While science fiction’s futuristic interpretations of vehicles, weapons and urban spaces are undeniably intriguing, plot devices which allow a glimpse into the human condition are often the most satisfying elements of the genre. These existentialism-enabling contraptions are one of the reasons why Phillip K. Dick’s prose still resonates with readers. Examining the fallibility of memory and inviting a reflective glance at our lives has made stories such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said some of sci-fi’s most seminal works.
For the recent Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC release of Remember Me, Sensen is the catalyst which carries this brilliantly poignant journey. As social media evolved to the Nth degree, this neurological implant allows people to digitize and share their memories. There are palpable perks- from the extraordinary intimacy obtainable by romantic partners to providing the ultimate legacy by bequeathing recollections to grandchildren. However, like any medium, the owner’s ambitions aren’t driven by altruism, but rather by monetization. When people with unpleasant pasts yearn to supplement their mind with the successes and accomplishments of others, Sensen reveals its addictive qualities, creating a city full of memory junkies across the game’s setting of a 2084-era, Neo-Paris.
Players assume the role of Nilin- a rebellious memory hunter with the unique ability to remix a person’s remembrances. Players first meet the protagonist lying prone on the floor, screaming in agony as her mind is purged. When it’s discovered that a few fragments of her identity remain, she’s sent to a secondary cleaning process. As Nilin is waiting in line, a mysterious strange named Edge contacts her, offering a way to flee the nefarious facility. Unsurprisingly, the heroine is recruited by this rouge faction to topple the corporation profiting from the proliferation of memory sales.
Given the gravity of the narrative, providing play mechanics that espouse the importance of Nilin’s objective must have been a difficult task; Remember Me offers several admirable attempts. At its core melee combat is propelled by four different, two-button combination strings. While this might sound distressingly restrained, each sequence is customizable. Experience points earned in the game grant access to ‘pressens’ which can be dropped into a combo chain. To add nuance, pressens come is four varieties: augmenting a player’s power, restoring health, speeding the cooldown timer, and multiplying the effects of a chain. Interestingly, potency is influenced by the pressen’s position in the combo sequence, urging players to constantly tweak with their loadout. Additionally, certain enemies have natural weaknesses and resistances, making trips to the Combo Lab a common occurrence.
Additionally, Nilin unlocks both a ranged attack weapon and access to five different S-Pressens, devastating special abilities which can perform feats such as stunning a cluster of enemies or giving the protagonist a speed boost. In execution, battles dissuade button mashing, requiring players to match each successive button press with an on-screen hit. Mercifully, there’s an on-screen meter which displays the effectiveness of each strike, allowing players to practice the elongated combos. If battles have a flaw, it’s the lack of a true parry; although Nilin can sidestep of the way of a telegraphed hit, she lacks the elegance of transforming an imminent assault into an opening for lethality.
While combat is effective, it’s also derivative- often feeling like Arkham City with a few customization capabilities. Much more interesting are the sequences where Nilin is tasked with remixing a memory. Here, players use left analog stick to scrub through a cinematic, fast-forwarding and rewinding to identity the tell-tale sign of glitches. Manipulating specific elements in these memories can demonstrate Butterfly Effect-like conditions, such as convincing a person they played a key role in a murder. The downside is that there are only a handful of these events during Remember Me’s twelve hour duration. Ideally, a sequel would provide more of these events and wouldn’t rely on a binary success or fail outcome. It could be intoxicating to play god, gently modify NPC minds, and watching the events unfold.
Likewise, Remember Me’s structure is rather linear. While this could be interpreted as a negative, in actually the title’s controlled direction provides a number of positives. Camera angles rarely become unwieldy, with the game often providing an effective, cinematic perspective on the action. The game’s trajectory also complements its storytelling; offering a sprawling, Assassin’s Creed-like world to explore might have polluted the urgency of the narrative. Naturally, this amount of control does have a downside. While environmental navigation rarely demonstrates the fatal misstep and even provides a few alcoves with collectables, Nilin’s trek generates little sense of discovery. With the bright orange icons of an augmented reality device parading the next waypoint, the game’s journey can occasionally feel like a trip to the local Ikea.
Artistically, development studio Dontnod is to be commended. As their inaugural effort, Remember Me is a near-persistent pleaser. The first half of the game flaunts an amazing vision of Parisian architecture drenched in dystopian disarray. Stunningly, the beauty of each environment just lingers beneath the surface, inviting an extended perusal from players. Similarly, the game’s soundtrack utilizes a similar motif, with stirring orchestral swells beset by the occasional electronic glitch. Restraining the autonomy of players always seems to have benefited the refresh rate, with the Unreal Engine 3- powered title displaying no framerate fluctuations.
With Hollywood’s tendency of remaking middling science fiction films into newer, brain-dead CGI fests, the existential sub-genre is an insipid imitation of its once magnificent self. While Remember Me’s mechanics can’t quite match the substance of its heady plotline, they are engaging enough to support the title’s invigorating adventure. With any luck, Dontnod’s freshman effort will be remembered as a strong entry that spurred an increasingly enriching series.
Capcom provided a PlayStation 3 copy of Remember Me for review.