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Games like Remember Me don’t come along every day. This sci-fi action adventure is the very first project to come out of DONTNOD Entertainment, a new studio comprised of veteran developers from EA, Ubisoft, Criterion, and many more.
For science fiction buffs, the world and story of Remember Me feels comfortable, having been pieced together from some fairly typical sci-fi tropes like corrupt mega corps and a masked dystopia. DONTNOD adds to this with their own concept: the commoditization of memories.
The year is 2084. After several wars left civilization in ruins, governments around the world joined together with large corporations to rebuild. In Europe, the dominant entity is Memorize, a company built upon the trade and manipulation of memories, which is made possible through Sensen, a device that converts memories into usable data. Destined to tear down this veil of a capitalist utopia is Nilin, a memory hunter, whose unusual talents throw her to the forefront of a vicious guerilla war between Memorize and a rebel group known as "Errorists."
Through Nilin, DONTNOD takes us through a unique journey, where we see the power our memories hold over us, and what happens when someone else obtains that power. Customizable combat and the inventive memory remix mechanic give Remember Me an identity all its own, and although plenty of missteps are found along the way, this is a journey nonetheless worth taking.
Remembering How to Fight
Nilin isn’t the first hero to wake up with amnesia, but her situation is an interesting one. We meet her as her memories are being wiped, and neither she nor the player knows exactly why she’s being subjected to this cruel and painful treatment. Even with her brain scrambled, however, Nilin knows she needs to escape, and with the help of the mysterious Errorist leader “Edge,” she does. He quickly (re)enlists her in the fight against Memorize and their toxic influence over humanity.
With Edge acting as the all-knowing voice in her ear, Nilin slowly recovers fragments of her former self, enough at least to help her survive in Neo-Paris – yes, the Eiffel Tower is still standing. As she explores the alleys and promenades of France’s capitol, she must fight her way through hostile opposition from the mindless Leapers dwelling in Neo-Paris’ underbelly and Memorize’s private security, SABRE Force, who watch over the city’s citizens.
The enemies in Remember Me fall into these two categories. Leapers, which are basically humans mutated by extreme side effects of Sensen, are the most common. They are then further split into different types, with some having mutated into Hulk-like beings and others into stealthers that become invisible in darkness. SABRE Force, on the other hand, brings armored SWAT guys into the mix and their array of robot soldiers. No matter who you’re fighting, all enemies in Remember Me tend to fall back on the same tactic of swarming Nilin to overwhelm her. The game’s freeflow combat is designed to counter this, basically allowing our hero to fly across any space between enemies, switching targets and dodging attacks with a button tap and simple flick of the thumbstick.
The combo-based system is also a lot of fun to play around with. See, rather than give you a bunch of pre-made combos, Remember Me allows users to build their own. As Nilin grows more acclimated to fighting, she can unlock Pressens, which are assembled together to create a combo chain. While every Pressen does do damage, they fall into four categories that affect how much damage they do and what other effects they may have. Regen Pressens, for instance, restore a bit of health when Nilin lands a hit, and Chain Pressens multiply the effects of others. These can be switched up at any time, even during combat, so players are pretty much free to mess around to their heart’s content and strategize on the fly.
Depending on what Nilin is facing, certain Pressen combinations are more effective than others. More often than not, however, you’re free to do whatever the heck you want, so long as you’re good at dodging and effectively use her special abilities, which are governed by a Focus meter and individual cooldowns. In a pinch, these can be activated to give Nilin a temporary damage buff or make her invisible for a one-time, one-hit-kill backstab.
The combat feels pretty great overall and surprisingly balanced, not to mention incredibly rewarding. All that said though, the novelty does wear off as the game is rounding its final hours, namely because you’ve been at it for so long already and late-game enemies seem designed specifically to counter all of Nilin’s skills. This can lead to some moments of intense controller-crushing frustration. The memory hunter’s peculiar habit of dodging in random directions can also get her in some trouble when the fights are tougher. Players who are better versed in action games might have less trouble here than others, but I definitely felt that many of my errors could be blamed on Nilin’s reaction time rather than mine.
The looping dialogue DONTNOD gave to Nilin’s adversaries – including bosses – don’t do the game any favors either. The music is plenty good, so I’m rather baffled as to why the baddies have to keep screaming the same lines over and over again during fights. Eventually, all their pointless yammering just becomes annoying background noise, though I’ll concede that this isn’t exactly an issue specific to Remember Me so much as, well, most video games out there.
Remixing a Memory
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Remember Me is its memory remix mechanic. These moments don’t actually involve fighting. Instead, Nilin will go into someone’s mind through their Sensen implant, single out a memory of some pivotal event in their life, and then alter their recollection of events. Remixing memories doesn’t actually alter history, of course, only how that individual remembers it, but that’s all you really need to do in order to sway someone: change their minds.
First, you’ll sit through the memory of the event as it actually happened. When the scene concludes, you may then rewind and search the entire memory for glitches that mark when Nilin can manipulate the memory. Setting different triggers will create different scenarios, though the object of a remix sequence needs to be met for you to continue. That said, you’re free to play around with the various glitches and outcomes without any consequences like dying. Failing to meet the set objective simply prompts you to rewind and try again.
What I find so interesting about the memory remix element is how similar they are to classic point-and-click adventures a la King’s Quest. You’re basically dropped into a situation and allowed to poke around, experimenting with the environment until you’ve found the right combination to achieve your goal and progress. It’s less about button-mashing than critical thinking and observation, and for me, these forays into strangers’ minds defined the Remember Me experience. They were the highlight of my time with the game, and the rarity at which they occurred is a downright shame. Heck, I wouldn’t mind trading some of the fighting for more remixing.
A Memorable World
The world in that Remember Me takes place in is no less marvelous than its memory shuffles. Neo-Paris is a sight to behold, its design a juxtaposition of classic architecture and futuristic minimalism. The city also changes dramatically as the game progresses, allowing us to see a remarkable contrast between two versions of Neo-Paris before and after the game’s turning point. The differences between Slum 404 (where Nilin starts out) and the high-end districts the memory hunter visits also show two startlingly different aspects of the same city.
The attention DONTNOD put toward creating a distinct atmosphere in each area Nilin visits is definitely impressive. Certain moments put her in hallways filled with debris, and enemies darting by would appear for only a few seconds as shadows on a wall, blending in with the silhouettes of mannequins and other props. When traversing the abandoned subway tunnels, darkness and light play a heavy role, and the feeling of being stalked made me extra jumpy. Blood-smeared walls didn’t help matters either.
To me, this is another missed opportunity. Despite how detailed the environments are, Remember Me is very linear, rarely allowing you to swerve off course. If ever there is a divergence of paths, then you know for certain one may lead to a collectible or something required for opening the way forward. Nilin also spends most of her time climbing or hanging off walls, to a point where I actually thought maybe the developers must have be huge fans of Assassin’s Creed. This means of traversal is all well and good (Who doesn’t love parkour action?) but when it’s reminiscent of other titles that allow free exploration, putting it in a game that doesn’t inevitably leads to some disappointment.
To say Remember Me is a memorable game might sound hokey, but I mean every word of that. While delving into the story at all could lead to spoilers, I can say that I haven’t been this satisfied with a game’s ending in some time. Nilin is a beautiful character, with her own set of convictions and moral quandaries. She’s not just some caricature of a hero whose only concern is stomping bad guys and saving the world (then getting the girl), but a young woman with a very real reason to fight– a fully realized heroine who can stand alongside the likes of (new) Lara Croft and Faith Connors. The plot, as a whole, also manages to stay contained within a realm of believability, its characters mostly relatable.
The care that DONTNOD put into every aspect of the game is readily apparent. Despite noticeable flaws – and how much frustration it put me through over the last few days – Remember Me just has so much heart that I couldn’t help but fall in love.
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