Remember Me Review
By Ian Crane
'Neo' Paris – 2084. After a couple of civil wars the world has progressed from Twitter and Facebook and is now directly connected via its memories; jacking splicing and remixing them, dividing culture, creating monopoly and the subtlest way to kill someone. Rising out of the ashes is hero Nilin the star of Dontnods first title published by Capcom. Long after the lights of Neo Paris have faded though, will you still remember me?
Curiously, some cursory reading on this new dev team Dontnod reveals that Remember Me has been in development since 2008, in theory- however back then it was a game based around global warming where the main character jet skied from coast to coast in a game called “Adrift”.
With their first crack at the big leagues this title, does not resemble something that has gone through development revisions and with a tighter focus and a more liner approach set in their home town of Paris, Dontnod have made a much more accessible game.
The story is the heart and soul of Remember Me and follows the adventure of heroin Nilin as she awakes in a memory penal colony, escapes and tries to re find her lost thoughts. Ultimately it is revealed that she works as a 'memory assassin' for hire as part of a global terror organisation aptly named “Errorists”.
The world is brought to life with so many small touches, and as the game ramps up slowly there is ample time to just walk around and stare at the lovingly created environment, the skylines and the people and robots that work for them and just general details. The pacing of the story, whilst wholly linear is not unlike other platforming adventure games like Lost Odyssey, Mirrors Edge or even this years Devil May Cry.
Nilin talks a lot, and often to herself and there are long cut scenes between chapters of her thinking out loud “inside her head” that not so surprisingly looks like the animus from Assassins Creed. The year 2084 is not so far away that Paris looks unrecognisable but this is definitely a pseudo futuristic title that treads the line somewhere between the new Total Recall and Blade Runner. It is not really punk, but then again it is not really post punk either. Remember Me is a game that tells a competent story, very well but through a visual medium of graffiti, paintings, warn buildings and the ever diminishing skyline above Paris.
News bulletins dot the slums and the high rise as you pick your way across town, literally taunting Nilin and calling out her most recent interactions for the player as well as providing some humours commentary on the events. 2013 has been one of the best years for strong female lead characters in video game and Nilin is no exception. Her development throughout the story, motion captured as it is, is almost on par with Tomb Raider from earlier in the year and is one of the main reasons to play this game.
In the end though, you have to really love being handed the story on a platter, either through the un-lockable memories of Neo Paris in the menus or cut-scenes. Remember Me is not a role playing game and where Dontnod could have expanded the adventure is through more interaction and dynamic events. Nilin can walk up to people but never really talk to them. For most of the game she can nary interact with the environment. The story very much happens around you, as you run through it and whilst not wholly boring at times the player can be left wanting more to do than just look.
Dontnod have in one regard been very ambitious with the gameplay, defying current conventions for a more traditional approach, and yet for their first title it could be said have experimented with some ideas too much without consideration or testing of how it would work for the player.
The game is no more and no less than a reasonable length puzzle platformer/ fighter. There are aspects of adventure and even some action but the gameplay almost entirely consists of climbing, manipulating locks and brawling.
Every puzzle or stealth convention is thrown at the player over the course of 8-10hrs of gameplay. Avoiding detection by drones as they follow a set path, finding the right path around the electrified field and thankfully, only a few quick time events.
Where the gameplay branches out and really treads new ground is in the memory remix scenarios and the fighting. Combat is surprisingly simple consisting of an X & Y attack with bumpers for shooting and targeting later on. Neither the X or Y button are heavy/light attacks though and this is where the game gets a little lost in itself.
It sounds excellent on paper that you can create your own combos, and socket within each X & Y variable which one will be the power attack, which one will heal; but then Dontnod again, probably for accessibility give you a set number of different combos with no choice to change the order of X & Y at all!
It makes sense for new players that it would be too confusing as well as for development- however there are literally only 6 different combos of varying length and the only options are to attach and socket different modifiers such as power, health and cool down.
Again, in theory this means that a standard XXX combo can now read as power, health, cool down and every time you land that X attack you are rewarded with that effect.
It is also, the only way to regain health during battle as it does not regenerate.
In practise constantly mashing X and Y can get a little tedious. Nilin can not block instead she dodges, flips and generally runs away from combat. A block button would have been highly welcome as timing a dodge is supposed to continue a combo but enemies mob the player so tightly is can be almost impossible to land the perfect 8 hit combo.
Making it so that you gain health through landing combinations is inspired however on the higher difficulty you will die quicker than you can get your health back.
Thankfully to balance this out Nilin is given a “gun” later on called a spammer that is a neat way to attack long range as well a set of Errorist super powers. Towards the end of the game it becomes less a chore of spamming X and Y and more about making smaller timed hits so that you can cool down the powers and unleash memory hell in one big move.
To top things off Dontnod have added to the gameplay a very curious mechanic called Memory Remixing. Despite all the hype though, there are only a handful of these events in the game and again it is a shame there are not more, because they drive the story literally mixing gameplay interaction and story together as Nilin enters somebodies mind and the game turns into essentially a point and click scenario of touching the right object at the right time to change events.
This is how Nilin assassinates and this is how the world of 2084 can make someone kill themselves over the thought of something that never actually happened or make prisoners never remember why they would want to leave jail in the first place. Memory remixing plays like an interactive cutscene using the thumb sticks to wind it backwards and forward and then play it out differently after changing the environment.
Graphics and Audio
Throughout the rest of 2013 there are sure to be other games that are called out as 'borderline next-gen' especially in regards to graphics, however hopefully Remember Me is, remembered.
This is the second comparison to Tomb Raider because this is the second best looking game this year so far.
From the moment you step out of the sewers and slums and gaze up at the Parisian skyline, the pigeons flying off in the distance you have a sense of the world that Nilin lives in. Using a heavily modified Unreal 3 engine Dontnod have proven that there is still life left in it yet. So much so that the sheer amount of minor details, like junk and boxes in every corner, the way the camera angles approach the action and capture things hanging from the roof, every single piece of graffiti and rubbish...it puts other sci fi games like Mass Effect to shame, and shows up a simple cleanliness and lack of effort to really push the engine as far as it can go. Textures on the characters are especially nice with different skin tones, blemishes, freckles and wrinkles that border the uncanny valley.
Lighting as well is excellent and balances between the lower level of the cities and the brighter higher suburbs or Paris. It also crucially plays into combat later on, as there are areas that are not lit and need to be, so that the player can reveal hidden enemies. Stand in front of any light and Nilins shadows are artfully splashed across the walls like a canvas.
Dontnod are so confident in their graphics that they have put paintings all around the game that point to hidden collectables and using only your sense of sight you need to need to find the area in the painting and claim your reward.
Similarly a lot of effort has been put into motion capture, textures and sound. Arguably these three things are enough to keep players, playing as long as you like puzzles and a lot of climbing. The motion captured fight moves have been toned down somewhat so that they don't exactly flow, but rely on timed presses of the exact button rather than quick mashing. It is designed to be artful but all the flipping and rolling can be distracting especially compared to the enemy AI.
Enemies generally have one mode, come straight at you like a magnet, mob you and repeat. A number of the bosses have cheap moves and one hit kills and it can become frustrating. That said, enemies have a variety of actions from crawling on walls, ducking and weaving ground pounding and strafing in mid air.
Music lifts the action and falls into a refreshing mix of classically remixed electro pop, with haunting melodies that underscores the desperate situation in Neo Paris. The sounds of the underground as it were, are even better once it starts raining and the ambiance kicks in of the water and the puddles. There is a lot of nice ambiance in the game of people, and birds and general background noise that is, frankly missing from so many games backed up with some highly emotive voice acting from Nilin.
Much like the puzzle platformer Darksiders II last year, Remember Me is one of the greatest games you will never play in 2013. It pushes art design whilst sacrificing some gameplay and player choice and interaction.
Linear and reasonably short it can be unforgiving on the hardest difficulty and a little boring on anything less.
And yet, it is the inspired memory remix scenarios, the idea that you can actually customise your own combos for fighting and the sheer scope of the world that they wanted to create that makes Remember Me a must play title.
If Dontnod had released it as an arcade or indi title, it would have suffered more and Remember Me deserves to be a fully funded title with all the attention next to similarly great action platformers. It exists as a dying breed of game that is not trying to be anything more than it wants to be; to tell a good, emotive story and be fun.