Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review - Remember Me

Will you Remember Me?
In 2013, Developer Dontnod released a captivating setting and immensely personal tale in their debut action-adventure game Remember Me. Uplifted by a memorable protagonist and encapsulated in a story focused on identity, memory, and the relationship between those two central themes, Remember Me resonated with me well after I completed the game. It's a shame then, that Remember Me's actual gameplay is not up to par. Unwieldy controls, lackluster platforming, and excessively restrictive level design ultimately drag down what could have been a superb game.

A world that invites you to explore ...
Remember Me is set in Neo Paris: a year 2084 version of the French capital complete with dilapidated slums, sprawling marketplaces, and majestic skyscrapers. You play Nilin, an "Errorist," armed with the ability to see, remove, and modify other people's memories. It's ironic then that you start off the game having lost all of your memories. Edge, a mysterious ally and constant voice in your ear, helps you get your bearings and then guides you through various mission objectives. Your goals are both to restore your own memories and bring down M3M0RIZE, a giant corporation whose research is threatening the security - and the sanity - of Neo Paris and her people.

The atmosphere and setting of Remember Me is absolutely compelling. Dontnod's version of Paris is simply breathtaking; if there's anything worth remembering from this game, it's the truly beautiful vision and artistic direction. Whether its wandering through the slums, casually infiltrating a shopping district, parkour-ing across rooftops, or ascending the seemingly boundless limits of a Neo-Parisian highrise, the game treats you to a buffet of eye-candy. Meanwhile, the musical score successfully accentuates the action with an energetic techno beat while also managing to deliver poignancy to the game's emotional climaxes.

... but then closes the doors.
Unfortunately, while the game's art style, graphics, and music spark a desire for exploration, the game itself is surprisingly narrow in scope. Too often, Nilin is barred by arbitrary barriers, locked gates, or walls that hinder her movements, forcing her along what amounts to a winding railway with only a few nooks off the beaten path to house collectibles and stat boosts. The last time I played a game so linearly designed was the original Final Fantasy XIII, and while it's somewhat more forgivable in this 10 - 20 hour action game, the sensation did make me feel like I was playing an "on-the-rails" shooter. It's just such a shame in such a intricately crafted world, that we are not allowed to see more of it.

The game is also generously splashed with platforming segments that are uneven at best. Nilin spends much of her time hanging from ledges, gliding along as she tries to navigate the precarious edges of buildings, prisons, warehouses, and various other infrastructure. While I did appreciate the shots of the city you get from these segments, the platforming itself is ultimately uneventful. There's no real sense of accomplishment from successfully reaching the end, as far too often the only obstacle to your progress is accidentally falling, or the game's poor on-screen instructions of where you are allowed to go. The game will generate little pointers telling you where the next ledge you should leap to are located, but it does this unenthusiastically. Falling to your death because you can't see a little orange triangle drains the narrative of its momentum; and yet, this is sadly the most danger the platforming ever presents you with.

Don't mess with an errorist.
When Nilin isn't scaling skyscrapers, she spends most of her time beating up the agents of M3M0RIZE. Remember Me's combat system is simple to learn and yet layered with some depth. You start off with access to simple combos. A dodge button reacts timely - and even in the middle of a combo - and allows you to avoid being hit by enemies, who will conveniently notify you via exclamation points flashing on screen that they're about to attack. Meanwhile, Nilin's punches, kicks, and special abilities are all animated fluidly; it's a pleasure to watch as she wades through a pack of armored M3M0RIZE soldiers and disable them with graceful but powerful martial arts.

As you progress through the game and defeat more and more enemies, you unlock additional combos. All of the combos available to you are customizable with attacks of your choice. Available attacks - called "Pressens" in game - include those that increase damage dealt to your foes, allow you to heal yourself with every successful hit, and reduce the cooldown time of your special attacks. Special attacks range from taking control of enemy robots to launching Nilin into a fury mode that allows her to chain attacks together without limit for a set amount of time.

... like, seriously. Just don't.
These diverse options afford what is ultimately a serviceable combat system. Unfortunately, the controls leave something to be desired. The auto-targeting function is horrendous, and targeting in general is unwieldy at best. These problems are exacerbated for Nilin's ranged weapons, which force you into a first person perspective in the heat of battle. The game also has a tendency to throw waves of enemies at you, causing too many of the battles to feel like wars of attrition.

Even when overwhelmed by staggering odds, however, the combat can feel too simple at times. This is especially true of the Regeneration "Pressen," which allows you to heal yourself with every hit. The result is that Nilin is never truly in danger of being defeated, as refilling your healthbar is as simple as executing a regenerative combo attack. The game attempts to ameliorate this problem somewhat in the later stages of the game with enemies that hurt you with every successful hit you land; even so, I never felt like there was any real risk.

Just another day kicking ass.
While the platforming is otherwise innocuous and the combat manages to be engaging enough, it's the story elements of Remember Me's gameplay that truly capture the imagination. Of particular note are the "Memory Remix" sequences, which task you with altering certain key memories of your target in ways that cause their entire personalities to change. It's utterly fascinating to watch a person's memory, then tweak certain details within - the undoing of a leather strap tying your victim's beloved to a medical bed, or the removal of a safety in a loaded gun - and then see how just these minor changes cause your victim's memory to play out in entirely different ways.

History is in the eye of the remember-er ...

These remix sequences truly beg the questions: do our memories define who we are? Does history change with memory? Dontnod doesn't directly address these questions; indeed, their treatment of Nilin's power is not entirely consistent. In an early section of the game, Nilin's use of the memory remix causes another character to completely change her behavior, but it seems clear that it's only through our protagonist's manipulation that this result is achieved. Nilin knows she's revised history for her target alone. However, in later segments of the game, the remix of another character's memory seems to bring to Nilin a sense of emotional closure, a catharsis, that doesn't quite make sense considering Nilin more than anybody should know that the remixed memory is not in fact reality.

... or is it?

Cue Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You"

Despite its problems, Remember Me is nonetheless a memorable experience, one worth experiencing if only to provoke the questions it brings up for yourself. While parts of the gameplay are lackluster, the story, the protagonist (a woman of color! As the lead character of a game!), and the setting are all well-worth the look. Remember Me is available on Steam, PS3 and the Xbox 360.

Recommended For:
+ Fans of stories in their games
+ Fans who like their games with atmosphere and style
+ Fans of thought-provoking games
+ Gamers who'd like to see more minority representation in games!

Not Recommended For:
- People who blaze through stories
- Fans of challenging or difficult games

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