When it comes to creating a good story, on some occasions I’m of the opinion that it’s better to start at the end of the narrative and work your way backwards. That way, I feel that plot holes can be filled, the characters’ motivations seem clearer and the entire picture stands a better chance of coming across as a coherent, solid piece of work.
I’m not saying that Dontnod’s Remember Me – a decent third-person shooter – was terminally weak in terms of storyline, or that its characters weren’t convincing. In my opinion, it had a tremendously strong start and for the most part I did enjoy the game, despite several moments of ambivalence along the way.
Let me explain.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOLLOW:
The story takes place in Neo-Paris, in the year 2084. Memorize, a privately-funded corporation, has developed a method by which to access human memories. As frightening as this sounds, the technology (called the Sensation Engine, or Sensen) has been embraced by society. You can now upload, share, and store your memories on the Sensen server. Had a traumatic event that you’d rather never want to recall for the rest of your life? Delete all memories pertaining to it. But by enabling this sort of neuro-tweaking, people have thereby given Memorize near-complete access to the essence of what makes an individual an individual.
Enter the baddies.
Dystopia ensues, where Memorize can now manipulate almost anyone who’s linked to their Sensen servers, and play mad-scientist to the continuing evolution of this technology. People who’ve become overly-dependent on memory drugs (if I understand this right, memory drugs can alter or substitute a bad recollection with a happy one) gradually de-evolve into dangerous and hateful entities called Leapers. Discarded by normally functioning members of society (given the setting of the story, I used the term “normal” here very loosely), Leapers have taken to Neo-Paris’ underground where they remain a threat to anyone who ventures into their territory.
While Leapers are a nasty side-effect of Memorize’s influence, they aren’t the only enemies to contend with. Memorize will throw a variety of hostile toys and soldiers at anyone who doesn’t share their vision of society. And when I say anyone, I’m mostly talking about the player character, Nilin, and the rebels she’s teamed up with – labeled the Errorists – who violently disagree with the dark direction in which their existence is heading.
Nilin herself is tremendously appealing character despite all the clichés that make her be. She is a memory hunter and a vital cog in the Errorists’ cause. The story sets her up to be the best, if not one of the best, of her trade. She possesses the ability to remix an individual’s memory; altering their motivations and therefore, their personality. Unfortunately for Nilin, the game begins with her being locked-up in a cell in the process of having her memory wiped. The deletion is only partially successful, as her resilient nature resists complete memory wipe.
Following this, Nilin is guided by an unknown male voice (who calls himself Edge and remains typically anonymous despite his insistence that he can be trusted), who leads Nilin’s flight from the facility and her captors, and eventually towards her fight against Memorize.
This is where her journey begins, and we’re given insight into just how strong and resourceful she is. To propel the player farther, Nilin’s amnesia poses a series of origin questions that can only be answered through more interactions with the game. Or at least that’s what the developers promise us.
On most fronts, these particular answers are provided. Her memory wiped, she is rightfully afraid and dubious of the person she may, or may not, have become. The angst wasn’t overplayed, as Nilin doesn’t spend oodles of time mulling over her trauma. And her urgency to uncover the truth pushes her character to stoop to Memorize’s level; delving into people’s memories and altering them to craft a path to her goal. The plot does take the time acknowledge the potential antagonist within Nilin, which I give them credit for. There are contrasting instances, however, where Nilin condemns the barbaric nature of remixing memories without the admission and repercussion of her own acts.
Or perhaps Dontnod’s writing team wanted to show more than tell. After all, this isn’t a biography. Perhaps they wanted us to form our opinions of her motivations. Either way, in terms of character development this wasn’t a particularly bad setback, and turned out to be a minor annoyance.
So if Nilin’s character is only mildly ambivalent, then what part of the game truly is?
Memorize – its head honchos and minions alike – have the potential to be remarkable villains. Along the way, we’re introduced to a few of its key players; but as menacing as Dontnod’s developers want them to be, the attempt still comes across as half-hearted. Their motivations are obscure – apart from their hatred towards Nilin and her cohorts – they do very little to convince Nilin to abandon her fight. And focusing on some of the more important villains, we have little to no idea of how they came to be, but are expected to understand and fear them regardless.
As for the institution itself, while its origins are brought to light, we aren’t privy to very much of Sensen’s history save from what codex is unlocked through gameplay and Edge’s dialogue with Nilin. How exactly did people become overly dependent on memory drugs? Weren’t there usage restrictions in place? Once people began to turn into Leapers, why didn’t Memorize do anything to curtail the issue, knowing full well that the entire society could follow suit? Where does the government come into this, or has Memorize integrated with it to impede investigations of its practices?
Very few of these questions are addressed, despite several opportunities to do so and unfortunately this detracts from the impact the story could have.
The cyberpunk and Blade Runner-esque influence is extremely evident in Nilin’s world. We’re treated to tours of Neo Paris’ elite, the degenerate underground lairs of the Leapers, nighttime climbs across its cityscape and even the occasional futuristic home. It’s all gorgeous to look at. But unfortunately, during most instances, that is all we can do. Look. Unlike the recent Tomb Raider, free-roaming areas are more limited than I’d have liked. There’s also very little interaction with the world that we do have access to. For instance, Nilin will jog by several stores that advertise their products and even hours of operation. But despite many of the stores being open during the beginning of the game, we aren’t allowed inside. Several passers-by will occasionally address you, but no matter how provoking or engaging the insult or conversation, all Nilin can do is stare inanimately back in response.
So does this qualify as a setback? To me, probably…yes. In my opinion, while I don’t need to explore the farthest corners of the universe, I would have enjoyed the occasional detour, and the lack thereof does significantly reduce the level of immersion.
When it comes to actual gameplay, Remember Me could fall between Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum and Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider. While the premise is ambitious, yet unique, it doesn’t quite live up to either game.
Like Arkham Asylum, there’s plenty of free-flowing combat and special use of combos. What is different from Arkham Asylum, however, is that one can actually customize their own combos. There are moves that can improve health, speed up cool-down times and increase damage done during specific hits. The game even tells you which buttons to press to follow through with the designed combo. It’s a good concept and is executed fairly well. My only problem is that perfect timing is essential for the combo to work to completion, and it’s a little difficult to keep an eye on the developing sequence and your enemies at the same time.
Remember Me also provides you with special moves which are unlocked through game progression. These come in very handy for special bosses and villains. Their use is proceeded by a cool-down period. Not very much to complain about, except that to use each move, you need to build up “focus” – a meter that gets filled by the number of successful hits Nilin lands. This got to be particularly frustrating when I was down to facing two unique grunts that could not be defeated by melee punches. My focus meter was empty and every punch I landed in order to increase it depleted my health. If I’d let the standard grunt stick around, I could have used attacks on him to help restore focus. Scenarios like this require quick-thinking strategies and it’s certainly not advisable to plunge head-first into the fight without planning on who to take down and who to keep alive.
When it comes to scouring the city, the game is reminiscent of Tomb Raider. Nilin is a cyberpunk Lara Croft, and crawling up buildings and jumping rooftops is pretty fluid and easy to accomplish. This agile form of travel is a decent respite from the combat scenarios and provides you with a gorgeous view of Neo-Paris. It is – as previously mentioned – a little more enclosed than I would have liked however.
Lastly, there is one more thing that Remember Me has going for it that – to my knowledge – no other game has. It is the memory remix. As previously mentioned, Nilin has the ability to access an individual’s digitized memory and seriously screw with it. As a player, you get to witness a recollected event as it unfolds and modify certain elements within that time frame in order to achieve the desired result. My evil side was positively gleeful at this manipulation, and despite the fact that memory alterations left a few questions unanswered, it did show you how powerful a memory hunter can be.
So is the game worth playing? Definitely. It packs a good punch with its premise and evolving storyline despite the fact that it doesn’t deliver on all fronts. The narrative had its moments where it wasn’t quite sure what story it wanted to tell, but the plot is distinctly ambitious and extremely thought-provoking. This helps it stand out from many of the games out there and deserves recognition.
So what number am I holding up?
A solid 7.5/10. Not too shabby at all.