I recall first hearing about Dontnod Entertainment’s first full release, Remember Me, a couple of years ago. At the time there was grandiose talk of a game that involved manipulating the memories of your foes and perverting them to do your bidding, imbued with an elaborate science fiction plot brimming with thrilling intrigue and set in a dark dystopian Neo-Paris. It sounded majestic, if a little unbelievable. As it turns out, the history of the game is actually far more complicated than the product itself.
We may never know whether the weight of publishing giants Capcom contorted the game from something rather daring, if perhaps over-ambitious, into a more standardised brawling format or whether that was the intention all along, but the resulting game seems to be more middle of the road than the original idea suggested. With a dash of linear Tomb Raider style third person adventuring, mixed with a diluted Devil May Cry fighting system and with a topping of surreal memory editing sections, seasoned gamers will find the experience overly familiar.
You play Nilin, a feisty girl who, after being captured, has had her memories erased. Punching, kicking and leaping through the broken streets of Neo-Paris you must uncover your own past and remember your powerful skills then use Nilin’s unique memory altering abilities to try and bring down the company who seem responsible for creating the corrupted society, hooked on false memories like a wild crippling addiction.
This dystopian setting of Remember Me may well be the game’s trump card. Neo-Paris, now more a shanty town hastily assembled over the original city, is a novel idea. While you cannot explore the city freely, the background vistas integrating well known landmarks with cluttered shacks conjure images of a shocking future that seems, like the best science fiction, all too possible. Meanwhile, In the distance, lie shining white towers, evidence of an elitist divide in the population, eerily similar to the futuristic Tokyo of Sega’s Binary Domain from 2011.
Meanwhile the concept of memory injection and the effect it would have on society is also cleverly integrated into the game with dishevelled citizens sprawled across the pavement screaming for happier memories. Perhaps more disturbing are those that have been ejected from society called leapers, left to go insane and rot in the city’s underworld. Deranged and dehumanised these creatures leap around the dumps they inhabit, attacking any who are unfortunate enough to wander past, bringing to mind the crazed splicers of Bioshock blended with the zombies of Capcom’s own Resident Evil.
These leapers provide a tutorial-like introduction to the combat system of the game. You can mash the buttons and just about survive, but that is certainly not the intention. Using a novel combo system called ‘pressens’, the idea is to create pressen combos in the lab (reached with a simple button press) and then use them on the battle floor. As the player levels up they can unlock more combos and then combine them as they see fit.
The novelty of this fighting system stems from the fact that these combos can be built to perform different tasks depending on the situation. If a situation requires maximum damage output then the player can assign power pressens to the combo, equally if low on health then the player can use regeneration pressens, finally pressens can reduce the cooldown time on special moves (such as deadly rage attacks). Or for the more adventurous, players can combine all three into one combo.
While this may seem inventive the resulting action feels rather tame and workmanlike, at least in the early stages of this preview code. It is easy to slip into the monotonous task of repeating the same combos to regenerate while low on health or simply hammer the damage combos to finish a fight quickly. Arguably it is easy to imagine how the game could manipulate this system to make things more interesting, perhaps with enemies countering certain pressens, yet, in the first two levels of this preview at least, this never took shape. Fans of the recent Batman Arkham series may well find similarities, particularly with the signalling of incoming attacks to dodge, yet Nilin lacks the gadgetry, grace and ingenuity of the caped crusader.
Between fights the bulk of the gameplay is taken up with standard third-person platforming which anyone familiar with Tomb Raider, Prince Of Persia or Assassin’s Creed will recognise. Frustratingly these sections are disappointing linear with no real variation on routes or room for exploration, often highlighted by your HUD displaying exactly where you should be jumping next and the game killing anyone trying to deviate from the chosen path. Again there is a sense of workmanlike behaviour to these adventuring sections, with the player having to repeat tedious jumps with little satisfaction other than simple progression. Certain areas, like market stalls or windows through to homes look inviting, but they always lacked any interaction or point other than aesthetics.
The final section of gameplay is by far the most novel and hints at what the developers had in mind at the game’s inception. At certain vital points in the plot Nilin must use her incredible powers to enter the minds of various characters in order to bend them to her will. The example seen in the preview saw her hacking into the memories of a bounty hunter on the brink of slaughtering her. This assassin is in desperate need of money to fund her husband’s illness, so Nilin distorts her memories to believe her husband is dead, killed by the company Nilin herself is looking to bring down and thus get the bounty hunter to join her cause.
The memory hacking sections play out strangely like a basic video editing suite. Players must navigate backwards and forwards through a memory using an incredibly awkward rotation of the left stick to find glitches in the memory. These glitches can then be manipulated to change the outcome. For example in the bounty hunter’s memory we saw her husband being operated upon. Here a table could be positioned differently or a strap could be loosened or a different drug added to his drip. To proceed the player must find the correct combination of activated glitches which would result in the doctor killing his patient... at least from the perspective of the bounty hunter’s memory.
If that sounds intriguing and clever, then I am sorry to disappoint. The issue is that the process is so slow and unnecessarily time consuming that it becomes tedious during even the first memory hack. The player needs to find all the glitches in the memory by painfully (I mean that literally, the left stick waggling instantly brings RSI pain to the fore) rewinding the section, then test each and every one to see if it results in the desired consequence.
The player can use some logic and common sense to deduce the correct combination of glitches to alter but a fair amount of it seems to be a case of trial and error. There are some clever little repercussions of altering these memories, such as when one of the glitches resulted in killing the bounty hunter instead, at which point the game cheekily wrote on the screen ‘You cannot remember your own death!’. However, for the most part, at least in the portion experienced in this preview, these memory editing sections seem more frustrating than exciting.
If all my words up to this point seem to resonate disappointment then you may be surprised to find that in many ways I am looking forward to the release of Remember Me in May. There is definitely a sense that the early section of the game played may have not shown it in the best light. Every part seemed unfulfilling or overly repetitive, yet each section: the fighting, the platforming and the memory editing, has the potential to evolve into something more individual as the game progressed. The issue is whether any will actually blossom. Certainly the fighting, when more combos are unlocked and the enemies become more versatile, could be interesting and even refreshing for the genre, and the platforming, if it becomes any less linear, may provide some entertainment. Strangely the most unique part of the game, the memory editing sections, may well be the game’s downfall. Unless the controls are reworked and the whole implementation drastically accelerated, I can imagine many wishing to be able to skip them after the first couple of attempts.
It cannot be denied however that the dystopian future setting of Remember Me, from society’s overreliance on memories and the similarities drawn to drug addictions in today’s world, to the dichotomy of power seen in the shattered streets of Neo-Paris, is particularly intriguing. The potential for the plot to twist and turn like a vicious snake, with back-stabbing at every point - since no-one can be sure of their own memories or even their true identity - certainly could result in one of the more memorable storylines in recent gaming history. From this experience I can say that Remember Me has potential yet at the same time, if it fails to expand or evolve in any meaningful way later in the game, it could end up being simply forgettable.