Sometimes art means you have to take risks. You go out on a limb and put out an idea that people might not approve of, or portray a concept in a way people might not immediately understand. Sticking to conventionalism means sticking to the same bland work as everyone else, and not getting a chance to stand out. Capcom and Dontnod Entertainment’s Remember Me is an example of a game that hesitatingly takes risks before rushing back to what everyone else is doing. It has an interesting cyberpunk world, a unique aesthetic, and the all too rare non-sexualized female protagonist. It could have told a great story about turning memories into commodities and how commercialization can erode our identities. Unfortunately, as soon as it puts interesting ideas out there, the $59.99 (list for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, $49.99 list for PC) game scurries back into convention. It doesn’t take enough risks, and as a result falls into mediocrity.
You play as Nilin, a hacker who’s about to get her memory wiped in the bowels of the Memorise corporation for trying to sabotage the company. Nilin escapes thanks to a mysterious benefactor and has to make her way through Neo-Paris 2084 to recover her memories and figure out what happened to her. In this future world, Memorise released a brain implant called Sensen that lets users share their memories with others. Nilin is a hacker that can steal peoples’ memories, and one of the few who can “remix” memories to influence people. Naturally, she starts off the game as an amnesiac, but it fits the theme of the game much better than most games that do the same. Nilin stands out as a strong, non-sexualized female protagonist, which is very rare in video games. Her character design is attractive without being unrealistic, and she is both capable and motivated.
The story shows a lot of potential, but for every step it takes forward in exploring identity and memory, it takes two steps back with cartoon clichés. The villains are underdeveloped, uninspired, mustache-twirling characters, and the allies are boring, paper-thin support staff. For a game that presents interesting ideas involving memories and technology, it deals with the social and philosophical issues it raises with either heavy-handedness or blasé ignorance. There would be a great story here if it didn’t feel so conventional, direct, and safe.
Neo-Paris, for its uncreative name, is breathtaking and visually unique. It’s part post-apocalyptic slums, part neon monstrosity, and part Metropolis-like utopia, all layered together to produce the cultural and economic struggle that drives the story. The grime and danger of the slums and the sterile peace of the affluent neighborhoods highlight how most of the city is kept out of the light, left to wallow in its own filth while avoiding the mutated dregs that plague the sewers. Nilin explores a big chunk of the city, from the sewers to the slums to the rich neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the level design herds Nilin through parts of the city in very limited, direct courses, and I never got a chance to “breathe” and get a feel for the city beyond a few impressive sights in the path.
Gameplay feels extremely segmented, with different parts of levels having distinct elements that don’t often overlap. Most parts of the game involve either climbing and jumping to get to your destination or fighting people, and whether you’ll perform either action usually depends on how big the room you’re entering is and how many pipes you see on walls. Climbing is a slow, deliberate process that feels more like puzzle-solving that platforming, finding the best route to get through different obstacles. There are a few unique skills to add variety to navigation, like remotely activating machines or destroying obstacles, but it stays fairly consistent.It doesn’t have the smooth, fluid action of Assassin’s Creed or Prince of Persia, but it’s a functional way to explore Neo-Paris. Granted, the exploration involves navigating linear alleys and corridors most of the time, but you’ll still see the sights.
Fighting is the most common element in the game next to climbing and running. If you see a big room without any other features, you’re probably going to be attacked there. Combat is a simple two-strike fighting system similar to most other third-person action games that don’t focus on guns, letting you chain together punches and kicks to make combos while hitting a third button to dodge before you get hit. It’s very similar to the combat in the Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games. Remember Me mixes up the formula a bit with “Presens” and the Combo Lab. You can create your own combos of varying lengths with Presens, individual strikes that can charge up your special attack, heal you, or enhance the combo. Unfortunately, the Combo Lab just makes a simple combat system slightly less simple, and while you can craft different useful combos, it isn’t very rewarding to spend time building them instead of just filling all of the slots and getting back to fighting. It’s a layer of possible customization there isn’t much incentive to get into. Combat feels very same-y, with little mixing it up between different enemy encounters. You usually keep hitting until you fill your special meter so you can hit harder, then repeat the process. Boss fights are a similar experience, with a basic rhythm of button mashing in between occasionally finding a way to get the enemy to drop his defenses.
Besides climbing and fighting, Remember Me lets you remix memories. Here’s how it works: You watch a sequence of events with different “glitches” appearing to indicate what you can change, then you rewind and jog the memory back and forth until you alter just enough elements to make the memory go your way. This can influence certain characters to act differently, letting you move forward. It’s a fascinating puzzle-like sequence with the potential to really dive into characters and their motivations, and is a unique element that fits perfectly with the story.
Unfortunately, the memory remixing aspect is criminally underused. Instead of being a central feature, it only shows up a handful of times as a minigame that punctuates the climbing and fighting. While it could have taken center stage in a cerebral, Heavy Rain-like interactive story, it ends up being a rare minigame in a mediocre cyberpunk Prince of Persia-like game.
Remember Me had the potential to be an impressive, artistically solid, interactive story of a game, but it embraces conventions too hard for much of that to shine through. The designs are impressive, the narrative is intriguing, and the memory remixing is fascinating, but they all are held back by a strange desire to keep the game conventional. It closes you off from the impressive cyberpunk city with linear, uninspired level flow, it undermines its interesting premise with ham-fisted and uneven characterizations and plot points, and it relies too much on the usual movement and fighting elements instead of focusing more on the unique memory remixing aspect.
I fear that Remember Me will be seen as having failed because it was too ambitious and artistic, and having a strong, non-sexualized female lead character. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nilin is the only interesting character in the game if only by inches, and the artistic and ambitious elements are undermined by the game’s reliance on convention. Remember Me doesn’t fail because it’s ambitious. Remember Me fails because it plays it safe. If the game embraced audacity and pursued its bolder, more unique aspects, its mediocre gameplay mechanics would have been far more forgivable.
|Platform||PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3|
|ESRB Rating||M for Mature|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc