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PLATFORM: XBox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER: Dontnod Entertainment
Remember Me is one of those special kinds of games that comes along once every couple of years that by all objective standards is less than its pedigree suggests, and yet, there is so much that it sets it apart from its contemporaries that it is both A: absolutely worth a purchase, and B: absolutely doomed to financial failure. It’s all the best ideas from Inception, Ghost In The Shell, The Fifth Element, Strange Days, and Metropolis on one side of the room, Arkham Asylum, Tomb Raider, God Hand, P.N. 03 (yes, other 7 people on the planet, I played it too), and Beyond Good and Evil on the other, and then this happens. This many fascinating concepts floating around in one package, something was bound to get lost in the shuffle, and that thing appears to be some of the niceties of the current gen. But is it worth it? Your mileage may vary.
The trailers for Remember Me give an impression of a sort of stealthy, memory-based Hitman/DJ Hero hybrid, tracking targets across the city, reaching in to toy with a subject’s memory of important events to change the person entirely. Make no mistake, that game is in here, and absolutely, endlessly compelling. At specific points in the story, you’re given a specific target whose mind needs literal changing, you’ll be given a scene, a pivotal moment in the victim’s memory, and by shifting a few small details, you can completely change who that person is in their waking life, even destroying who they are. And these are far from the Eternal Sunshine, “my girlfriend left me and I need to forget her” sort. Your very first memory remix has you making a female bounty hunter think her husband woke up and had a psychotic break while undergoing a medical procedure and had to be euthanized.
If you have regrets over having to set that train in motion, believe me, so does main character Nilin. Nilin herself starts the game waking up in prison. The Bastille, to be precise. The Bastille, in Neo Paris, in 2084, to be more precise. She has no memory of her own besides knowing her own name, when she’s broken out by hooded, militant, Banksy-wannabe Edge, who reminds her of her forgotten past as a memory hunter. Edge promises to return Nilin’s own stolen memory in exchange for her help bringing down the corporation that, over the course of the last 50 years, managed to make human memory/perception a kind of fucked up currency. It all feels like you’re doing righteous work at first, taking down faceless drones, security forces, and hideous, mind-controlled mutants for great justice; the righteousness is multiplied seeing the filthy, disease ridden slums of the lower class, and the apathetic consumerist nightmare of the Neo Paris bourgeois. But then you start seeing the effects, who gets hurt, and what you find yourself doing and hurting in order to succeed and the journey gets complex.
And yet, all that cool stuff I just described is really the spectacular, tech-noir window dressing for what is, 80% of the time, a classic beat-em-up, or Tomb Raider-ish running, jumping, and climbing. To its credit, it’s a beat-em-up with a few nifty tricks up its sleeve. The big one is the ability to build your own combos. And you’re not necessarily building them for massive damage. Depending on the button press (called a Pressen) you program into each combo, each hit of your combo might do massive damage, heal Nilin with each hit, regenerate Nilin’s myriad special abilities faster, or multiply the effect of the previous hit. Staying alive in the brawls in this game depend on your ability to fight strategically, knowing how exactly to hit opponents depending on what you need at that moment, not necessarily what will kill an enemy faster. It’s an elegant way of making you forget that you’re just laying into the same two buttons ad nauseum throughout the game.
The problem, if you can call it that, is that everything around that mechanic is just endlessly more interesting, suggesting a deeper game that Remember Me simply isn’t. Neo Paris has fine detail down to the last piece of gum under Nilin’s boots. It feels both lived in and alive in ways few games have captured. Because of the augmented reality interface that virtually every human in Neo Paris has, called Sensens, every storefront, no matter how rich or poor, no matter how out of the way, or trashed, has something to look at or notice. Newsflashes, commercials, radio interviews are rampant, and stop the player dead in their tracks just to get more of this place. And sadly, this is the extent of your interaction with it. This big, beautiful, lush world is a visual and thematic feast, that the game only drip feeds you.
In addition, not that this adds a blessed thing to the game as, well, a game, but let’s all take a moment, get down on our knees and say THANK YOU DONTNOD for creating a game with some God’s honest diversity. Your main character is not just female, but biracial, your allies, enemies, and NPCs come from EVERYWHERE. The vast majority of characters in the game, some scattered goofy dialogue aside, are well designed, fleshed out, with motivations, and history, and personal drama, and not a second of it has anything to do with what color they decided to paint their skin. It doesn’t matter in game, but it’s like the beaming sun on my heart in terms of its context in the gaming landscape. Neo Paris is as racially diverse as actual Paris, the game makes absolutely zero deal out of it. It’s just diversity because it’s the story the creators chose to tell.
That by itself would make me want to spend the money to support Remember Me. The fact that it’s managed to do deep-seated, wonderful dramatic work within the confines of a new gaming mechanic is another. The fact that it’s just plain UNIQUE is another. Ultimately, these are what I’ll remember from Remember Me: At its best, it is unlike anything else in gaming. It has ambition. It has a brain. It’s got a beating heart. The fact that, deep in that heart, you’ll remember it because is painfully familiar should not stop anyone from rewarding the effort towards creating something that very much isn’t.
Out Of 5