Remember Me Review
Remember Me flirts with so many good ideas, it is disappointing to see most of them miss their mark
Sometimes, you have to kill your babies. This a phrase often tossed around writing rooms, creative meetings, and other places where ideas are critiqued. It often refers to the creative process where, even though a person loves their idea and believes in it to no end, one must part with their once-in-a-lifetime spark of brilliance because it cannot be executed correctly or doesn’t jive with overall vision. I don’t think this is the problem with Remember Me--at least not the biggest problem--but rather explains how one feels playing the game. Remember Me is a great concept, it feels new and unique, the definition of what so many people crave in the stagnant realm of shooter-first, story-second blockbuster video games. The problem is that even with all of its fresh ideas and creative concepts, Remember Me lacks the basic refinement required to define a good game.
The game offers a decent story with a weighty concept. In a not too distant future, 2084 to be exact, businesses have found a way to monetize memories. A device, connected to the base of the neck, stores these memories and can be altered to make people remember things that never happened, or forget things that did. Players take control of the heroine, Nilin, who has recently be subjected to a memory wipe, leaving her with no recollection of her past; a trite way to have the main character ask a lot of expositional questions that establish the lore behind Remember Me, an elaborate explanation to an amnesia plot device.
The writing has plenty of eye-rolling moments, every time I heard the word “Errorists” I couldn’t help but my shake my head in dismay and at one point Nilin says the groaner of a line, “This Red Riding Hood has a basket full of kick ass.” However, the game quickly diverts its narrative attention from these lowest common denominator tropes, to some interesting questions about the human mind and what happens when it is toyed with. The biggest problem with these questions is that Dontnod does not seem keen on answering them. The game never explains what the real effects of messing with people’s memories are, or how such transactions take place. At one point players can overhear a junkie begging for a “memory fix”, but it is unclear how he lost his memories or how he could procure new ones. The concept of memory exchange starts vague and ends even more so.
The lack of specificity and precision carries over to the gameplay of Remember Me. The game mostly revolves around navigating Nilin through Neo-Paris, jumping and climbing through the game’s clunky level design. These section handle much like Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed’s first outings, where a slight latency in the controls upsets the delicate balance of the 3D environmental platforming, however the biggest problem with Remember Me is not it’s controls, it is also the lack of creativity. Unlike Uncharted or this year’s earlier critical success, Tomb Raider, which feature nerve racking slips and tumbles that keep players on the edge of their seat, Remember Me flips to cutscenes any time Nilin takes a spill, thus killing the tension intended with such sequences.
These uninteresting platform sequences are interrupted with combat, which almost always start with a cutscene, showing the player that all exits are cut off. Nilin then dodges around these coincidental arenas, performing melee combos which have special moves to recharge your health, experience, or special attacks meter. At times these sequences can be fun, but again the controls are not tight enough to use some of the longer combinations. This results in using smaller combinations that are easier to execute. Punching in the same three-button combinations for five to ten minutes will really start to grate on the nerves, making these sequences feel bloated. The game also lacks variance in its encounters, often introducing an enemy with a couple of minions, then simply double that formula after the first wave is defeated. Every encounter feels stiff and contrived, breaking any illusion Dontnod hoped to create.
It is not all bad for Remember Me, the best part of the game is easily the memory remix sequences. During these vignettes players watch a memory play out, then scrub through the scene searching for things they can change, triggering a series of events that yield different endings. This is all done with simple controls that are easy to understand and often boil down to changing the right combination of things to alter the memory as desired. The sequences feel completely unique to Remember Me and while not overly difficult--save for the last one--are rewarding in their own right. Unfortunately, these events are only used sparingly, depriving players of sufficient time with Remember Me’s most interesting aspect.
Underscoring these fights, platforming, and story elements is an erratic score, jumping between epic, string heavy themes, and electronic, bass-centric motifs during combat. Unfortunately, the two styles don’t blend as well as one might have hoped, leaving the music in Remember Me feeling disjointed and patched together. The score dominates much of the sound mixing throughout the game, but ambient noise filters in from time to time. The sounds of Neo-Paris pop in just enough to remind players there is an atmosphere, but not enough to make it a convincing one. Occasionally, the music, sound effects, and gameplay can come together during combat sequences in an impressive blend, as the otherworldly sound of Nilin overloading a guard’s Sensen device mixes in an exciting fashion with the pounding electronica that creates a blood pumping rush. However, these moments are so infrequent they feel like accidental successes.
The most jarring piece of sound design in Dontnod’s Neo-Paris, is the complete lack of French spoken. Although the game is set in future Paris, no one speaks the city’s native language. It is understandable that Dontnod wanted the main characters to be understood, but when walking the streets taking in the atmosphere the only French to be heard is the word, “Cafe”. Nilin, and her family, have some token British accent that feels insulting, as if Dontnod thought Western audiences wouldn’t know the geographical difference. Adding insult to injury is that the dialogue and voice acting, aside of Nilin’s, is rough at best. Eventually, I could not take it anymore and switched the language to French with English subtitles, restoring some substance to the atmosphere.
The real triumph of Remember Me is its art direction. Here is where Dontnod really got things right. While the interiors of every building are draped in cold, unyielding steel, there are nice touches to distinguish between the rigid prison of Le Bastille, the decorative corporate office of Memorize, and the dingy interior of an abandoned subway. Where the game really shows off is in its imagining of Neo-Paris’ exteriors, from the dark, run-down hopelessness of Slum 4, to the breathtaking upper-level apartments and offices of the Neo-Paris elite. Seeing the Eiffel Tower dwarfed by large skyscrapers gives you an idea of the size and scope of the futuristic metropolis you inhabit, meanwhile cafes, street vendors, and more crafty set dressing brings the world to life. The only problem is that the world feels like a museum exhibit, prohibiting any touching or interacting with its carefully crafted setting. The problem continues to the characters populating the words as citizens never stop to notice you and guards only show up when they arrive by drop ship, Nilin--like the player--seems more like an audience member in a slice-of-life skit rather than an interactive world.
Remember Me flirts with so many good ideas, it is disappointing to see most of them miss their mark. It pains me to dismiss the title as a failed experiment, Dontnod Entertainment really had something great, but could not quite execute. I can definitely say that for anyone who is tired of the same old game, with the same old mechanics, telling the same old story, Remember Me serves as a nice distraction and palate cleanser. Love it or hate it, there is merit to what Dontnod is attempting to accomplish and it is worthy of its own conversation. Unfortunately, even with all of its brownie points, the game fails to deliver on much of what it promises. Remember Me is the little game-that-could-not, a flicker of brilliance that vanished in shadows of failed execution. It’s a good idea, one that tugged at a special place of my heart, but like some good ideas, it is best left to die.