Wednesday, June 5, 2013

REVIEW - Remember Me.

Remember Me is a heavily plot-driven, linear action game that takes place in a future where mankind has learned to share, remove and alter memories within the human brain.  You do a bit of platforming as the story happens in your earpiece, you get locked in a room with some dudes whose asses need a whoopin', and then you keep walkin' down the game's straight hall, enjoying the gorgeous atmosphere with the occasional detour into a side room for a collectible.

Let's dig in.

"This Little Red Riding Hood's got a basket fulla' kickass!"

Remember Me is easy to recommend, with some caveats.  It's a title I would place in the same basket (fulla' kickass) as Enslaved: Odyssey to the WestAsura's Wrath and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 - games that offer wonderful worlds, gorgeous presentation and pretty-damn-good stories, where the gameplay is several steps short of "deep."  Or perhaps, to be a bit more cutting in this case in particular, several steps short of "satisfying."

It's got some great ideas, but all of them exclusively fall under the beautiful umbrella of its presentation.  Graphically, Dontnod are on par with the best multiplatform developers in the biz - great devs like Visceral Games, Rockstar Vancouver and Crystal Dynamics.  Remember Me presents a fantastical vision of Neo Paris, where the stunning vistas and intricate details evoke wonderful science fiction worlds like The Fifth Element, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Minority Report.  

The architecture, culture and media of this brave new world have been thoughtfully designed and painstakingly realized, and I'm very pleased to say that Nilin, our hero, is a fantastic protagonist.  She's very Ripley-in-Alien.  To sweeten the deal, common is the amnesiac plotline, but rare is one that carries the player in such emotional lock-step with its lead.

We are just as disoriented and desperate for answers as she, when she wakes up in a monstrous prison at the onset of the game - and Remember Me provides an intimate sense of her evolution from a frightened, distrustful prison escapee to a full-blown sci-fi action hero in the vein of Arnie, circa the original Total Recall.  By the end of Remember Me, Nilin has changed her entire society.

The story is great fun, and almost worth the ticket price on its own.  The video part of this video game is fantastic.

The game part would have really benefited from the same degree of talent, depth and consideration.

The crew at Dontnod have decades of experience across the video game industry, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the way Remember Me plays. It tries to crib the combo customization from God Hand and the flowing combat of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and falls laughably, criminally short.

Each strike has certain properties - it's either a powerful strike, an attack that refills your health or an attack that shortens the cooldowns on your more powerful abilities - and you can place them wherever you like in your pre-designed combos (eg: square-triangle-triangle-square-triangle-triangle), with attacks towards the end of the list doing more damage or providing greater healing benefit.  The problem is, in terms of actually having a fight and knocking dudes around, every move is identical and has the exact same timing and impact properties as every other move.  Not visually, but functionally.

There's a jump-kick, but it has the precise same effect on your opponents as a move that animates as a smack upside the head - its damage is only changed by its location in the combo string.  The fact that moves thrown earlier in one of these combos do next-to-no damage, and those at the end of a string do major damage means you need to be able to pull them off reliably - and this is where we get into trouble.

It'd be nice if it simply worked as intended.  "You can dodge and continue your combo!" says the tooltip that you can't shut off. "No, you can't!" reply 75% of the times I dodge mid-combo.

At its best, it's a simple, visually-appealing spectacle as Nilin flips off dude's shoulders, grabs him from behind and literally blows his mind.

At its worst, it's downright frustrating when you throw out the first two hits of a seven-hit combo, dodge (because an enemy was about to kill you) and your combo resets to nothin' - essentially condemning you to play a weak game of poke-poke-dodge with your unforgiving foes because the game's combat system needed another ten rounds of polish.

Even now, having completed the game, the precise rules for why a dodge (or switching targets) will reset my combo and why it won't remain a mystery.  There's also simple platforming, a'la Uncharted - but not nearly as smooth-playing or well-animated.

The combat manages to skirt towards something approaching fun on occasion, but it's so completely bare-bones and totally simplified that it almost never manages to be a satisfying exercise.

Remember Me is, then, a very strange beast.  A triple-A game that stumbles on the 'game.'

I love its fiction, I love its world, I love Nilin.  It's got great music, and the storytelling on display here is in the upper percentile of mainstream game development - but this is a game that's crying out for a sequel in which the folks at Dontnod actually sit down with their gameplay and concern themselves with making it fun, as opposed to merely really, really good-looking.

What a weird game.  Check it out on the cheap, and enjoy the show. 


  1. Dodging only allows you to continue your combo when you do it in response to an enemy about to hit you.

    Consider the following. You're in the middle of whalloping a dude, halfway through your combo, and one of his cohorts comes up from behind has a red exclamation mark pop up over his head. You dodge directly over the would-be assailant's shoulders, your combo is preserved.

    If you're laying on the hard knocks and decide to jump away for no particular reason, you lose the combo.

    So, it is unnecessarily difficult to maintain a combo after a dodge, not only because it can only be done under specific circumstances, but because you need to remember where you were in the combo once you land on your feet. But it's not impossible, and the game does outline it, albeit briefly.

  2. It's not remembering the combos (or having to do it when an enemy attacks) that troubles me - it's when I do all of that and the combo still breaks.

    And why on Earth does switching between targets mid-combo break my combo? Who at Dontnod thought that was cool? Or fun? It's like someone over in Paris said "let's make the most constrictive, least user-friendly combat system we possibly can."

    No, there's a lot to be ironed out, particularly in terms of the game's combat system.

    1. I'm not saying there aren't issues. I'm just saying that preserving a combo isn't impossible like you make it out to be.

    2. Not impossible - just "downright frustrating."

    3. I wouldn't even go that far, but frustration is subjective so I will stop here.