It’s a wonder that Remember Me ever came out. Leading up to its release, there have been stories floating around about the myriad of publishers that passed on developer DONTNOD’s title. One publisher famously passed on it because “games with female leads don’t sell.” Somehow, the title found a home at Capcom, and it stands now, ready to make its mark on an increasingly risk-averse marketplace.
It’s a shame then that Remember Me, despite having an interesting premise, fails to reach its possible heights, and that it misses an opportunity to create an engaging main character to draw players in.
Players will take on the role of Nilin, a “memory hunter” in Neo-Paris, circa 2084. In this vision of the future, technology has been created which allows the manipulation of memories. Of course, humans being what they are, this technology is commodified and a situation is created where those who wish to forget their most painful memories are able to do so—for a cost. Remember Me wants to explore the costs beyond the monetary in nature, but there are gaps in the narrative, not unlike the gaps in Nilin’s memory (for once, a story where it makes sense to be an amnesiac!).
The primary issue is that Nilin isn’t engaging. Her reasons for becoming a memory hunter (nevermind an explanation of what a memory hunter does) are left to the player’s imagination, and her struggle to regain her memories isn’t pronounced enough to elicit an emotional reaction. She’s essentially a blank canvas, a lapdog led by the mysterious “Edge” to fight against the evil Memorize corporation.
There’s so much room for an interesting exploration of Nilin’s character that it makes the narrative feel half-finished. I genuinely felt bad during the game’s numerous “Remix” sections (we’ll get there) but Nilin never exhibited my discomfort for the actions that she was taking, despite her supposedly feeling as confused about the world as I was. We aren’t shown what makes Memorize so evil, and, as a matter of fact, most of the truly despicable things that happen in the narrative happen at either Nilin’s (at Edge’s insistence) or Edge’s hands. Innocent people get killed and are considered collateral damage or, worse yet, deserving of their fates soley on the basis of their bourgeois existence. Additionally, the repercussions of the forceful removal and alteration of someone’s memory are never really explored, either. There’s a half-hearted attempt to explain away the zombified enemies as being made that way due to some sort of overdosing on replacing memories, but you can simply replace “leapers” with “splicers” and “memory” with “plasmids” to get a sense of what the changing of memory does to people, only without any of the inherent logic. In narratives involving drugs or gene mutation, it’s not too big a leap of logic to suggest that too much of these actions will create addicts just like anything else, but it’s hard to fathom what switching memories does to create the leapers.
Again, the premise of removing and replacing memories has been done before, and it’s usually a place for deep exploration as to the nature of memories and how that shapes us as human beings. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explored this idea well, and there are scenes in that film that are heartbreaking, especially as the characters realize what they’re doing. Memory of our failures and heartache are just as important as those of successes or happiness, and the game glosses over these intriguing ideas in order to tell an old-fashioned revenge story.
Thankfully, the world of Neo-Paris is fully-realized and gorgeous. It’s not terribly varied, as most of the game takes place in a handful of distinct areas, but there’s just enough of a Blade Runner vibe here for it to feel great. Much of the game’s UI is superimposed on the world itself, and it gives Remember Me a visual aesthetic that feels futuristic. Many of the environments have stark lighting that contrasts well with the action happening on screen, and this contrasting style gives the game a unique look, as well as being smartly implemented into certain gameplay sections.
Nilin herself is well-designed, with little in the way of overt sexualizing, which is always a welcome departure. She’s pretty without oozing sexuality, and she’s interesting to look at, with a mysterious scar over her lip.
She’s a capable fighter, too, as Remember Me’s third-person combat finds her ably going up against the aforementioned tweaked-out leapers, hulking robots and armored guards. The combo system in the game is fun to play with, as different inputs in the combos come in the form of “pressens” (one instance of a smorgasbord of stupid-sounding, made-up words designed to sound “science-y”) augment Nilin’s attacks with a bonus to her health, attack power, or special move cool-downs. The input on the combos comes pre-made, but the buff each button press gives Nilin is up to the player. I found myself experimenting and swapping out pressens multiple times throughout the game’s 8-hour play-time, changing the placement of this or that in order to have the ideal set of combos for a particular situation. One enemy, for example, damages Nilin at roughly the same rate she damages him, so it’s important to have a combo available with a lot of regenerating pressens when encountering these enemies. Combat in Remember Me is methodical and rhythmic, so don’t expect to jump in and flail on buttons and have success. Deliberate button presses and judicious use of movement is the key to escaping combat unscathed.
Remember Me is a bit on the easy side, but it’s a fun romp that only bogs down during the various movement puzzles. The game makes the direction you should be heading in pretty clear (and often there are only one or two options) thanks to arrows placed on-screen to show you your destination. There isn’t real danger during these sections, which makes them a chance to take a mental break. Personally, I like my platforming to be more involved, ala Prince of Persia.
There are two aspects of the gameplay that standout from the rest in both this game and in similar games in this genre. The first is the way the collectibles are handled. Remember Me utilizes a sort of geo-caching element in the discovery of its collectibles (which are always an upgrade to Nilin’s health or “Focus,” which powers her special moves) in that it shows you a picture of a section of the level wherein the collectible is located, and it’s up to you to remember that image in order to find it. There are also the good-old-fashioned text logs which you’ll find off the beaten path, as well as little bugs that you must shoot for additional XP, which is used to unlock more pressens.
The other aspect of Remember Me that will stay with most players long after completing it is the aforementioned “Remix” segments. There are only four of these throughout the entire game, which is a number that I wish was doubled. Each Remix opportunity sets up a scenario in which something happened to motivate a person to make a certain decision. For example, early on in the game Nilin has a chance to Remix a bounty hunter in order to save her own hide, and the scenario involves the bounty hunter being a part of a medical procedure to cure her husband’s madness brought on by memory replacement. In order to influence the bounty hunter, it’s up to Nilin to manipulate her memories in order to make her think that her husband died during the procedure. They’re a bit trial-and-error, but the different possibilities of each Remix scenario are impressive, even if there is ultimately a fixed solution to each one. The mechanic involves twirling the left stick like the knob of an editing machine in order to move the memory back and forth and find “glitches” in the memory that can be interacted with. Some of these changes have surprising results, such as accidentally killing the person you’re supposed to be influencing (which creates a paradox that serves as a failstate, forcing the Remix to be restarted) or making the scenario work out better than it was supposed to. There were a few instances where I wished I had more flexibility to deviate from what the game wanted me to do in order to find my own solution (for example, preventing a car crash instead of changing the source of blame), but ultimately these were satisfying additions that make Remember Me worth playing.
Remember Me is a collection of stunning aesthetics (including the amazing, glitchy soundtrack that reacts to your actions) that are failed by a weak narrative (with an awful final twist) and vacuous characters, and gameplay mechanics that have some neat ideas that don’t really pay off. I really wish that this game would prove that executive wrong that games with female leads can do well, but it’s simply not good enough. It’s worth checking out for the Remix sections and the visual/audio presentation alone, but it won’t blow you away.
A copy of Remember Me on the PC was provided to the reviewer for the purposes of this review.