Remember Me is the kind of game that should be desperately trying to please you. It’s an Uncharted-style adventure-platformer with stylish, combo-driven, character action combat. There are a handful of “run away from the camera while the ground crumbles beneath you” segments. It’s about 6-8 hours long on average. It is the very definition of a linear, guided, cinematic experience.
And yet, around every corner, Remember Me doesn’t really seem to give a shit about what you think.
I should stop before I venture too far into an area of criticism. Remember Me‘s self-assurance is easily one of its best qualities, but it would also seem to contribute to its polarizing reception. Regardless of how you feel about the game’s various moving parts, I’d argue it would be hard to deny that they don’t work in service of each other, contributing to a larger, grander whole. This is a game with a vision, one that kindly asks you jump on its bandwagon or stay behind.
I jumped on and didn’t look back.
The game’s star is Nilin, formerly a memory hunter on the streets of Neo-Paris, currently an amnesiac trying to reconnect with her past. Characteristically of the game as a whole, the story takes this rote concept and spins it into something with greater implications: she’s lost her memory because it’s been commoditized, as most memories have, thanks to the shady dystopian mega-corporation Sensen. To reveal much more about the game’s narrative would do it a disservice, but suffice to say, it grapples with some reasonably heady concepts.
In fact, Remember Me starts the show with a showstopper. This is a precise, fully-realized sci-fi world, complete with philosophical musings, wonderfully silly jargon (Errorist, Remembrane, the list goes on), and a potent, striking aesthetic. The game involves because it never manages to run out of new things for the player to see across its vivd, metropolitan landscape. There really is a wonderfully dynamic sense of place, from the flickers of neon signs bouncing off slickly rained-upon streets, to the sterile interiors and stark color contrasts of futuristic prisons and medical facilities. I never wanted to stop playing Remember Me, because I never wanted to leave.
The game’s soundtrack, as well, fully involves the player in the setting. With hard swings between adaptive action-techno and sweeping cinematic strings, it would be easy to call schizophrenic. But its brilliance, hell, the brilliance of the game in general, rests upon cohesion. The crane shots of skyscrapers and bright landscapes definitely need those strings. The white-knuckle fighting needs the techno. The two exist in complete harmony.
Remember Me succeeds where similar games (Uncharted 3 comes to mind) fail; it strings together linear levels with that cohesion that’s practically bursting from its seams. In one notable segment, you have to platform around buildings while a helicopter tries to gun you down. It’s been done so many times before, but it’s executed with panache, and after the helicopter is dispatched, you find yourself right back where you started. That geographical consistency makes a strictly linear game feel more like a complete world. When you combine that with the environmental detail and superb narrative-building, you get something utterly spellbinding.
At times, the game’s wealth of systems feels cluttered, but diving a little deeper reveals the care placed behind most every aspect. It’s built from the ground up to fit snugly within a specific genre, while adding weight and depth to each pillar. Take, for example, what is sure to be the game’s most divisive aspect: combat. On paper, it’s a pretty basic light/heavy attack character action game. In practice, though, it’s a much different beast.
One of the main innovative features is the “combo lab,” which advertises its utility pretty succinctly. Over the course of the game, you’ll unlock four different, set light/heavy attack combos. But Evan, I hear you cry, that’s so few! That’s where the combo lab comes into play. As you play, you’ll unlock different types of light/heavy attack inputs; ones that deal more damage, or regenerate health, or speed up a cooldown timer for special attacks. As they’re unlocked, they become available to place in these combos.
It’s a simple system that entirely redefined the way I was expecting to fight. As combat encounters grew more complex and precise, my strategies did too. The game introduces new enemies at a steady clip, and a lot of them have unique defense properties. My favorite was a late-game enemy who doled out damage equal to what he took. I soon realized my options: charge up an instant-kill special attack by baiting surrounding enemies, or fashion an attack in the combo lab that was focused solely on health regeneration. The lack of fluidity in the combat may put some people off, and it put me off too, at first. But as I continued to play, I realized that mechanical feeling was instrumental to the system’s success. When I mastered it, switching between set combo patterns for different enemies felt less like a God of War-clone and more like the Action-Time Battle of Final Fantasy games. I was thinking fast, inputting moves and executing strategies based on the enemy that confronted me. It’s challenging, rewarding, and perhaps most importantly, different. Many games talk about discouraging button-mashing, but none have prohibited it quite like Remember Me.
Given that the game’s story is based around the nuances of memory and how it affects personality, it’s expected that a mini-game featuring some good ol’ fashioned memory-hunting would be present. What’s unexpected is that such a mini-game would be a highlight. Periodically, Nilin will need to change a person’s mind about a certain topic, and that persuasion is most easily accessible from its root: the memory that founded it.
These “memory remixes” are a delight, because they’re presented well and used sparingly. You’ll watch the memory play out in its entirety, and then be told to rewind. From that point, you can jump around in the timeline, altering objects to produce the desired outcome. The interactions are simple, but extremely engaging, and it’s fun to see the domino effect caused by a single altered gun safety or seat belt. The ending of the game (one of my favorites in recent memory) spins this concept in a dazzlingly clever way.
That’s really the main thing to remark upon with Remember Me: its consistency. It commits to its outrageous ideas, and that only becomes more clear the further you play. As you shape the world to your will through the alteration of memories, things begin to subtly change, and the battles you’ve won start to feel morally gray and unearned. The combat builds upon itself with remarkable precision and difficulty. The art style never ceases to impress, and makes simple traversal engaging. It’s as focused, ambitious, thought-provoking, and fresh as you’re bound to get from a AAA game in 2013.
Remember Me is the kind of game that should be desperately trying to please you, but it’s too busy daydreaming to care.