Game Pile: Remember Me

Sigh.

I wanted to like Remember Me. I really did.

The fancy of videogame reviewers in this modern era is about objectivity. When Carolyn Petit was criticised for mentioning the misogyny and transphobia in GTA5, claims were made that she should be ‘more objective.’ Those people who claimed that are idiots – reviewers cannot be objective. Objective reviews of entertainment are not reviews, they’re lists of objective facts. We do go into the critical study of videogames with histories, with understandings, with a greater context of other reviews.

Essentially, we are biased, and that’s okay. Reviewers can convey some imperical information, they can make some comparisons, but in the end, reviewing games is a subjective experience and therefore, reviewers can, and should, offer sincerity and honesty about that experience. I can’t offer you facts about a game’s quality, but I can offer you my opinion – and therefore, I owe it to you to provide as fair an insight into my opinion as I can.

Some time ago, I wrote a review which included a single-sentence description of Bioshock that boiled it down to being a linear shooter with overpowered toys, a deliberately unfair summary that glossed over the positive traits of the game or the mitigating circumstances that made the failings into strengths. It’s not hard to do this sort of summary – it’s known as accentuating negatives, and salespeople do it all the time. Don’t talk about the good things, put the bad things front and centre. You can, of course, do this in reverse, for example:

Remember Me is a game about an attractive, competent badass parkour-using woman set in a morally Grey not-America where she solves problems by hacking people’s minds to reorder their memories and therefore, transform who they are and how they behave.

On the other hand, I already blatantly admitted that I don’t like this game. To see why, we have to take this slice of the game we’ve separated out in that sentence, and make it part of the whole once more. Then, sadly, we have to consider the game, and realise that even its best elements aren’t implemented in a way that makes the overall product good.

The Memory manipulation part of the game is implemented in a way that’s cute the first time and annoying the second, and each of the parts in the memory sequences are just on/off switches that need to be set in the right order. It’s trial-and-error based, too! That gives it less of a feeling of solving a puzzle, or even influencing an event, and more the feeling of tuning your VCR, or setting up an alarm on your phone for those people born after 1995. What’s more, it’s not common enough to expand its mechanics very interestingly – there are only four of these sequences, one of which is a tutorial.

Next, the parkour. Parkour in Assassins’ Creed is an interesting-looking way to create a sense of freedom for the player, while in Prince of Persia it’s a way to expand platforming puzzles while maintaining a sense of realism and three-dimensionality. The parkour in Remember Me, by contrast, is a superficial skin over a very linear form of progress. It’s all context-sensitive climbing, unlike those others, where ‘press space to perform trick’ is the bridging tool you use. You don’t observe a pattern in the brickwork and cleverly work out a way onwards. You can’t use it to evade opponents, or to plan your approach on an area; it’s just the button you push to climb ladders. Sometimes the ladder is horizontal, sometimes the ladder looks like a chain, but they’re all ladders.

While I laud the game for having a female protaganist, I found myself slightly queasy by the way the game introduced her clutching her neck and groaning in the foetal position. What followed then were a sequence of equally uncomfortable aspects, such as noticing Nillin lacking any agency, or obeying Edge despite stating her disagreements with him, or the blatant rewriting of a woman’s personality – then treating her as just a taxi service for the rest of the game. There’s also an uncomfortable amount of attention paid to Nillin’s backside in promotional shots, but whatever. The fact the game creeps me out a little with its female characters may be me reading too much into it, or may be a voice acting thing, or may be translation issues, or may be just an embarassing side effect of its other big problem, which we’ll get to later.

The combat is panicky and imprecise, and absolutely too complicated. If the entire point of a game was a combo system, if the mechanics of that combo system underpinned everything, and pursuing bosses, Megaman style unlocked more combo components, this combo system would feel about right. Instead, Remember Me offers a system of bits, where you have to construct combos, time them together, construct them without a clear notion of what can and can’t be put alongside one another, and then ties every form of combat to these combos. Like I said, if a whole game was dedicated to this, it could work really well, especially because then you could make the bosses into these ‘final essay’ style affairs, where no one combo could take care of them, and they wouldn’t, say, degenerate into quick-time events. I know I was okay with Far Cry 3‘s quicktime bosses, but in that game, that’s all the bosses were, and it meant they had a great sense of cinema and didn’t overstay their welcome. Remember Me‘s bosses have to be beaten down then finished off with a quicktime event, and if you mess up the quicktime event – such as by, say, not being able to tell what its symbols mean since it’s the first time you’ll see some of them – the boss regenerates some health and needs to be re-beaten down. This dissolves the feeling of cinema, because you’re observing an opponent attacking you the same way three or four times.

And finally, without providing spoilers, the game’s central ‘message,’ the point it’s building to, is completely undercut by the actions taken to reach it. Essentially, it tries to argue for the acceptance of our bad memories – while ignoring that by creating bad memories in people throughout the story, you have destroyed people, including driving some to suicide. It’s kind of hard to accept a story about accepting bad memores when you explicitly show the acceptance of bad memories leading to suicide. The game is already massively ethically dubious, with early missions including hundreds of casualties from Nillin’s actions even as she insists on non-lethal forms of defeat for opponents she encounters directly, but it only gets worse and worse and does not address the gaping hole in its own grand ethical statement at the end.

Remember Me‘s great sin is that it’s a bit boring, though. None of these elements would be deal-breakers – I mean, god help me, Mass Effect 2 commits some of these sins and I love that game to pieces. By executing on good ideas, or things that could be good idaes, poorly, Remember Me becomes a more disappointing game than it otherwise would have been. A sad story of unfulfilled potential, muddy messaging, bad dialogue, Remember Me is a game that does not merely fall short of its potential, but also falls short of merely being ‘mediocre.’ There’s more to be said – certainly about how the troubled development of Remember Me speaks poorly for gaming in this current generation – but as just the game, itself, it falls short of even the standards set by games five years old.

Verdict

Buy it if:

  • You like the Assassins’ Creed style of exploration but find the open-world aspect too challenging and can be lost.
  • You speak French fluently and can follow along the original dialogue.
  • You really want to support more games with female protaganists.

Avoid it if:

  • You haven’t beaten any of the more enjoyable games with similar mechanics and style – Assasins’ Creed, Prince of Persia, for example.
  • You find freedom to explore the most enjoyable part of the current open-world parkour crowd of games.

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