Remember Me review: risks without reward
by Timothy J. Seppala, shacknews.com, Jun 7, 2013 1:30PM PDT
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Remember Me's first impression is what kept me playing well past the point I would've walked away otherwise. Its opening few hours are a dizzying array of gorgeous aesthetics, jargon overload and combat I thought wasn't quite clicking because I'm rhythmically challenged. I thought that the longer I played the kinks would work themselves out and I'd be able to cope with its rough edges because everything else felt so fresh and daring. The truth is they never did. From the first enemy encounter and uncertain jump to my last, very little changed aside from how I felt about the game.
Remember Me's vision of days to come is one through a Google Glass filter. Walking the streets of developer Dontnod's Neo-Paris and watching as shop or vendor stall info folded out in front of me was always a treat. The city's awash in detail and character, every nook and cranny begging exploration just to see what's tucked away therein. Robots of all manner populate future France's corridors and skies cleaning and patrolling, keeping even the most oppressive areas from feeling desolate. Impeccable use of color and saturation keep each chapter feeling fresh and distinct. When the combat or story frustrated me, I kept pushing on because I wanted to see what Dontnod had in store around the corner; even revisited areas looked and felt different thanks to deft design and direction.
But every time I wanted to explore, Dontnod slapped my wrists. The off-path areas were empty more often than not and not every ledge or box is climbable. Collectables take the form of text logs and occasionally power-boosting items. Searching around felt so tedious that by the halfway point, I stopped looking--I was bored enough by the main game that I didn't need anything adding to it. Regardless of how lithe protagonist Nilin is, she can‘t jump unless a yellow arrow tells her she can and how high she can do it. There's nothing inherently wrong with a game being linear, but here it breaks all the immersion the rest of the world creates. Because jumping is scripted, it was impossible for me to gauge if a gap was passable or not. I cleared chasms eight feet across when a helicopter was chasing me, but could only scale a knee-high box if Dontnod deemed it necessary.
Despite all this, it never felt like I had a giant piece of plastic in my hands more than whenever enemies appeared on screen. Remember Me uses a rhythm-based combo system for its combat. In small doses, it works well enough. With one or two weaker enemies onscreen, gaining my bearings and experimenting around with what worked best was fun and a change of pace from other brawlers. Unlocking new attacks for custom combo creation and provided a decent sense of progression. But because these combos follow a strict two-button recipe (X, X, X or X, Y, X, Y, Y, X for example), keeping their functions and button presses straight while keeping Nilin's, ahem, sculpted physique safe was nigh impossible while fighting several enemies of different types at once. Combos not only deal damage, but strings of successive hits also recharge special attack cooldowns and amplify each strike's effects depending on how you create them. On paper it sounds great, but in execution it barely worked. Enemies often swarm and even when I would dodge an incoming attack, my combo broke despite the load screen message telling me it wouldn't.
Special attacks truly feel special and each one feels satisfying to perform. My favorite was the DOS attack that freezes enemies giving me a chance to unleash a six-hit combo without fear of being struck from behind and the combo breaking. While enemies are frozen, the screen fills with rotating digital chaff made of photos and static. It's cool touches like these that kept me coming back and thinking better of the game than I otherwise would have.
I wish I were better at the combat system because with each successful combo, the music grows in intensity and complexity. Miss a blow and it's all gone. It's a unique carrot at the end of the stick that I hope more games try; it only works when the music is this good, though. Mixtures of electronic and classical paint Remember Me's aural landscape, complementing that game's tone and feel of new technology fused with old ideals.
In Neo-Paris, memories are commodities. They're all at once a drug, currency and power. Memory vending machines line the streets shilling First Kiss like so many candy bars. Junkies cower in corners craving another fix. Memory-stripped and reprogrammed former-humans lurk in the slums. There's so much potential here for so many different narrative possibilities, but major plot points are squandered and delivered with little weight. Characters appear out of nowhere and I'm supposed to have an attachment to them before they make their grand exit. Except they lack personality and character so they end up as no more than tinder for the fire.
Nilin's greatest power is hacking into someone's mind and changing their thoughts to suit her motives. Early on Nilin stops a bounty hunter from killing her by manipulating the huntress' memory of the death of a loved one. Instead of blaming Nilin, she now blames the doctor who performed the operation. It's ethically murky and Nilin herself has a hard time coming to grips with what she just did to save herself from certain death. It's unfortunate that moments like this are as far between as they are because they're among Remember Me's greatest assets.
Remember Me's rough edges outweigh its ambition by tenfold. While I respect the risks Dontnod took with certain aspects, so much of the game is mired in banality that it'd be impossible for me to give more than faint praise for what does work. There's at least a dozen great ideas here just waiting to shine in a better designed sequel--I just hope that sequel can happen.