Remember Me – Review
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the future is a scary place. With technology eventually becoming so advanced that we can use robots for everything, what other horrific dystopias may we find ourselves in? A world where memories are stored forever and can be deleted at will? A world where our memories can even be manipulated by someone else to suit their bidding? Or, most terrifying of all, a world where Paris is actually clean? Well, all of these worrying futures collide into French developer DONTNOD’s debut game, Remember Me.
Set in the appropriately named Neo-Paris of 2084, Remember Me follows ex-Memory Hunter Nilin, who awakens in a futuristic facility knowing only her name, and is promptly busted out by a mysterious voice in her head known as Edge. From there, Nilin is recruited into a group known as the Errorists, who want to take down the evil corporation Memorise, creators of the Sensen device. This device stores all your memories and everyone in Neo-Paris has one attached to them. Remember Me may start off as your typical sci-fi story, throwing as many new and slightly confusing words at you while still being a little bland and derivative, but if you stick with it, the story eventually gets deeper and far more interesting, throwing out moral conundrums at an unprecedented rate.
The story is decent and interesting enough in itself, but it’s the world in which it takes place that makes it even better. Neo-Paris is both fragmented and beautiful, with a wonderful contrast of abject poverty in the slums and the mix of high-tech and classic architecture in the more affluent districts. The names of these places can sometimes verge on being a little too pun-based; within the first half hour of the game, you’ll be working your way through Slum 404 to reach the Leaking Brain (a pun on memory leakage if I’m not mistaken), where you’re pointed in the direction of a man named Bad Request… if you spend too long thinking about it, you’ll realise quite how ridiculous the whole world really is. But that’s not a hugely bad thing either – it prevents the game from getting too pretentious, and adds some humour to proceedings.
The characters can sometimes be somewhat one-dimensional: Edge, the ever-present voice in your ear, is bloody-minded in his efforts to take down Memorise, and never shuts up about it, while the rest of the cast are largely just glorified Post-It notes that move you on to the next part of the story. Again, stick with it and eventually the characters become far more interesting and involving. Only Nilin really changes at all and, thankfully, in quite a natural way; around the time you start to wonder why Nilin is blindly following the instructions of a voice in her head, she does the same and starts getting sarcastic and annoyed with him. It’s a shame that not all the characters are as well done, but at least someone has some personality.
As far as the world goes, there’s the much-hyped combat system to focus on. At any point during gameplay, you can pause and go into the “Combo Lab”, which allows you to put together strings of “Pressens” to create your own combos. Pressens come in four flavours: Power Pressens, which increase the damage of your combo, Regen Pressens, which heal you, Cooldown Pressens, which decrease the time you have to wait to reuse S-Pressens (more on them in a sec.) and Chain Pressens, which take on the effects of the previous Pressen in the combo. Chain Pressens can also be chained together to make the overall effect even more potent, but there’s less of them to use than the other Pressen types, so don’t expect to rely on them.
While the Combo Lab may sound interesting in theory, in practice it’s actually weirdly kind of boring. There are aesthetic differences between each Pressen in their groups, but there’s no reason to give them a second glance when you’re putting your combos together. They all have the same level of effect, so what’s the point? You also only unlock four combos, starting off with a three-hit combo you’ll use right up until the point you get the five-hit combo, which you’ll carry on using even when the six-hit combo comes knocking because you just won’t have enough Pressens to make the six-hitter worthwhile. You don’t have to fill up the combo chain, but if you’re not using all the available slots, why bother? And when you finally unlock the eight-hit combo, you’ll be so used to using the five and six hitters that you’ll be unwilling to learn a new move to go with it.
Dealing out the combos isn’t much fun either. Once you’ve got one memorised you’ll fall into a habit, with most of the enemies – bar the elite enforcers – of just hammering away at the same button combination over and over until the fight is finished. Every hit landed slows down time ever so slightly, so lining up the next hit is incredibly easy, and there’s a bar at the bottom showing you the chain of effects as you continue through the combo, so you’ll always know what you’re doing. While it’s great that it makes it so accessible, you’ll often be looking at the combo bar more than the action itself. What could have been a fast-paced, exciting combat system ends up being bogged down by the developer’s constant need to make sure you’re using the system properly, and being almost patronising by making it too easy to use.
Speaking of patronisingly easy, the platforming sections in Remember Me are so straightforward they needn’t have bothered. You’ll frequently be required to clamber around on the side of buildings, shimmying along ledges and sliding down drainpipes to reach your destination, in what is fairly standard platforming fare. The twist here is that, thanks to the Sensen device on the back of your neck, you see an augmented reality arrow directing you exactly where you need to go at all times, removing any challenge or interest. There is no way to turn this off and, as far as I could tell, you can only actually jump to platforms if the arrow is pointing to it, massively limiting exploration. In addition, there are only a couple of interesting platforming puzzles, leading to a massively underwhelming gameplay mechanic that serves only to break up the fighting.
There are some stealth sections, which basically involve you dodging sentry droids whose detection areas are visible at all times from about halfway into the game, meaning that, once again, it’s so painfully easy that you wonder why they bothered. There are a couple of instances where you need to get creative in your dodging of the droids, but overall it’s just another pointless diversion to break up the other slightly monotonous action.
Get through all that, however, and you’ll find yourself in Remember Me’s pièce de résistance – memory remixing. At certain points in the game, you’ll be thrown into a person’s memory and asked to change some details around to completely alter a person’s worldview. The actual act of remixing memories is pretty straightforward: you’re shown a cut-scene, then given a chance to rewind and fast forward through it, stopping when you see details that can be changed and pressing B to make a tiny adjustment. It’s all about making the right collection of choices that shift the events just so, leading to a completely different outcome. You can even make some wrong choices that make things slightly better, but for the most part you’re actively encouraged to ruin people’s lives.
It’s actually quite disturbing to be forced to go into people’s memories and completely ruin them so that they completely change their lives. For instance, the first remix you do is to convince someone that their husband has died in front of their eyes. I actually had to take a couple of minutes to process what I’d just done. Admittedly it’s all fake, and in someone’s head, but the moral implications behind completely destroying someone mentally is actually quite horrible. It’s clever and interesting, for certain, but I’m not entirely sure that I’m comfortable with the whole thing. And yet, that’s what makes Remember Me so interesting in that respect -it’s been a while since a game has made me question what I’m doing quite so much, and it’s refreshing to have been quite so moved.
Remember Me really is quite stunning, visually, with a variety of environments on offer, but even when you’re running through grey futuristic corridors they still look fantastic, thanks in particular to the beautiful lighting. The clean future stylings are often contrasted against harsh, broken reality in the slums and ruined areas of Neo-Paris, and it’s a treat for the eyes to move between these worlds. I particularly liked the augmented reality touches throughout, with stores displaying their opening times and construction sites warning you of drones working through the aid of floating text. It’s a neat little touch that firmly plants you in the future, but doesn’t feel so completely alien that it seems tacky. The character models aren’t quite so beautiful, however, and enemies are repeated so frequently that after a while the only difference you’ll really notice is the colour of their armour.
The graphics might be quite clean-cut in terms of quality but, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the soundtrack. You’re treated mostly to an orchestral score that’s been chopped up and screwed with to give almost a glitch-hop feel, which works well in the sense that it further implies the fragmented mindset of Nilin and other inhabitants of Neo-Paris, but if you’re not a fan of the genre, it rapidly becomes jarring and actually annoying. The voice work is quite hit and miss, with Nilin being well represented but almost every other actor giving slightly wooden performances, not aided by a script that often feels like a bad translation. Interestingly, you can switch the audio language on the fly, so if you’re not happy with the English you can switch to French, German, Italian or Spanish, and I actually found myself enjoying Remember Me a lot more in French. Perhaps because it was created by a French team, it feels a lot more natural to be playing in their native language, and hearing conversations from passers-by in French really helps you immerse yourself in the world of Neo-Paris far more than the generic American voices that populate the English audio track.
My biggest worry with Remember Me is that I might not be selling it quite right. If you read through this review, it’s likely you’ll pick out about three things I think the game did right, and the rest is just a resounding “meh”, but believe me when I say that I really, really love Remember Me. The combat may be dull and the platforming near pointless, but it all works and helps deliver an interesting and remarkable world that raises plenty of questions about what is right and wrong, about if we should be able to store all our memories or not, about if pain is a thing we should be allowed to get rid of if it means we have to forget chunks of our lives. Set the dialogue to French and you can pretend you’re playing your own art house movie. It’s a game that gets so many things wrong, some of which were its main selling points, but succeeds in creating a wonderful world that I’d love to explore some more.Pros
- Beautiful environments
- Memory remixing is as glorious as it is horrendously tragic
- A fascinating world that raises plenty of moral questions
- Putting the audio in French makes everything cooler
- Dull, simplistic combat system
- Platforming is almost completely pointless and uninteresting
- Soundtrack is almost too niche
- English voice cast can be wooden
For a game from a first time company, Remember Me is truly fascinating. The questions it raises and the environment it exists in is something truly amazing, and remixing people's memories is an experience that I'll remember for a long time. The much talked about combat system turned out to be a bust, and it's almost too keen to make things easy for you but, overall, Remember Me is an experience that, if you let it, will take you in and wrap itself around your brain in a powerful way.
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