Whenever I see Nilin, the heroine of Dontnod's Remember Me, climb up the conveniently available ledges and edges of Neo-Paris to reach her next objective, I can't help but think back to Altair and Assassin's Creed. It would probably be considered blasphemy to compare the two on the surface now — one being a much-hyped entry point into an eventual shut-up-and-take-my-money series, the other being a relatively unknown title coming out at the zenith of a console cycle — but I couldn't stop running into parallels between the two.
Both games feature compelling, ethnic leads. Both feature brilliant, Romantic moments of dialogue and storytelling, whether it's introspective narrative or the interplay among other characters. Both also feature a ridiculously amazing tech concept that deals with the manipulation of memories. Assassin's Creed gave us the Animus, a chair that enables the user to relive the memories of their past lives. The cornerstone of Remember Me's ethos is Sensen, implanted technology that allows the user to treat his or her life experiences like an Instagram account, storing and arranging them so they can be shared and relived (or deleted and forgotten) at the user's convenience.
Both concepts and the worlds they created are the stuff of crazy sci-fi goodness, but it also helped mask another semi-parallel between these two games: Both are flawed — but in a sense that leaves you thinking, "This game is a pain in the ass, but I need to know where it goes from here. The sequel's going to be great."
As backhanded as that sounds, it takes a special kind of flawed experience to make one look forward to its next iteration, and Remember Me has more than a few elements that can leave a lasting imprint on a player.
Everyone in the Remember Me universe is rigged up to the aforementioned Sensen technology, which is indicated by a series of floating, rotating circles behind the head, near the base of the neck. At the beginning of the game, you're treated to a commercial for the technology where people lovingly refer to it as "my Sensen." You eventually learn that these circles indicate a keyhole into the mind, and no one is (or was) better at finding the keys than Nilin.
The athletic, multiracial and accented lead character is the star of the experience as a "memory hunter" who wakes up in a cell after being stripped nearly clean of all of her memories, save the knowledge of her own name. It's a painful process; the opening moments of the game show Nilin screaming and writhing on a metal floor as memories spew out of the back of her Sensen. As she stumbles out of her cell, she is contacted by Edge, a leader of a rebel faction called the Errorists, who have a major issue with Sensen and the company that created it, M3MORIZE (or, Memorize). Edge guides Nilin to a prison escape, which begins her odyssey of piecing together her memories while fighting against the Errorist enemies.
Nilin learns that she used to be one of the best memory hunters around, to the point where she's sort of a legend in the hunter community. The range of what she can do as a memory hunter leads to Remember Me's signature gameplay concept: Not only can Nilin steal memories, but she can also reach in and change them to fit her purposes, a technique called "remixing." Want someone to think he killed his wife when he really didn't? Done. Want someone to rethink the corporate policy? It's handled.
Nilin does a lot of things to get to the point where she can remix memories, but I mention it first because it is Remember Me's most fascinating — and complex — element. When the time comes (you'll be prompted to press B), players are treated to a flashback with a person's mind that plays to a conclusion before a prompt asks the player to start "rewinding" the memory. This is done with the left thumbstick, and you can speed up your rewinding by holding down one of the shoulder buttons. As one rewinds slowly, "glitches" within the memory highlight certain items (a bottle, a gun, a seat belt) that can be manipulated to alter the memory. The trick is to alter the correct things to shape the memory in your favor. It's "Inception" meets "The Adjustment Bureau" except with futuristic editing equipment.
Of course, like most games-within-games, there are rules and consequences for screwing up. Much of remixing is trial-and-error: Not every glitch needs to be handled, and some glitches can be triggered at the wrong time. For fear of spoilers, I won't describe certain memories in detail, but I've accidentally "killed" people in their own memories on more than one occasion, one in at least two different and morbidly funny ways. This does not actually kill them — you can't remember yourself dying — players simply have the opportunity to rewind, cancel their adjustments and start anew.
There are only a handful of remixing situations within the game, and that's enough since they are time-consuming (though people who edit video will feel right at home). I found the memories to be the game's most powerful storytelling elements, as they are capable of conveying very real emotion while also illuminating the player about Nilin and her place within the plot.
While remixing is Nilin's strongest ability, it's not the only way she can play with memories. Another concept that brings the game together in simpler fashion is how Nilin can "steal" memories, more or less pointing her tech-gloved hand at her target and vacuuming out the memory she needs. She can then trigger "remembrances," which give Nilin the ability to replay a crucial part of a stolen memory in real time. The form is typically a ghost-like outline of the person whose memory she acquired, doing or saying things that help her progress. For example, one "remembrance" triggered a sequence where I had to follow a man's outline through a minefield, retracing his steps so that Nilin didn't get blown apart.
Nilin has other tech-centric capabilities within her glove, which serves as a sort of amped-up cyberdeck. She can hack locks and switches and also fire charges of "spam" at enemies (press the left shoulder button to auto-aim, the right shoulder button and/or trigger to fire). She can also unleash a variety of special attacks that range from hacking machines to bring down your foes to triggering a "logic bomb" to knock down large groups. By default, the left trigger brings up a combo wheel, and you can use a thumbstick to pick the one you want. Thankfully, bringing up the wheel slows down time.
Sadly, it is the combat and movement within this amazing world of Remember Me that ultimately strips away some of the joy.
Nilin suffers from what I'd call the Early Tomb Raider Corollary, in which a very agile-looking female character is inexplicably sluggish and awkward to control. It's been said that early Lara Croft controls like a tank — controlling Nilin feels like being saddled with the cart at the grocery store with the one "stupid" wheel.
It feels a little more difficult to steer Nilin to exactly where you want her to go, which is also compounded by the fact that the game asks Nilin to run, jump, climb and elude everything from angry guards to a gunship shooting out the floor beneath her. To make it through this game, you must make peace with the fact you'll probably die stupidly more often than you may be accustomed to. What also doesn't help Nilin's movements is the in-game camera constantly dueling you for control. You can move the camera around with the right thumbstick, but it also independently moves when you turn corners or run and dodge.
But perhaps the most damaging, fun-sucking element of the game is combat. It's said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in this case, the road to Remember Me's hell is paved with its "pressens" combo system. The in-game tutorial does a solid job of explaining the system, which basically requires you to build combos using "pressens," or buttons that have specific benefits and different colors. Some pressens offer extra power in your strikes, while others regenerate your health, and others cut down the "cooldown" period whenever you execute an extra-powerful move called an S-Pressen. As you build longer combos, you are encouraged to mix things up so you have combos built with strength, healing and other attributes in mind.
I understand that within the wake of creating something different, Dontnod wanted to go the extra mile and create its own battle system. I get that. But for me, it turned every fight into a minigame of unneeded strategy. This would be fine if the game didn't throw gobs of enemies in waves. If you're going to give me Bayonetta odds, I need some of her moves. I don't want to think in the heat of battle, "Crap, I blew the part of my combo that was supposed to heal me! Or did I? I don't know! Now I'm dead." There are too many other pieces in play as far as storytelling goes to spend time tinkering with combos. It became a distraction. It also doesn't help that Nilin doesn't have any discernible blocks or counters, despite being so apparently well-versed in hitting people. No wonder she was easy to subdue and imprison.
The frustration with this combo system reached its apex with boss battles and throngs of certain enemies. Here's an example: Some boss characters can only be affected with certain moves, which take time to recharge, which means you have to use the right combos to cut down on the time. This could lead one to run around and avoid everyone until you're ready to roll again (unless you spent time perfecting the ideal long combo, which could be broken because you have to simultaneously dodge 10 enemies coming at you.) Clearly, one would get sick of being caught in this dreaded circle at the wrong time.
And yet, I was compelled to plough through and reach Remember Me's brilliant climax. Despite these odd choices in design, there are still the ideas of remixing and memory hunting, as well as some very solid, Unreal-engine crafted visuals, from the bustling metropolis of Neo-Paris that made me think of the "The Fifth Element" to the grimy underbelly of Slum 404, where malfunctioned Sensen-bearers hang out. If Dontnod completely did away with the Pressen combat system and gave us a system along the lines of Batman, Uncharted or Assassin's Creed (a perfect fit for someone who fights this much hand-to-hand), perhaps I'd look upon it much more fondly. Instead, I am left with the anticipation of a possible sequel, hoping that much of its ideas are left intact and that what needs to be fixed gets fixed. If that were to happen, then perhaps I'd look at this first chapter and, well, remember it differently.
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