US: 4 Jun 2013
Remember Me never apologizes for grounding itself on one of the most well worn tropes of video game storytelling, the protagonist with amnesia. Indeed, the very title of the game announces the game’s intention to use amnesia as an excuse for teaching the player about the world and making that protagonist, a memory hunter named Nilin, “relearn” her skills alongside the player.
Even more than that, the game is, of course, interested in exploring memory and its effects on our decision making as a theme, as Nilin possesses the abilities to steal memories and to revise them in order to get what she wants, both of these abilities being something that actually translates into the gameplay experience. Nilin uses stolen memories to learn clues to and solutions to puzzles and there are puzzles based on memory remixing that involve “rewinding” someone’s memories and subtly changing important memories in people’s lives to manipulate their present view of the world and the future decisions that they will make.
This is a cooler idea on paper than it is to play out, though, as these sequences become rather tedious trial-and-error puzzles that really just require players to experiment with changes in memories and sit through a scene over and over again rather than to really think out a rational solution to the events on display.
Frankly, the entire game’s thesis is more interesting in concept than in execution. Nilin does some really jacked up things when she alters people’s memories, but the character barely considers the ramifications of her actions. Also, the game seems to want to argue that erasing pain from our lives is no way to live, as painful memories and suffering are essential to existence and to better confronting real problems in an informed way. I think that I largely agree with that thesis and feel like it is a timely one, but the game’s dialogue and voice acting makes any attempt to take the game’s ideas seriously mostly impossible. The dialogue is hamfisted and over written. Every character in the game sounds like an 11th grade poet that doesn’t understand how dreadful a mixed metaphor can be and how hyperbole just sounds, well, hyperbolic. The voice acting doesn’t do the most often dumb dialogue any favors either, as most of the actors playing the major characters seem to have no idea that they are in a video game and not a cartoon or what tone to bring to any given piece of dialogue.
All of which is a real shame because what makes up the majority of the game’s play, a rather unique combat system, is really pretty interesting. Nilin unlocks combat moves mapped to buttons on the controller called pressens. Each pressen has an ability mapped to it, like extra damage, health regeneration, ability cooldown, or doubling the power of a previously used pressen, allowing Nilin to build combo chains that enhance her survivability, damage output, or the opportunity to use her other “ultimate” combat abilities (called sensens) more frequently. Building combo chains and even rebuilding them on the fly during combat itself (in a submenu) becomes the core of “solving” the problem of combat with enemies that possess rather varied powers. Rethinking a combat and building better chains to deal with opponents is initially fascinating and becomes extremely fun in the final chapters of the game when Nilin has largely unlocked most of her pressens and you have a lot of options for chaining combos together and initiating your strongest powers on a more regular basis.
I really like the core combat mechanics of the game. I just wish they were featured in a context that seemed less stupid and more thoughtful about the ideas that it wants to grapple with. Playing much of Remember Me is a pretty good experience, and there may even be a really interesting plot buried in some of the dumbest writing and acting that I’ve run into in a game for quite some time. I could really like the total experience of the game if only its more intriguing ideas could be handled in a more nuanced and more subtly written way. Come for the combat, check out for the storytelling – unless, that is, that you like to giggle at really overwritten and overacted dialogue. I’m not sure, though, that this material is of the “so bad, it’s good variety.” It’s more often nearly intolerably stupid.