Game Review

by Dave Riley,

Remember Me

Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC

Remember Me
In the world of 2084, Neo-Paris is the birthplace of a technology that allows the digitization and transfer of memories, but it comes with a hidden price of mutation and addiction. Nilin is a Memory Hunter, a hacker with control over memories, who seeks to bring down the corporation, Memorize, for its misdeeds.

"Remember you later," say Remember Me's characters in parting. In Neo-Paris, 2084, memories are digitized and transferable, and with this new technology comes the usual host of neologisms: Nilin is a Memory Hunter and an Errorist. She attacks her foes with Pressens and also S-Pressens. She picks up Mnesists, which are really just journal entries, and she has this thing called a Sensen wherein all her memories are stored. Sensens project a holographic circle of white and orange at the base of a person's neck, a physical manifestation with about as much benefit to its user as a Dead Space health bar.

Nilin, who has been arrested and memory wiped for crimes unknown, works under the auspices of Edge, a faceless Gears of Wars-y radio contact. Edge guides Nilin out of La Bastille, the famous prison now rebuilt into a place where criminals are stripped of their memories and serve their sentences as mindless husks. Neo-Paris is a sodden, sullied place where the Arc de Triomphe is wallpapered with rusty aluminum siding. It's a world kind of like Phillip K. Dick, kind of like Ridley Scott, and kind of like Luc Besson. The Champs-Elysees is a slum. Even the nice parts of Paris don't always look that nice, where the historical buildings are strangled with criss-crossing cables and wires. The combination of high living and low lifes, the megacorporations, and the pervasive tech, is inarguably cyberpunk. The towers of Memorize are always in the distance, stark and pure white against the skyline, their glisten recalling both Portal and Mirror's Edge. The cast is surprisingly multiethnic for a video game, including a main character who is explicitly biracial instead of simply possessing the ambiguously beige skin tone we've come to accept from the usual bald space marine in a leading role.

Remember Me has an iron grip on its aesthetic. Not only in the sullen sewers and antiseptic prisons, but also in the way Nilin moves, how she punches and kicks with holographic assistance and how she obliterates her foes' memories (and minds?) with a fist to the back of the head and a shotgun blast of polygons. There are rare moments where Nilin must dive into and rewrite a person's brain. The player can scrub through the digital memory like a tape in a VCR and the playback jerks and fills with static as it fast forwards and rewinds. The camera swoops and pans in long fluid arcs as the playback is tracked back and forth, giving life to otherwise uncomplicated and linear scenes.

Would that it played as it looked. Most of Remember Me is straight-line climbing and shuffling about on par with Uncharted's, though its linearity is exacerbated by holographic chevrons dutifully pointing out every single jump and every single climb, so there is never even the illusion of a different path. Furthermore, if the player hesitates for even a second a guide button pops up on the screen and wrests control of the camera, so terrified is the game of anyone becoming confused or delayed. Nilin uses Remembranes, stolen memories of other Sensen users, to navigate dangerous areas (minefields, robot patrols), but even these are so follow-the-leader that it's a shock to the system when, about three quarters of the way through, a Remembrane only hints at the solution to a rudimentary puzzle instead of directly handing over the answer.

Sprinkled throughout the climbs are Arkham Asylum-style brawls with either mutants or security guards, who square off and box in essentially identical ways. There is no parry, only a dodge, so Nilin doesn't really have control over the flow and pacing of combat. In place of the parry Nilin's combat clutch is filled with Pressens, slottable X and Y attacks that add extra damage, regenerate health, or speed up special move cooldowns. Combos cannot be made from scratch, only altered, and there are only four combos in total. The XYYXYY move will always be XYYXYY, the only choice is what the Xs and the Ys do.

Fights are poorly balanced and most enemies absorb unconscionable amounts of damage, so the optimal strategy is slotting as many power Pressens as possible into the simplest combo and hammering away. Eventually the game introduces some minor complexities - the mutants start to turn invisible and the guards start to carry riot shields. You primarily circumvent these obstacles with a corresponding S-Pressen ("Special" Pressen, presumably), so the strategy switches from power hits to cooling down special moves as quickly as possible so Nilin can mind control another robot or detonate another sticky bomb.

Certainly, the player hits a lot of buttons during the average Remember Me fight. In that way it is sometimes engaging, but it becomes hard to enjoy any specific enemy once its predetermined strategy is revealed: robots must be mind controlled, invisible enemies must have their Sensen hacked. The alternatives, like shooting robots with Nilin's holographic arm cannon, take so much more effort in mental bandwidth and button presses that there's no reason to use them unless a given special move is on cooldown, in which case it's usually easier to beat enemies up with cooldown reducers and skip the arm cannon entirely. The bosses are slightly more interesting than the scrubs, but that's more often due to aesthetics than mechanics. There is a giant robot who screams with a monochromatic, holographic human mouth. There is a Memory Hunter who cages in his prey within a virtual boxing ring.

The story matches the quality of the decor about as much as the gameplay does. The ability to transfer and trade (and become addicted to) memories is a reasonable enough jumping off point, but the plot lacks follow-through. Remember Me argues that humanity has bartered its brains and its freedom away to corporations in exchange for this gift of transferable and erasable memories, but how does the transfer of memories lead to civil unrest? How does it lead to hydrocephalic technoghouls? The game shows the end result, but never even hints at any of the steps in-between.

"Corporations are bad," says Remember Me, which is a fairly sound thesis in the world of 2013 let alone 2084, but there is no further exploration of why beyond "this sucks." The story is nominally about curing Nilin's amnesia, yet no matter how many memories she restores she never seems to change, so we get the impression she was exactly the same before her mind wipe as she is after. There are many plot twists, as we've come to expect from any story about amnesia, and the worst of them are hinged on a fault line, on the assumption characters should do whatever the plot demands. A key villain's reaction to a non-fatal car accident is a meteoric rise to dictatorship. The rationale behind her actions is absurd, it is laughable. It is impossible to imagine any human being acting so outrageously, unless you keep in mind they were shoehorned into it by a scriptwriter.

Characters frequently act without any perceivable motivation and the good guys are almost unilaterally without remorse. Entering a person's mind and editing their memories seems an especially cruel and intense form of violation, yet Remember Me doesn't bother with moral ambiguity or the the idea that if people's minds are not sacred, what is? "These characters are good, what they are doing is right," is the message. Meanwhile, the memory remixing tutorial has Nilin rewrite a woman's mind so that she believes her husband was murdered right in front of her. Aside from a line or two of throwaway dialogue during a loading sequence this act is never problematized, nor are later remixes that edit people's personalities in considerably more radical ways. At best, Remember Me's moral is "the ends justify the means" at worst it is "it's okay to violate or erase someone's being if it makes getting to the next level more convenient." Whenever Nilin has a target mind to tamper with it is invariably that of a character who has never been seen before that cutscene, so we are forced to go with Edge's assertions that this person is a bad person. Why? Well isn't it obvious? Doesn't the world really suck because of them?

It's pretty obvious that Neo-Paris in 2084 does suck, but there's no context behind its canals full of sewage or its totalitarian, paramilitary S.A.B.R.E. Force and that makes it difficult to understand how your actions are going to fix anything. Remember Me is constructed from the scraps of good ideas, but lacks the connective tissue to give them any real meaning. Every piece of it, from the climbing to the fighting to the story, feels completely separate from every other part. The player pushes through the hum-drum gameplay for the cutscenes, but the cutscenes rarely deliver on the promise of the art direction, which hangs the cut-off faces of servant robots, shaped like porcelain doll masks, from rafters in eerie patterns like a Blade Runner set or a J-Horror haunted house. As we progress, the game feels more and more like Edge, speaking into our ear, pushing us along, giving us orders and tasks without and reasons behind them. If we stopped to ask why it would respond, exasperated, "because I said so, okay?" No amount of stunning art design can stamp out the slowly growing suspicion that Remember Me is covering up its lack of coherence by throwing out handfuls of slick cyber-moves. The game struggles to define itself with cumbersome new terminology, but underneath all the explosive polygons and proper nouns Remember Me is a game that has no idea what it's actually about.

Overall : C
Graphics : A-
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : C-
Presentation : C-

+ World that is beautiful whether gorgeous or grimy
Unexciting combat and platforming, muddled plot.

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