Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Remember Me

Post-Launch Review
Remember Me (PC)
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Released: June 2013
Played: story complete in 9.5h


In the Neo-Paris of 2084, a new technology allows human memories to be digitized and subsequently stored, traded, sold, stolen, or deleted. After escaping from prison with much of her memory erased, Nilin teams up with her only remaining connection, the revolutionary known as Edge. Together they aim to restore Nilin's mind and bring down the Memorize corporation that abuses its power over the city's memories.

At Launch

Opinion on Remember Me was divided - the PC version's average review score was 66%. Reviewers enjoyed the story's ambition, the setting, and the memory remix segments, but were unimpressed with the story overall, and the platforming, combat, and some design choices.

Post Launch

A couple of patches were released to fix bugs and improve stability.
The Combo Lab Pack DLC adds some new combat moves, including the dragon punch, spinning kick, and flash kick.

The intro is great. The first thing you see is an advertisement for Sensen, showing all the amazing things you can do with technology that stores and shares memories. The warm fuzzy ad is immediately contrasted with the intense pain and horrific effects of malicious memory manipulation. This contrast between good and bad is going to be a running theme in this review.

If you don't notice or don't care about mouse acceleration, the PC controls will feel fine. But if you hate mouse acceleration (like me) you're going to have problems. Mouse acceleration is forced on and I couldn't find a fix. Fortunately I recently bought a controller to use with Dark Souls II, and that works flawlessly.
Visuals and art direction are strong. Neo Paris' architecture is a mix of new and old, so you'll see shiny white buildings on a cobblestone street, or sharp digital signs on a rustic café. Clothing design was excellent, and that's something I don't think I've ever really noticed or commented on in other games, so it must be really great. The outfits look practical and realistic but also stylish in a futuristic sort of way.

But sometimes I can't appreciate the visuals because the camera is doing little things I don't want it to and distracting me. It frequently pitches up or down after using a ladder or jumping, it sometimes shifts to focus on something that I would've looked at or figured out anyway, and sometimes it goes for a "better" angle that might actually be better but throws me off because it happens in the middle of a fight. It's not too disruptive - I'm not constantly wrestling to keep the camera where I want it - but it is noticeable and annoying.

There are other technical problems, too. Cutscenes can be paused, which is a very nice feature that I wish more games implemented, but they can't be skipped. And the game frequently hangs for a second or less. Sometimes this is limited to only audio, but most of the time it's a game-wide pause. Very frustrating during a highly lethal chase scene.

Dialogue is sometimes awful. The word "must" is overused - as in, "you must ___" - which makes a lot of lines feel artificial. The antagonist in a chase scene goes with an extended Little Red Riding Hood metaphor and it's just atrocious. And The game's use of French is terrible. Of the five French terms I can remember, one is mispronounced and two were misused.

When the soundtrack goes classical it often feels overwrought, with too much brass and fanciness at the wrong times. But the more digital the music goes the more wonderful it becomes. The odd tones in the ambience, the little stings when you do a combo - everything about the digital elements is fantastic and really helps sell the futuristic setting.
Remember Me draws strongly from the Arkham and Assassin's Creed games.  The visuals of the memory aspects are visually similar to the ones in Assassin's Creed: sharp clean lines with lots of white and some high-contrast accents, as well as some pixelated or fuzzy glitch areas. It's actually most interesting when overlaid onto the world through the Sensen's AR feature - seeing the coloured cubes stream out of the back of someone's neck is pretty neat.

The combo-based melee combat feels a lot like Batman - many of the moves and special abilities are very similar - but you can customize your combos according to your play style. If you get hit a lot you'll want to slot more heal pressens, you could focus on power pressens and try to take out the enemies before you get hit at all, you can specialize in focus powers by boosting recharge rate, or you can mix stuff around and generalize.

Unfortunately the combo system isn't that interesting and complex in practice. The fourth type of pressen repeats and amplifies the effects of the last combo press, and the effects of a pressen  get stronger the further it is into a combo. This means that the most efficient way to play is to build a pure heal combo, a pure recharge combo, and a pure power combo with amp pressens at the ends to maximize each of the effects. The DLC's extra moves sound cool but are hardly noticeable in practice - in fact I didn't even realize I had them and thought I'd played through without the content, but apparently they were there the whole time. So in the end combat is too simple and repetitive, and the potential of the customizable combo system remains untapped.

The memory remixes, though... The first time I altered someone's memory I was awed by the sheer power of the ability. Yes, the sequences are scripted - you're working with a specific memory and the number of options is limited. But rewinding and fastforwarding through a memory to puzzle together the right combination of modifications is intriguing, and the feeling of altering a character-defining memory is a rush - power combined with guilt at repurposing such an important memory to serve your own goals. While Nilin can't survive or accomplish her goals without remixing, fundamentally altering someone's personality is kind of unsettling. But later on, an alteration provides genuine benefit and turns a misguided person into a good one (not to mention saving a bunch of lives), and that seems like a pretty great thing to do. Does that make Nilin's power good or bad? Well...
My biggest criticism is the wasted potential of Remember Me's themes and concepts. There are some really interesting ideas in the journal, like the fundamental change in society caused by the commoditization of human memory, or whether or not the technology is safe. But the plot is mostly a relatively standard story of a rebellion against an evil corporation, and the cool ideas are frequently hidden away in journal articles or used to explain relatively insignificant plot elements (like how Nilin obtains a security code). The story is well told, but it introduces themes and concepts and then fails to develop them fully.

(spoilers ahead, highlight if you want to read them)

 Until the end, that is. I thought the conclusion was powerful, finally drawing together many of the themes that were set up over the course of the story. The last line is especially strong - nothing special on its own, but with all the context surrounding the line, it works very well. The final boss fight was kind of unnecessary; I would have preferred the final remix to be the last real gameplay moment. The message was quite clear (that throwing away hurtful or sad memories harms everyone) but I would also have liked a direct statement of the good qualities of the technology (I mean, you just used it to put your family back together!).

Remember Me is a solid game with some good ideas hidden behind a bunch of minor flaws and technical issues that add up to some fairly big nuisances. There's enough good - and enough room for more story - that I'd like a sequel. (highlight for spoilers) With H3O destroyed, that means the memory bank is gone and people can't throw their memories away and ignore their problems anymore, but all the interpersonal networks are theoretically still functional, so sharing, trading, stealing, or altering memories should still be possible. I'd love to see those ideas more fully explored, as well as to unlock the potential of the combo system. Also, it's pretty nice to see a game with a mixed race female protagonist who is intelligent, uniquely and highly skilled, non-sexualized, and very well written. More Nilin please.

Recommendation: play it.

 But don't get the DLC because it's so subtle that I didn't even realize I had it.

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