Oh Remember Me, never before have I had such mixed feelings about a game before. Were you good? Bad? Fun? It’s difficult to even pin down that much, because it was at once incredibly unique, even visionary and simultaneously mediocre. This should give you an idea of how I felt about this game. I went from intrigued in the first few hours to a little bored, at which point I pushed it to the side for a couple of weeks to play Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, then got really into it again, then finally finished it and considered playing it again (although not right away) and then ironically, promptly completely forgot all about it until now. In fact, 2 days ago I was actually musing about what to write for my weekly blog post today and was considering something GTA V related (my newest obsession), when Remember Me suddenly popped back into my mind. That’s pretty much how I feel about this action-adventure game by French developers Dontnod. While there are so many things for me to rave about, there’s always a ‘but’ lingering on the horizon, waiting to swoop in. Remember Me was a good game, but sadly it never quite lived up to the enormous potential it had.
Remember Me takes place in the not too distant future of 2084 after a civil war has left much of Europe devastated. A rebuilt and restructured Neo-Paris has arisen out of the ruins and has become the headquarters of the powerful Memorize corporation. Memorize’s economic and political power has reached dizzying heights as a result of its innovations with regard to digitizing human memories. Not only can you buy and sell memories like they’re commodities, but you can choose to erase or even rewrite painful or unpleasant ones. In fact, all citizens are constantly plugged into the network via their Sensens, a brain implant that not only allows you to do all the things mentioned above, but also gives Memorize an unprecedented level of surveillance and control over the population. The story starts with our main character, Nilin who’s in the process of having her memory wiped at the Memorize-controlled prision, La Bastille when she’s contacted by the leader of a rebel group, the Errorists, which she soon finds out she was once a part of. She has no choice but to join the ranks of once again, fighting for their cause while trying to regain her memories and her sense of identity.
The two things that really set Remember Me apart from other games out there is its visuals and the tragically beautiful setting of Neo-Paris. Even on console, Remember Me looks really really good. In fact, the only game that I can remember being as visually impressed with in recent times was BioShock Infinite. Spectacular graphics and lighting bring the futuristic city with its strange mix of new and old to life. Everywhere you look signs that this is a different age are evident, with creepily human-like androids walking around or the names of shops hanging suspended in midair, but at the same time the architecture and several remaining monuments like the Arc de Triomphe crop up among the towering skyscrapers, making the city still distinctly Parisian. As game worlds go, Neo-Paris is not only visually stunning but also varied in the way that real cities are. The slums are bright splashes of neon and older tech jumbled with dirty and dilapidated surroundings. Meanwhile, the upper class areas are packed full of stylish cafes and shopping malls. Industrial areas are sleek and full of glass and steel. Despite the differences, there is a visual cohesiveness that makes the city feel like it could really exist in our world. That’s why it was such a shame that you couldn’t explore the city much at all. Other than a few extra areas that conceal items to boost your health, for instance, this was one of the most linear games I’ve played in a long time. I’m a big fan of linear games when it works and I do feel they’re underrated, but here it made Neo-Paris feel at times like it was just a pretty picture. The fact that the game world was so visually arresting just made me want to explore it and really see it for myself, rather than mostly at a distance and through narrow corridors and platforms.
The concept and overall narrative of the game was fantastic. While the idea of a Big Brother surveillance state isn’t exactly groundbreaking and the conflict between liberty and security should be be familiar to all of us, it’s the way these themes are explored and implemented that was really interesting. The effects of digitizing, storing and manipulating human memory can be seen everywhere – from the Leapers (monstrous looking former citizens who’ve been driven mad by absorbing too many memories) that populate the darkest, most forgotten areas of the city to the memory banks where anyone can casually buy whatever memory they want. The questions this treatment of memory raises about identity and whether society would truly be better off without those embarrassing or shameful memories to drag us down are fascinating. Remember Me clearly has a highly ambitious scope and while it deals with a lot of interesting issues, unfortunately it falls down on the more personal story, which is a shame as it’s our entry point into this world.
While I think Nilin is a great lead character in terms of personal qualities – she’s strong, independent, intelligent, funny and she kicks ass, because of the way the narrative is structured, she starts off as somewhat of an empty vessel and she only starts regaining a real personality as she discovers more of her memories. Unfortunately, what this means is that although she seem like a pretty cool person right from the start, you don’t really get to know her until the latter part of the game, by which point it’s a little late to start caring. There were many points throughout the story that were supposed to be poignant, where we were supposed to sympathise with her plight, but the only thing I felt was the mild sympathy you might feel for a stranger who you hear about through a friend. There were, thankfully a cast of quite interesting characters, but the problem there was that you hardly got to see or interact much with any of them, other than Edge, a character who maintains his mysterious facade right until the end, so it’s difficult to really be engaged by his character either. The story seems to teeter uncertainly between being wide and epic in scope on the one hand and deeply personal on the other. The balance struck never feels quite right.
Also, despite the fact that there’s nothing wrong with the story as such, it’s just not as interesting as it wants to be. At times it even feels cliched, with your hero character trying to overthrow some big evil corporation and all the sycophantic, corrupt officials along with it. Of course, like I said before, I don’t think it needs to be completely novel to be keep you wanting you more and perhaps if the pacing were better, the overall narrative would have been more engaging. While it starts off strong at the beginning with Nilin breaking out of the Bastille Fortress and trying to regain her own memories, the middle (the point when I took a bit of roller coaster themed break) was much too slow and formulaic. The structure which had worked for it before, with each level presenting you with some important political figure that you needed to track down to either steal or remix their memory and on the way, deal with the hordes of leapers or SABRE forces (essentially the police), culminating in a boss fight near the end, began to feel a bit forced story-wise. Luckily it picked up near the end and the last section of the game was probably my favourite, because it didn’t linger unnecessarily and was packed full of exciting events.
My biggest problem with the game however, was the gameplay. To an extent, it was actually pretty fun and there was a fair amount of variety in the different gameplay elements. The highlights for me were memory remixing, where you got to actually dive into people’s heads and alter their memories and some of the more challenging puzzles towards the end of the game. Remembranes are also an interesting feature, which allows reality to be overlaid by someone else’s memories and which in turn can lead you around obstacles or open doors you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. I thought the memory remixing sequences were the most unique aspects of the game and were really brought home some issues they were trying to explore. After all, in most games, you just shoot the bad guys and they’re dead. In this one, you can make them believe killed the most important person in their life by altering little things in their memory, like leaving the safety off a gun. Unfortunately, memory remixing only happened a few times throughout the whole game, which was disappointing. Instead, most of the game centered around the rather lackluster combat and unoriginal platforming. You can customise your own combos based on your playstyle and circumstances using four different types of ‘Pressens’ that do different things. Using a regen Pressen in the chain means that each time you activate it, you’ll regain a bit of health. This doesn’t, however, stop the combat from being repetitive and after a while, it’s simply a matter of mechanically pressing the same buttons over and over again. Unlike Batman: Arkham Asylum, the combos don’t really flow as they’re constantly being interrupted by accidentally targeted the wrong enemy and thereby breaking the chain or by a wayward hit from one of the enemies. Rather than feeling invincible as you fly from one enemy to the other, in Remember Me it’s more like a constant fight to just evade the enemy and rhythmically press buttons when you can. As for the platforming elements, I don’t really have much to say about that other than the fact it never presented much of a challenge as it was all extremely straightforward and where you have to go next is always highlighted in yellow anyway.
I realise that my review is probably coming across as overwhelmingly negative, but that’s really not how I feel about Remember Me. Overall, it was generally enjoyable, if you don’t mind a bit of repetitiveness in your games and the fact that it has such an incredible vision and pulls it off decently is something to be lauded. It isn’t easy to set yourself apart from all the games out there these days and Remember Me does an admirable job. That’s the frustrating thing about this game, that there’s so much potential there just waiting to be tapped, but developers just never quite pulled it off.