Remember Me [Review]
Having finished Remember Me, all I can say is that I’m not mad; just disappointed. I had a great time for the first couple of chapters of the game. I liked beating on the creatures, the combo system demanded some precision and was challenging to pull off, and the story seemed to be heading in some mature, interesting directions. Over time, the camera starts weighing in on your fights, the intricacies of the combo system become aggravating, and the story seems to just forget all of the interesting stuff it was setting up. The game has a beautiful world and catchy soundtrack, but its eventual failures all drag it down, leaving you rolling your eyes in bewilderment a few hundred times by the time the game finally deigns to end its ridiculous tale.
Remember Me tried its best to make me like it, I’ll give them that. I’d have been willing to pay for a game that just let me wander around this amazing world Dontnod Entertainment created. The two different worlds of the poorer class and the rich are obviously divided, with a complete change in architecture making it clear which side you’re visiting. The dilapidated world of the poor reminded me of Metro: Last Light if it had been splashed with a lot of brilliant color. These sections are in shambles, put together with whatever was lying around, and it just really looks awful. Drab colors abound in this area, helping to drive home how oppressive and sad it is. Among all the junk is some fantastic graffiti, with a lot of creativity in design and subject matter. Graffiti in games seems to be becoming more and more popular, and I love the freedom it gives artists to really go wild with a concept or idea.
It becomes instantly obvious once you’ve stepped into the rich part of town. Everything is clean, showing none of the debris and junk of the poorer parts of the city. Statues line the area, shops line the streets, and a lot of whites and other bright colors are used. Robots are seen sweeping the area, with guards and security drones patrolling as well. It makes the entire world look like one giant shopping mall, with the clueless populace completely unaware of the terrible thing happening to people in the poor sector.
These two styles start to mingle as the events in the game bring the two sides together. The story is communicated artistically as we start to see sections of the rich part of the city covered in junk and clutter. The high office buildings and workplaces start to look abandoned, with boxes, parts, and broken machines left lying around. I know these places are technically under attack by me once I’ve entered them and that this sort of abandonment should happen logically, but again, it uses color in smart ways. The bright colors start to get muddled together with the drab colors of the garbage and cobbled-together machines of the poor. The broken buildings of the rich lose a lot of their brightness as the city descends into chaos, and it was just a really great visual flourish to see the setting change with the plot.
I really liked the futuristic effect of the game’s interfaces. The tool on Nilin’s (the main character) arm shows these bright geometric shapes whenever it’s in use, as do many of the other neat effects in the game. The in-game hints on where to go light up bright, as do door store signs and other data fed to you in the game. The striking blocks of color just made me think of the way many sci-fi shows and movies represent their interfaces, and it also made me think of how some real-world interfaces seem to be heading in this direction as well. Think what would happen if you shot someone in the back of the head with a cylinder made of Windows 8 and you might get the idea.
Sound is good, but not given the lavish attention the art was. Electronic sounds naturally factor heavily into the soundtrack, creating a very ‘digital’ style of music and effects for the game. It’s a good fit, but it’s almost a little too stereotypical in the way it just tries to sound futuristic. It’s in keeping with the artistic theme of the game, though, lacking many real instruments in favor of mechanically-created sounds. There are also some interesting effects, such as the music coming to a complete halt if you get hit during a combo. It plays this deep effect once you take that hit, making me really feel my momentum stop when my combo’s interrupted. It’s not as jarring as in Dyad, but you’ll still feel it. The game’s music is not all very memorable and its focus on manufactured, electronic sound might not be for everyone, but it’s well in keeping with the game’s futuristic theme.
Keeping that music going through uninterrupted combos is something you’d better learn, though. Combat is very reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum in that spamming a button is not going to get you much of anywhere. You have to attack, and then push the button for your next strike while the initial one is landing for it to register. It doesn’t mean you’ll just be standing there without proper timing, though, so you can technically mash buttons to get through. You have very good reasons to want to land a specific combo, though, as you’ll have designed them in a way to suit your combat style.
I’m not implying that there’s a lot to learn about combat moves, though. There are four combos and that is it: three, five, six, and eight hits. They all work in a specific way, as you cannot adjust which buttons go into those combos. This makes it pretty easy to learn them, I have to admit, but it doesn’t really sound like it makes for a whole lot of variety. What you can change is what every press of the button does as a side effect. You have moves called Pressens (because Sci-fi) that let you do extra damage, regain health, reduce special power cooldowns, or increase the overall effect of the Pressens, and these are all just attached to the basic hits in the combo. If I have a combo that is just three light attacks, then I can attach a damage Pressen and a healing one in order to make that specific combo hurt more and give me some life back. Pressens also alter the timing needed to land each hit in a combo as they change how each strike works, so keeping that in mind can make comboing simpler.
Like I said, having only four combos in the game sounds dull, but when you can assign a specific buff to each move in a combo, things get interesting. The combo system feels a little slower than it would in Devil May Cry because of it, but that’s from the game assigning so much importance to each button press. Pulling that eight hit combo exactly as you have to is necessary to get that handful of buffs you built into it. I liked that I could front-load a combo with all healing moves and essentially have that as a healing combo for when I needed health fast, or just have a three-hit heavy damage combo for when I needed to clear a room quickly. I really liked that I could throw that strategy out the window in mid-fight if I needed to use more special powers, going into a menu and equipping cooldown reduction Pressens as I saw fit. It makes attacking feel a lot more strategic in the game when it’s been technically simplified to the same level as a SNES brawler.
Selecting specific Pressens change what your moves do in your combos even if you can’t change the button presses for them. That’s a nice concession considering there are only four combos and you’ll be seeing a lot of them. The funny part was that I didn’t even notice what moves Nilin was doing because I was always watching something else during combat. For starters, you’re going to be pretty focused on the timing of your hits and watching for impacts, so I found I was paying too much attention to whether my strike was landing than what it was. I honestly couldn’t tell you what each attack looked like because I was too busy watching whether they landed so I could hit the next button. The other reason was that enemies tend to just pile on top of you, and you have to watch for an indicator over an enemy’s head to know if they are going to attack. I was watching the crowd whenever I wasn’t paying attention to my own attack, as I had to keep a close eye on them more than my own combo to avoid damage.
You may find yourself getting excessively excited when you land a combo from how difficult it can be to pull one off, though. The crowds don’t hang back as much as they did in Arkham Asylum; being far more content to pile on top of you. In later fights you tend to have six or so guys crawling all over you at once; all of them muddled together to the point where it was hard to see that red icon appearing over someone’s head. Eventually, that red icon is all you’re looking for, but you might not notice it if you’re caught up in a combo or you didn’t pick up on someone jumping down from a wall.
What’s far more likely to break up you combo is the fact that if you don’t hit the same person for every hit of the combo, and that’s the inexcusable problem. If you ever hit anyone else, and you likely will because there’s no targeting system (why is not having a targeting button so popular now?), your combo breaks. Considering you’re dodging and weaving around avoiding hits, you tend to lose your combo all the time when you land from a dodge and attack the wrong person. The game suggests that you try to dodge over your target to maintain your combo, but with some of the huge groups that cluster around you late-game, it’s hard to know who you’re hitting to jump over them. I don’t know why I can’t continue my combo uninterrupted just because I switched targets, but it makes it all but impossible to pull off proper combos until almost everyone is dead. I could have flawlessly taken everyone down in a fight, but I typically only managed that eight hit combo on the last remaining guy. I have no idea why they set it up this way, but it took a lot of the fun out of combat. It’s still exciting to actually land a combo, but not for the right reasons.
Outside of combat, you’ll be doing a lot of climbing and jumping around. I do still enjoy getting around a game environment like this, as I get to explore all sorts of neat spaces around the game that I wouldn’t be able to from just walking around. Just the same, I’d like a little urgency put into it like in the Prince of Persia games. Climbing around buildings and leaping from ledges is fun, but if I don’t ever feel like I could fall to my death then it takes a little bit of the excitement out of it. You do get to see more of the game’s beautiful environment by moving around it by climbing, but it feels like a wasted opportunity not to have to have a little danger when I’m clinging from the side of a skyscraper (except for a single sequence).
The final gameplay element is the memory manipulation, and even that didn’t feel particularly interesting. You’re shown a memory that a character has, playing it out in front of you the way the character remembers it. Once it’s complete, you can use the left stick to spin the memory back; looking for the handful of things you can adjust in the environment to completely alter the memory. They show up as little graphical glitches as you pass them in the memory playback so you know what they are, and you just choose whether to manipulate them or not. This creates a case where the idea of altering someone’s memory sounds like a neat gameplay mechanic on paper, but doesn’t actually end up being very interesting. All I would do was roll back to the end of the memory and start rolling forward, picking items through trial and error to find out which combination would give me the outcome I wanted. Some of the alternate surprise outcomes were nice, but otherwise I was just picking stuff at random to see what it would do.
What I was more interested in was the moral implications of altering someone’s memory to suit your needs. It makes for lousy gameplay, but those memory alterations have effects in the game’s plot that made me sick to my stomach at points. It’s a horrific violation of a person to go into their mind and change who they are through memory alteration, and I thought the game might have tried to touch on that fact at some point. It implies that it is going to for most of the first half, and I was really caught up in the story because of that. As the game goes on, it becomes more and more clear that all of the moral questions in the game are going to get tossed out the window just so the plot can get wrapped up. I can’t say much more without plot spoilers, but it doesn’t delve into almost any of the questions it brings up, and the impetus for the entire thing is so utterly stupid that I started laughing once it was shown.
If they’d actually explored some of the moral questions they brought up, this game could have been very good. As is, it’s a pretty, but mediocre, brawler that will be making its players angry somewhere around the halfway point. Its fighting and climbing systems aren’t interesting enough on their own to carry the entire game, and the plot falls apart when it’s right on the cusp of being incredibly good. The plot was what was keeping me involved – telling me a story about the frightening concept of memory manipulation and asking all of the right questions about it, but it stopped after it had asked them. It never actually had Nilin come to any conclusions or even think about the implications of what she did after a certain point, and after that, I just couldn’t tolerate it any more. It became the same as any other tired, stupid brawler with a nonsense plot. Considering how good it seemed like it would be at first, I came away far more disappointed than I would have been if it was just bad to begin with. Remember Me shows promise for Dontnod Studios, and I hope they actually finish their story properly in their next game.