Don't forget to read our enormous preview of this memory-hunting action game.
By Alex Walker on May 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm
Before my five-hour marathon with Dotnod Entertainment’s Remember Me, I sat down in Microsoft’s darkened Xbox Room in Sydney’s North Ryde and went over my notes one last time. It seemed strange that much of the chatter about the game centered on Nilin, Remember Me’s female protagonist.
Apparently, a female lead was too much, with some publishers refusing to pick up the game because of Nilin’s gender. But what was even stranger was that despite a strong showing at GamesCom, there was very little discussion about the game itself, save what details could be gleaned from the trailer videos.
Set in Neo-Paris more than seventy years in the future, Remember Me creates a world where social networking has invaded the last vestiges of our privacy: the brain. Thanks to the Sensen implant from the Memorize corporation, citizens can store and share their memories digitally, creating a host of new opportunities for the subversive, authoritarian state.
Nilin works for a group of renegades called the Errorists, who use memories as a variety of weapons. Memories of secure codes, security installations and more can be stolen; memories can be brought into the physical world as a hologram, necessary for accessing or traversing several areas. Memories can also be altered entirely, although that power largely seems confined to Nilin and doctors with blank cheque books.
The Errorists initial rebellion failed miserably though: in the opening scene, Nilin is sprawling on the floor, screaming in agony while her memories are wiped clean. As she shuffles into place for a second round of treatment, her brother Edge creates a diversion and our hero makes her escape.
From there, the world of Neo-Paris opens up. It’s beautiful in its own way without being groundbreaking. The vibrancy and feel of Neo-Paris — particularly the contrast between the dank sewers and the touch of heritage and order found in the privileged districts — is something to behold.
It also made me long for the times when Remember Me was still called Adrift; back then, Dotnod were planning an open-world style of game, and I would have dearly loved to scour the streets and sights of Neo-Paris more.
Even if you want to search your surroundings, you can’t. The game is fairly linear, so ledges and walls that look like they’re accessible often aren’t. I’m not trying to advocate sandbox or open-world games over their narrative-driven counterparts here, but seeing a world as interesting as Neo-Paris, and then being unable to explore that further, is disappointing.
Exploring and moving around, however, is competent enough. Nilin leaps and traverses walls far more efficiently than Nathan Drake ever could, although the movement is more assured; she doesn’t slip as often, beams don’t collapse with the same regularity. You can’t make missteps unless you deliberately jump into open space or fail at one of the relatively basic movement puzzles; Remember Me is more Prince of Persia than Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted in this way.
The UI guides you via a pair of orange arrows, and there was only twice where the camera angle made it hard to see. Luckily, the path forward was fairly obvious though and I never once had any troubles with the camera while adventuring.
It wasn’t until I got backed into a corner mid-fight that the camera became a problem, but it never lasted long enough to be anything more than a minor annoyance. Nilin usually fights side-on or facing the camera, but things occasionally get awkward if you have to spin around to target an aerial opponent (more on these later).
As a whole, my relationship with the combat was the complete opposite to my love affair with Neo-Paris. After the initial disappointment of not being able to traverse the city as I liked, I learned to appreciate it for what it was. The combat, on the other hand, instantly feels amazing. Punches and kicks land with a satisfying thud, the animations are smooth as silk and the controls are simple and intuitive.
Most fighting is close-quarters and executed through a series of combos, predominantly the X and Y buttons (a PC build was not available for this preview). The trick with Remember Me is that you can configure those combos to grant different bonuses by unlocking Pressens.
There are four classes of Pressens. The first three will either enhance your damage, refresh the cooldowns on your special moves faster or help regenerate your life, while the fourth simply enhances the effect of the previous Pressen in the combo.
The real advantage is the ability to pause and switch out your combos at any time to something more appropriate for the fight at hand. The inputs for the combos don’t change, only its effect, which is a great help for those who struggle at fighting games.
Slower players will particularly appreciate the window of opportunity after you land a hit: it’s enormous. It’s near impossible to miss a combo unless you’re forced to dodge, and even then the system, in some instances, allows you to jump over your current target without cancelling the current combo.
Occasionally you’ll need to clear out the area a lot faster, and that’s where special Pressens (S-Pressens) come in. Accessible via an Assassin’s Creed-style scroll wheel, S-Pressens are typically wide-scale AOE attacks, although the first one you’ll unlock allows you to chain combos simply by mashing the X and Y keys.
The one I ended up using the most was an AOE stun, because it revealed hidden enemies and also gave me enough time to chain a couple of combos which I’d already configured to regenerate my S-Pressens. Normally the cooldown on your specials can be one or two minutes, but a successful combos could cut that time in half or even completely depending on the length of the combo.
The system is easy to execute and looks good, but as the game progresses, completing anything beyond a basic combo becomes a little troublesome.
It starts once the Scorpion aerial crowd-control robot is introduced, which is also called Seraphim in the “Enemies” trailer. Nilin can only kill Scorpions with the Spammer gun, acquired after a boss fight in the second chapter.
Killing aerial enemies isn’t an issue. The problem is that once the waves of enemies grow, killing Scorpions becomes your ultimate priority, otherwise you’ll never be able to finish a single combo. Enemies can take up to three or four combos before they fall — less if you specialise in damage — but the Scorpions’ rate of fire will always force you to dodge before you can finish the combo.
There’s nothing wrong with that as a fighting strategy, but it soon became my only strategy. It dulls the combat experience when you’re simply recycling battle tactics. The vaunted customisation of combos and the fluidity of attacks take a backseat as well; it doesn’t really matter what your combos are before you kill your aerial opponents, and once they’re dead you can do anything you like.
The saving grace is that the fights themselves are fun to watch. Nilin fights a bit like Sonya Blade, with a full suite of cartwheels, flip-kicks and spinning punches. Remember Me’s engine didn’t miss a single beat, and it should be just a treat on a high-end PC.
The boss fights are a little more interesting, although the ones I battled – Kid X-Mas and the Madame, overlord of La Bastille — felt largely similar to something you’d experience in Devil May Cry. Each had three distinct phases, with the window for opportunity becoming smaller and smaller as the fight neared its completion.
It’s here that the combo system will probably see the most use too. Against Madame, I needed the use of my S-Pressens much more quickly, so I rotated my combos to focus solely on cooldowns, with a short three-hit combo solely for regenerating life. Against X-Mas, taking damage was less of a concern, so I concentrated on doing as much damage as possible.
It’s a fun system in principle but how good it works in practice really depends on the enemies and the waves themselves. Hopefully there’s more variety in the later chapters; a major chunk of this gameplay could become rather tedious.
The underlying theme of social networks, their abuse by the state and the willingness of its citizens’ to supply personal information, on the other hand, was intriguing and relevant. I would have preferred to see the leapers designed as homeless, mentally dishevelled Neo-Parisians rather than zombified shells teetering on the edge.
Dotnod’s creative director, Jean-Maxime Moris, has already publicly said that the game is not trying to leave a message or serve as some kind of allegory for the potential issues posed by Facebook and Twitter in the real age. The four chapters I’ve seen certainly don’t do that, and I’d like to see the direction the story takes beyond that point. But it’s an interesting take on the cyberpunk theme.
It’s not a wholly unreasonable premise. Watch Dogs is taking a similar tack, although it focuses more on technology and hacking, collective information and the nature of subversion, whereas Remember Me concentrates on the personal, the loss of identity and redemption.
The start of every episode shows Nilin in a featureless, almost Animus-like area, where she reflects on the events of the episode prior, questions her motivations, the motivations and actions of her brother — are they really siblings? — before weakly deciding on a course of action.
I say weakly because there’s little emotional strength in anything Nilin says, not in the scripting itself or the delivery. As a heroine, Nilin starts out quite vulnerable. The cut-scenes thereafter reinforce that, and that weakness works nicely with the idea that your memories, your last barrier of privacy, is now (effectively) a public commodity.
I’d have to see more of the story to be sure, but I’m still on the fence about Nilin. My biggest concern is that Nilin as a character — once her fears are replaced with the confidence that comes with the capacity to rewrite memories — doesn’t evoke much emotion at all. She’s just there. I was more interested in Neo-Paris, the background of Edge, the Errorists. Incidentally, you can read more about that if you want; journals called Mnesists are scattered throughout the city, and you can access them through the in-game menu (again, a bit like Assassin’s Creed).
Something that feels much more at home are the memory remix sequences, Nilin’s treks through the mind of her enemies and/or targets. The first remix you encounter, strangely, happens while an assassin employed by the Madame holds a knife to Nilin’s throat. The idea that Nilin, who absconded from prison and all the torture she experienced within, can somehow combine all her talents to convert an assassin’s memory before her jugular gets sliced open is a little fanciful, but sure, I’ll roll with it.
Anyway, the memory remixes are essentially a puzzle sequence. You’ll watch a scripted sequence before being handed the power to rewind and fast-forward the memory at will. At various points indicators will flash over items, which you can tinker with. Adjusting items changes how the memory plays out, and the objective is to mess with the right items to create a memory that’s usually diametrically opposite from reality.
My only gripe was with the rewinding/fast-forwarding mechanic; you control the memory by rotating the left-stick either clockwise or counter-clockwise, which makes no sense whatsoever. If everybody’s memories are digitised, then logic follows that I would be watching them like a video file.
Video files have progress bars; you don’t rewind them in circles like a VHS tape. It’s needless busy work and seems so out of place to have an action in a futuristic cyberpunk game that’s designed on technology from the 1970s.
But that’s really an incredibly minor point: the memory remix sequences are actually rather fun. They’re more intricate than their initial appearances, and the downshift in pace is a welcome change from the frenzied melee combat.
Another welcome surprise is the orchestral score. I wasn’t expecting to hear the booming tones of the brass section as I gazed upon the clouds for the first time, or the pulsating rhythm of the strings during my flight from La Bastille, but there it was.
Occasionally, the interjections were seemingly random. There was a curious moment while I was rotating the camera, admiring the city’s design and examining the complexity of the textures — they were quite flat in places, but this isn’t final code and there’s the PC version to consider — when the brass band exploded at full volume. I’m sure there was something momentous that I was supposed to be looking at; it just so happened that Nilin’s backside was in full view.
That experience summarised my time with Remember Me: surprising. Not always a welcome surprise, but surprising nonetheless. It’s an odd feeling, having walked in completely ebullient, impressed by the bravado in showing off a whole five hours of gameplay. I’m still curious to see how the rest of Remember Me turns out, but my expectations are now more attuned with reality instead of the cyberpunk fantasy in my dreams.
Remember Me launches in Australia on June 7.