While I won’t give the story away, minor spoilers follow. I started this review having just finished the game, which I paid $45 for via Green Man Gaming.
Dystopic future Paris? A world addicted to erasing painful memories? A sprawling cyberpunk adventure to hold me over until Shadowrun Returns comes out? My dollars were basically wagered as soon as I heard about Remember Me last winter. As early reviews came out, however, I started feeling a little defensive. The game currently ranks a 70 on Metacritic, and most of its high reviews there aren’t from heavy-hitting publications. One score not included is EGM’s review, which is a 90, but overall it seems the people who don’t like this game really do not like this game. Worse, reviewers giving “meh” scores generally start with, “While the game is very ambitious…”
So when I started, I was already gritting my teeth. I was not swept off my feet right away, and it won’t be my game of the year.
Nevertheless, Remember Me is an artful, gorgeous example of good visual science-fiction, and it has stuck in my head over the past week. I won’t go too deeply into why I think many reviewers were put off, but I have to agree on a few points. There were frustrating combat moments. While there are few quick-time events, the ones that do exist are fairly wretched. The camera is not always a joy, at least that was my experience playing on a PC. Some complained about the voice acting. I never found it obtrusive. My greatest disappointment was that many environments do feel as if they were built for bad guys and cleaning droids–most humans who don’t want to kill you will be busy running away.
But the game’s linear structure is by far the most consistent complaint; everyone wants to explore more of Neo-Paris, and ultimately it’s a complaint wrapped in desire for more. The city is gorgeously disgusting. While the environments in Deus Ex and its UI’s limited color palette left a very particular impression of cyberpunk and cohesive futuristic design, Remember Me embraces chaos. Some have compared its style with Blade Runner; those people have never actually watched Blade Runner. Or they’re crazy.
Neo-Paris enchants because it feels unique, dangerous, and it looks…like a futuristic Paris. The smooshing of old, contemporary, and imagined future architecture does a great job of portraying what you would expect old European meets brain hackers to be. The game’s developer Dontnod is based in The City of Light, and you can tell where they got their ideas. Wanting to explore more is natural because it looks freaking awesome. The game’s soundtrack is mostly orchestral pieces remixed with digital starts and stutters, which I found to be well matched and appealing in general.
While the combat is in a beat-’em-up style with powers thrown in (making fights often feel more like puzzles, another point in the game’s favor), the overall arch of the gameplay feels more like Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed. You jump from one bit of architecture to another, you fight bad guys, and then you jump around some more. There are collectibles, usually hidden just off the beaten path. Enemies are varied between brutes, fast mobs, and a few with special abilities to mix things up. And if you were to read most reviews, you could be lead to believe these tasks were performed with uninspiring diligence. Not so, I suggest.
While jumping to a ledge, Nillin’s enhanced-reality vision shows where you should jump to. I still jumped into oblivion every now and then, but probably because of being shortsighted and not because the controls wig out in random directions. Collectibles give you a small leg up, but are not necessary. More importantly, the fairly linear gameplay means you won’t have to spend hours running back and forth across the map if you want to collect everything. You are either given an image of where the nearby pickup is or you have to listen for a telltale noise (for different kinds of goodies, respectively). Combat and adventure/platforming sections felt very well balanced. There are brief moments of stealth, but they feel more like puzzles than anything and are (thankfully) short.
Remember Me does these things better than A-list games, not worse. It may not feel as polished in sum, but each gameplay section was honestly more fun than similar situations in Assasin’s Creed. I usually understood what I needed to get done, and when I died in combat I usually knew why and could figure out how to improve my situation. That’s something a lot of games fail to do, including most in whatever genre one drops Remember Me, but it’s incredibly important. A game that’s too easy isn’t very fun, but a game where combat isn’t meaningful, deaths aren’t diagnosable, or the goal isn’t clear is just torture. Remember Me treads the line between these problems very well.
The game’s plot hinges on the ability to reach into others’ heads and rearrange their mental furniture and does a very good job exploring that idea–this is why I said the game is good sci-fi. The story’s internal logic is believable, and each chapter does a good job of showing new sides and perils to digital memories. The overall plot is a little disjointed, largely as a byproduct of a protagonist who begins the game with no memories. As a heroine, Nillin does not disappoint. She begins as a blank slate, and by the end of the game it is very possible you won’t like her, but you will have opinions about her. To draw another comparison to an oft-lauded game from last year, she’s no Lara Croft. Nillin becomes a strong, capable woman, but Tomb Raider tries a lot harder to make you like its main lead. Like Lara, Nillin is driven from one task to another by outside forces, but unlike her Nillin never feels weaker for it. She’s trying to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved, and she does it one scrambled brain at a time. Powerful, sexy, and smart enough to yank the digitized secrets out of your head–the complete package, but maybe not if you’re looking for someone to jump around in a disintegrating tank top and an occasional pouty glace. Also I lied a little bit when I said I wouldn’t speculate as to reviewers don’t like this game.
Remember Me isn’t for everyone, and its main sin is probably spreading too many gameplay elements too thinly. If you don’t like going from punching bad guys to being forced to solve puzzles to platforming, it’s not for you. If you are willing to let the game take the lead, Remember Me is gorgeous, has an interesting story, and most importantly is an original world with solid gameplay. In a period when bold new ideas usually are credited to indie developers, large studios like Dontnod should be applauded for taking a risk, especially when they are this enjoyable.