an amnesiac protagonist, but Nilin’s circumstances are immediately apparent. The amnesia is not the typical vehicle for player transference and character ability resetting – it’s justified, explained, and put into context. Of course, it does play the role of wiping Nilin effectively back to ability level zero, and that’s certainly convenient, but Nilin is her own character. Despite her lack of memory, Nilin’s personality remains intact. We follow her actions and listen to her justifications, and piece together her scattered mind with her.
Likewise, support characters like Tommy and Edge have their places in Remember Me’s intricate weave. They occupy their niches well, even if Tommy occasionally comes off a little cliché. Villains are adequately outlined, even if their reach is not always felt.
The most important character, however, is not playable, is not an NPC. Like in all good science fiction, the world is a character in its own right. 2084 Neo-Paris exudes personality, plunging players in its cultural richness. Neo-Paris is such a delight to explore, with every area distinct, but also thematically related. The overcrowded shanty-town shacks that constitute Slum 404 are the very breath of the downtrodden and homeless. Struggle and poverty seep downwards along the canals, and the people strain. It’s oppressive and hopeless, and you can understand why the Errorists do what they do. In stark contrast to the organic rusty spread of the slums, the rich city district of Saint-Michel is all smooth lines and clean surfaces. Plastic, metal, glass fuse together cleanly, perfectly evoking the clear-cut morality divide of the richer classes. The Bastille is a technologist’s hell, with sterile cells siphoning the memories from its prisoners. And the once-flooded underworld of Paris, when revealed, are a picture of traditional French architecture. Everything in the world so tactile, with a distinctly French aesthetic permeating Neo-Paris.
The city, and its technopunk-transhumanist ideology and slick light projection signs, is perfectly formed. I’d even go so far as to say that Remember Me is the most complete cyberpunk world to grace our gaming screens since the original Deus Ex. It’s easy to imagine that this world sprung from its creators’ minds fully realised, and it pays off.
Unfortunately, the game’s mechanics can’t elicit the same lofty praise. Remember Me plays like a cross between Prince of Persia (the good ones) and Batman: Arkham Asylum, without the polish of either. Nilin traverses the world via a series of conveniently placed ledges, ladders, and pipes, jumping over and around hanging obstacles and across gaps. The climbing mechanics are satisfactory, but less refined and elegant than those of the noble Prince. Nilin’s Sensen will suggest the linear path she needs to take with a subtle yellow popup, but it lacks the sophisticated pathing cues of a more refined climber. It becomes repetitive quickly, but never quite outright painful.
The combat system takes the guise of a more complex version of Arkham’s beat-em-up-and-evade mechanics. Nilin uses a uniquely customisable combo-based fighting system. Essentially, you have a number of base combos with predetermined kick or punch slots to fill. As you level up, you unlock different types of punches or kicks, called Pressens, that have a variety of effects on the enemy. The further on in the combo a particular Pressen is, the greater its effect. For example, strong attacks deal extra damage and can break some guards, while regen attacks deal less damage but recover Nilin’s health. Chain Pressens mirror the previous Pressen in the sequence, enhancing its effect, while Cooldown Pressens reduce the time between special attacks. Nilin eventually gains access to five special attacks – known as S-Pressens – that have unique properties, such as overriding a robotic enemy, or even becoming invisible. The combat system is unique, and the ideas are solid, but it fails slightly in the execution. There aren’t enough combo skeletons, or enough variety in the Pressens themselves, to be overly excited about. On top of that, chaining combos never feels completely fluid, which is compounded by the inability to continue combos across different enemies. Enemy types aren’t particularly varied, either, fluctuating between the typical brawler, to the jumpy creatures, to ranged mechs. They’re also damage sponges, meaning battles drag out longer than necessary. The handful of boss battles are a mixed bag. The typical battle generally mixes waves of minions with sometimes interesting battle mechanics. Ultimately though, it relies on a stun with a particular S-Pressen and then a generic beat-up. To top it off, they usually end with a QTE.
One interesting mechanic, however, is the memory remixing. Nilin’s highly specialised ability allows her to enter the minds of designated targets, experience a specific point in their history, and then alter how they remember it. This is carried out as if you were watching a tape recording of the memory, rewinding or fast-forwarding the memory to find the vulnerable cracks – glitches. Once identified, you can change small things. Tip over a bottle, change the fluid in a syringe, undo a seatbelt. Small, but significant things. It’s a fascinating philosophical concept, and the ramifications of these acts do not go unquestioned. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s wholly unique and quite engrossing. Some of the longer memories serve as quite complex puzzles to decipher. It’s perhaps too dramatic a change of pace, but the mechanic itself is great.
The combat and the climbing aren’t bad, per se. They’re just not good enough to be repeated as often as they are. It feels forced and padded, with the stellar world tour stretched unnecessarily by these repetitive mechanics of A to B. The rare highlight of memory remixes are few and far between. They don’t outstay their welcome, perhaps even being too conservatively used. Mechanically, there just isn’t much that makes Remember Me sparkle.
It is wonderfully presented, though – there’s no denying that. The futuristic look is impeccably translated onto the screen. It’s more design than technology, though, that shines through. Fantastic art design and Banksy-esque graffiti adds to the already moody slum streets. Visual glitches and noise flitting across the screen gives a voyeuristic effect, playing into themes of surveillance and digitisation. The sound design follows the futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic through, with an electronically manipulated orchestral score. Electronic scratches and hitches add cyber flair to a soundtrack very much like a more organic Tron Legacy. Voice acting – Nilin’s in particular – is spot on, with her affected British tones strangely fitting in the Parisian setting.
I did have a few issues with spontaneous framerate dips during what I can only assume were loading sequences, although quite a few seemed arbitrary. Nothing game-breaking, but it was annoying none the less. More annoying were the controls, which seemed too loose. Mouse acceleration is on by default, and there is no option to disable it. Combos were sluggish to input, and climbing seemed equally slow.
And that’s the key issue with Remember Me – it is an amazing world with undercooked mechanics. Remember Me is a complete sci-fi world in the guise of an eight to ten hour action adventure game. Such a wonderfully whole fiction world deserves to be spread, shared, explored. It’s a shame that the repetitive and mostly bland gameplay mechanics hold back what would otherwise be an outstanding science fiction experience.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied on behalf of Capcom. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 9
Gameplay/Design – 6.5/10
Visuals – 9/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 5/10
Overall – 7.5/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Ratings: PEGI 16, ESRB M