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Remember Me (PC, PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer/Publisher: Dontnod Entertainment/Capcom
Released: June 4th, 2013
A fresh IP by a rookie studio is enough to fill one with nervous excitement, and one with a development history as strange as Remember Me — known as Adrift until its re-reveal last year at Gamescom — even more so. The thrill is in seeing if the developer can beat the odds, and this time it’s Dontnod Entertainment’s turn up to bat.
Remember Me begins with a memory wipe. The protagonist, Nilin, is on the ground in an ominously sterile environment, clearly discomforted as her past is pulled out of her head.
The only thing Nilin can recall is her name, which presents a problem to her mysterious handlers. It appears she wasn’t supposed to retain a single detail, so she’s sent to a different area to complete the treatment. As she approaches her destination, a voice belonging to someone named Edge is in her ear, and it seems that she’s too important to be lost forever.
We learn that Nilin is being held by a corporation called Memorize, a company that’s made its fortune by managing people’s memories. In 2084 Neo-Paris, everyone has a device called a Sensen, allowing users to store, acquire, and even get rid of memories as if they were digital files on any old computer.
As it turns out, allowing people to forget the most painful parts of their lives is big business, but the technology is also abused by both Memorize and the government to quell dissent in prisons and other situations deemed necessary. This treatment has in turn caused an uprising by people calling themselves errorists, with Edge leading the cause. He claims that Nilin was a vital part of it before her capture, convincing her to help him fight the monolithic company.
Nilin is a blank slate, just as you are, and you both dive in.
You learn than Nilin was a memory hunter, which brings with it a particular skillset. She’s a terrific hand-to-hand fighter, like so many melee action game stars tend to be, but she can also steal the memories in someone’s head to get through hazardous areas and to learn passwords.
Combat is assigned to two buttons, initially with simple three-hit combos. As Nilin gains regains fighting experience she’ll be able to execute longer predetermined combos — such as Y-X-Y-X-Y — but she unlocks Pressens that can change the effect of each strike. Power pressens make her hits more powerful, regen pressens give her health, cooldown pressens shorten the time to reuse special attacks, and chain pressens mimic and amplify the previous strike. The further down in a combo that you place a pressen, the more powerful its effect.
With this system, you can customize your combos for different purposes. You can quickly regenerate a small amount of health by loading the three-hit combo with Regen pressens, you can dispatch powerful enemies by loading as many Power pressens as you can in the eight-hit combo, and countless other things in between. Remember Me could have grown dull quickly by offering only four combos, but the limited number of each pressen type adds an enjoyable layer of strategy that separates it from other melee action games.
The aforementioned special attacks are called S-Pressens, which aren’t a part of Remember Me’s standard combo system. They’re unlocked as you progress and use Focus that you build up by dealing and taking damage. They grant different abilities such as taking over robotic enemies that attack their allies and self-destruct, bombs to take out large groups, revealing invisible foes, and more. Once used, an S-Pressen enters a cooldown period before you can use it again, but you can shorten the time between uses with regular pressens as described above.
It seems that Remember Me’s developers were trying to emulate the flow of combat found in Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games, but they don’t quite hit their mark. For example, you’re constantly reminded to time each subsequent button press as you hit an attack. While this usually works without precise timing, occasionally your combo will break if it’s not exactly right, throwing you into starting and breaking combos that you didn’t intend.
Dodging attacks is another issue. The act itself works just fine to get yourself out of harm’s way, but it’s also responsible for wayward combos. While you can continue your combo if you dodge over an attacker, dodging around will cause the combo to break, which is frustrating if that’s the only way to go without taking damage.
Most enemy types are straightforward, but a couple near the end make for awkward combat sequences as well. Specifically, the Elite Enforcers and their indestructible, damage-inducing electric armor. There’s one S-Pressen that easily takes them down, but it takes a long time to cool down and hitting them with a cooldown pressen does more damage than is worth taking. You’re forced to reconfigure one of your longer combos for heavy health regeneration as you bide your time, canceling out the damage you’re doing to yourself by hitting them. It’s a strange design decision, to say the least.
Since the combat is fairly inconsistent, it’s fortunate that boss battles are used sparingly. Instead, Remember Me opts to end several of its chapters with memory remixes. This is when Nilin dives into a target’s Sensen, altering their memory rather than stealing it. These remixes are like puzzles, tasking you with changing a few seemingly minute details to cause a chain reaction that lead to a vastly different outcome. It’s impossible to describe any of the scenes without spoiling parts of the story, but I’ll say that I was taken aback by what Nilin could accomplish by remixing memories.
There’s not much more to the game beyond going room-to-room until you get to the end of each chapter, complete with parkour platforming and beating up droves of enemies, but perhaps that’s a problem with the melee action genre as whole and not just Remember Me. The story, though, despite its cyberpunk-infused memory mixing, isn’t as convoluted as you’ll find in other such games and features at least one legitimately surprising twist. Nilin becomes more interesting as the gaps in her memory are filled and is the base narrative of the game, but Remember Me also dives a bit into the dangers of our increasingly connected world. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast are easy to empathize with as well, rounding out a set of compelling characters.
Remember Me is also a gorgeous game to look at. Paris is already a beautiful city as it is, but slapping a Neo- prefix on it and throwing it 70 years into the future makes for a visual treat. The indoor office segments bleed into each other as you spend more time in them, but even then the architecture and varied color palette keep you from growing weary of it. Character models show good detail, and the framerate was consistently smooth except for one or two short spots.
Perhaps where Remember Me succeeds the most is in its soundtrack, featuring a strong original score and solid voice work. The music, composed by Olivier Deriviere, is an effective melding of electronica and orchestral music that doesn’t fall into the trap of being overly bombastic to justify hiring classical musicians. Its unique genre-blending makes it difficult not to take note of it, so thankfully it works as well as it does. I’m also trying really hard to avoid using the word “memorable” to describe the music for the sake of this particular review, but here we are.
Remember Me is a visual and aural stunner, even if it’s one marred by inconsistent gameplay elements. The combat certainly could have used some fine-tuning, but I was ultimately impressed by its attempt to spice up button-mashing combat. Even if a couple of enemy types made for annoying encounters, they’re varied enough to keep from getting stale. And with privacy and control suddenly at the social and political forefront its story is probably more relevant than even the team at Dontnod Entertainment anticipated.
Sometimes it’s better for what it sets out to do, and sometimes it’s a bit worse, but Remember Me deserves to be played.