Remember Me, the 2013 videogame from DontNod Entertainment, is a frustrating experience. On one hand, it’s an interesting high concept game that actually raises comments on interesting philosophical and psychological ideas. On the other, it’s a clunky, mediocre at best platform-brawler in restrictive environments.
Remember Me follows Nilin (Kezia Burrows) an Errorist who wakes up in a prison cell with little to no memory of who she is or why she’s there. After being contacted by an man known as Edge (Nathan Nolan), Nilin is able to escape the prison and finds herself in beautiful Neo-Paris, the home of Memorize, a vast company that specialises in the storing and removing of memories. It is this company that Nilin and Edge strive to bring down, as the prison Nilin escapes from – La Bastille – is in Memorize’s hands, and they use their advanced technology to torture and reform their prisoners.
But that isn’t what you first see. Instead, the game opens with an advert for Memorize and the Sensen (a device that stores your memories and allows you to access them). This opening shows you the positives of Memory Manipulation – soothing a tragic one, reliving a beautiful one – and wins you to the side of Memorize, only for the game to immediately present you with the stark opposite – torture and the loss of identity, with people barely able to function. It’s actually a very smart way to open the game and cement the idea of the duplicitous nature of Memorize, and makes you err on the side of caution as you never know if what you’re doing is right or not.
That sense of moral confusion pervades through the game. Nilin spends the moments before each chapter reflecting on whether this is the right course of action, and you often see the after effects of your actions, including some scenes that render your actions in a new light. It’s rare for a game to acknowledge that what you’re doing harms people as much as it saves them, and you are never given the answer as to whether you’re a terrorist or a freedom fighter (until the end, of course).
There are flaws, however. Many secondary characters are clearly written as being nothing but evil, and are never given any sort of development beyond their crimes. It should also be noted that they also happen to almost all be much less attractive than the morally grey characters or our hero, which leaves a bitter taste. Dialogue can occasionally come out as being forced or bizarre, and on occasion steps into being cheesy.
That being said, the amount of detail DontNod has put into the game is exceptional. Throught the game you find ‘memories’ that detail the history of the story, the technology and the characters, as well as notes on design and architecture. A lot of thought and love was poued into the concept of the world, and this shines through in the visuals as well, with Remember Me being one of the best looking games on the PS3/ 360. The environments and character models are incredibly detailed far beyond the average game. Hell, even titles released two years later don’t look as good.
And then everything grinds to a halt the moment you play the game.
To be fair – the gameplay is not bad. It’s not good either.
The overall quality of the gameplay is adequate. Exploring is slow and dull due to stiff controls, a too large turning circle, wonky jump mechanics and the game’s own limitations in level design, not to mention the game doing its best to wrest control from you. Jumping is often blind luck as to the direction you’ll leap in and the distance, with the game occasionally forcing you to one side or another, and it’s incredibly hard to be precise with the movement controls. Nilin can only walk or jog, making avoiding moving obstacles a massive chore and an exercise in frustration, especially when being chased. Speaking of, there is no unique animation set for being chased – Nilin will still only jog and climb up obstacles slowly with way too much weight added to character movements.
The climbing becomes even more frustrating when you realise that you can only climb designated objects, marked out by the game. You have no real control over your direction, and have to follow the preassigned paths. This is made more frustrating by the knee-high obstacles that litter levels, which Nilin can easily step over but can’t. I understand that levels cannot be infinite, but games such as Uncharted easily demonstrate you can have linear levels and still allow the player to run around to their hearts content.
Combat is also problematic. Remember Me’s combat is very similar to the Arkham games, though simplified somewhat. You have a light and heavy attack, and the ability to dodge, and enemies telegraph their attacks with a red exclamation mark over their head or in the area of effect. In general, combat works fine when against one or two foes – there’s the right amount of weight in character actions and everything seems to run fine.
This changes when you’re faced by more than a few enemies at a time, especially in narrow areas or with ranged enemies. The camera will often pull far too close to Nilin, obscuring enemies from sight and preventing you from seeing alerts to attacks. This is especially true of ranged enemies, where you’ll often be hit by something you had no idea was coming. Matters are made worse by the inconsistency of the dodge mechanic – sometimes your dodge will work and you’ll leap out of the way, others you’ll be hit by the attack you’re avoiding or another attack that activated a second later that you cannot dodge because, well, you’re dodging. Then there are the times where you dodge into the enemies attack as the game gets its directions confused.
This is made much worse when the combos are taken into account. Unlike the Arkham games, you have preset combos that you unlock throughout the game (3 hit, 5,6 and 8 hits). In order to pull these off in a group, you have to dodge enemy attacks and continue with the combo as though nothing ever happened. Here’s the problem – this doesn’t work when in a large group. The dodge, already unreliable, will occasionally cancel the combo you were performing, or it’ll cancel because it didn’t accept the dodge. You have to immediately go back to attacking the same target to continue the combo, but most enemies look identical and can get easily confused in a crowd. If you happen to hit the wrong enemy, you lose the combo, even if your attack also hits the right enemy at the same time.
Did I mention that you can only regain health or lower special attack cool down timers by using combos? Or that the only way to hurt certain enemies is to pull off combos? For the most important aspect of combat, the implementation is terrible.
You also have a projectile weapon at your disposal called the spammer. It works simply enough - lock on with left shoulder button, shoot with the right, or empty your ammo gauge all at once for a stronger attack. This is the only way to harm robots (other than a special move), and is actually really useful for attacking regular enemies as well. Oddly enough, the game is really touchy when you can use it – you can’t shoot patrolling drones that insta-kill you with it, but you can blow up parts of the scenery and random enemies (yes, you can fire something that destroys a metal grate at an enemy, and it will only knock them unconscious).
The special attacks are more interesting. There are five moves that unlock through the game, and all are useful to various degrees. There’s a stun attack, an area of effect bomb, a speed/ strength boost, temporary invisibility (with optional insta-takedown) and the ability to turn robots into allies. These all add a great deal of variety into the combat, but it’s rare to use them as you have to build up a focus meter in order to use one, and then they all have long cool down timers (going up to several minutes). They can be handy in a pinch, but you’ll often not use them unless you have to.
Another cool feature in combat is the ability to change the effect of your combos. You have a selection of different attack types that can be slotted into your combos. Whilst the combo will be the same button wise, your attacks secondary effect can change from a damage boost, healing or reducing cool down timers, or even giving the previous effect a boost. This means you can effectively change combos to your play style, but I resorted to simply having a high damage combo, a healing, a cool down and a mix, and never really varied them all that much. The idea is a good one, but the game never does much with it beyond the initial concept.
Ultimately, one large problem with combat is that it ends up being quite slow as you wait for timers to tick down or struggle with the games controls to lower those timers and rebuild focus. Much of combat is waiting for the chance to use an ability, or wait for the spammer to recharge (a pain when fighting robots). This is made more frustrating in encounters where you need to use abilities but cannot build the focus/ perform combos to lower timers, such as bosses. This isn’t helped by the recovery animation for being knocked down taking several seconds as Nilin slowly pulls herself to her feet whilst enemies surround her.
The absolute worst part of combat, however, is the alert for enemy attacks. The alert is a bright red exclamation mark or warning that pops up above an enemy’s head when they’re going to attack, and should easily be noticeable. Unfortunately, it isn’t, as the specific shade of red has a tendency to blend into environments, especially in areas where you’re fighting large crowds. This is more frustrating when you realise that the alert doesn’t always appear and will often be absent entirely.
And we come to the most annoying part of the game – Loading screens. Remember Me has very long loading screens. Some of them are almost a minute long. The game requires a loading screen every time you die, and you will often die due to the jump mechanics or instant kills by the environment, forcing you back into an exceptionally long loading screen. Sometime the loading screen was longer than the amount of time I played the game before I died due to insta-kill robots.
This is made worse if you die with a cutscene/ dialogue exchange in the next scene – you cannot skip these. You cannot skip anything – the game makes you re-watch every scene and listen to every piece of audio again. If you grabbed a collectible, you will have to get it again and hope that you don’t get caught off guard by the insta-kill robots that move faster than Nilin can turn.
The one gameplay element that really shines, though, is the remixing. At certain points throughout the game, you get to remix memories. This is done by watching through a sequence, then rewinding it and change a few select pieces, changing the scene. Sometimes it’s a minor change, overtimes it can change everything. These sections are highly imaginative and interesting, and make for some of the best parts of the game. Unfortunately, there are only 4 remixes in the game, leaving much more to be desired.
These segments also lead to my biggest issue with the story. As interesting as these sections are, these sequences have a much more disturbing element when you realise that what you’re doing is literally changing a person’s personality to suit your needs. There are moments when you see the ramifications of this (one of which explains why Nilin was imprisoned), but it isn’t until the end of the game where any character remarks on this, and it’s brushed off like its nothing. Ironically, this comes after a remix where you have to convince someone they killed their child – one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a parent – and then they brush it off as though it was nothing.
I’ve already touched on this before, but the game is beautiful from a graphical standpoint, and it actually does a decent job of visualising abstract concepts such as memory and confusion. The art team behind the game must be congratulated endlessly for their beautiful visualisation and designs. The soundtrack also deserves praise as it blends genre and styles together to create something fresh yet familiar, and manages to create a distinctive theme for the game.
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, Remember Me is frustrating. There is a lot to like about the game, yet the actual gameplay is so underwhelming and barely adequate that I can’t recommend it from that perspective. Had this been a TV series, a comic, book or film, I would instantly recommend it for the high concept story and visuals. But it’s a game, and one that doesn’t play all that well. So I will say this – play it once, purely for the story. Struggle through the game so you can be rewarded with a rare, high concept sci-fi game, and then pretend like the gameplay never happened.
Or watch a play through on youtube. That works as well.