Remember Me, from Dontnod is a gorgeously conceived and realized third-person action title set in the cyberpunk world of Neo-Paris. The year is 2087 and the Earth has seen better days. Society has been decimated by natural disasters and civil wars brought on by climate change. Neo-Paris is a haven from the madness built in the ruins of old Paris. It’s presented as the techno-cultural capital of Europe and perhaps the rest of the world as well. The greatest minds in science, art, architecture, and philosophy worked together to, ostensibly, create a utopia in the hellish nightmare that the rest of the world had descended into.
Perhaps the single largest part of building this utopia lies in the digitization and commoditization of human memories. The goal is, in effect, a hive-mind that would eliminate violence by breaking down the natural trust barriers that exist, to some degree, between all humans. Because if you know every last memory, thought, and emotion - down to the most minute detail - of every single person you see everyday, the empathy you develop will short circuit violent impulses.
It’s unfortunate then that there are so many side effects to this memory-sharing process. Some people get addicted to feeling the feelings of other people. Somehow, this addiction sparks physiological changes in the afflicted. Eventually they become twisted, deformed, and desperate for some fix they can’t get. Violence is the next logical step, and it’s the slums of Neo-Paris where these individuals, called leapers, end up. This makes life extraordinarily dangerous for normal people, those that aren’t the super-educated elite, living in “deep” Paris.
While the sweet life above in Neo-Paris’s beautiful archeology skyscrapers and residential “comfortresses” (that’s a loaded word if ever there was one) hums along blissfully unaware, an organization has chosen to fight back, to put a stop to the callous homogenization of humankind through memory control. This group, called the Errorists is made up of talented memory hunters whose mandate is to disrupt the operations of Memorize, the company responsible for “Sensen,” the tech that makes memory sharing and commoditization possible.
You assume the role of Nilin. She’s an elite memory hunter who has recently been arrested and shipped off to the prison called La Bastille
. In La Bastille
, they don’t take your shoelaces, belt, and wallet when you check in to be returned upon your release. Instead, they take your memories because it makes inmates docile since they can’t remember an outside world or that they’re even being punished. Upon release, they get their possibly not fully intact or even altered memories back. Once on the outside, they forget they were ever locked up. It sounds too good to be true because it is. The system is rotten at the very core and Nilin is awakened in La Bastille by an unknown individual whose goal is to destroy Memorize, bring the whole system down, and return everyone’s memories to where they belong.
To achieve this, the player through Nilin is presented with what appears to be a fairly rudimentary combo-based brawling system combined with very hand-holdy parkour. The gameplay is, indeed, very familiar but throws in enough ideas to keep it interesting. You see, even though combat is mainly combo-based kicking and punching, there are no set combos. You get to build them yourself. To build them, you need two things that you luckily start the game with: Pressens, the actual kicks and punches from one of 4 disciplines and an empty combo to assign them to. These combos range from simple three button strings of punches up to combos of eight moves that mix kicks and punches. The actual input commands per combo never change. It’s what each kick or punch does besides basic damage that can change. Pressens from the power family do extra damage, regen Pressens do light damage and heal you, cool down Pressens speed up the cool down periods on your five special attacks, while chain Pressens essentially double the effect of whatever Pressen directly precedes it. The system is further organized so that the later in a combo a Pressen appears, the more powerful it is.
Honestly, the “Combo Lab” as it’s called is maybe a hair convoluted, but the possibilities are endless once you unlock enough combos and Pressens. The combos are tied to story events while the individual Pressens from each family can only be unlocked with PMP, which you earn by defeating enemies, with PMP bonuses handed out for successful six and 8 Pressen combos. It’s a long time before you unlock enough combos and Pressens to really have fun with all the combinations and really take advantage of what the system offers, however. Once you do though, it’s awesome.
Along with kicks and punches, Nilin gets a few other attacks. Eventually she’ll unlock five very powerful special attacks that will instantly turn the tide of battle. These special attacks are fueled by focus. You build focus by giving and receiving damage. You start with one chunk of focus that is used up with each special power usage, but you’ll unlock more chunks via hidden focus packs. Multiple focus chunks means you can use more than one special power before you empty your focus stockpile, and that is often the difference in battle. Furthermore, each one operates on its own separate cool down timer independent of the others and focus chunks. These cool downs are very long, with the longest clocking in at over two minutes. The cool down Pressens are used to speed up these long cool downs. You’ll want to figure out how to maximize their use sooner rather than later.
As a further complement to Nilin’s arsenal, she can wield a Spammer, which is essentially a gun that spams the target with junk data. This overloads electrical systems and disrupts the helpful nanobots most humans carry around inside them. Eventually the Spammer becomes a veritable sonic screwdriver that can pick locks, or even destroy environmental objects.
As much fun as these disparate weapons and attacks become, the gameplay, while not bad, plays a secondary role to the real star of Remember Me - the story, graphics, and soundtrack. Remember Me is, hands down, one of the best overall looking console games ever made, with special attention paid to the lighting. Remember Me is stuffed with beautiful architecture, rich and vibrant colors, and utterly breathtaking vistas and skylines that are all complemented with tasteful texture work that looks fantastic without ever really overtaxing the game’s engine. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with such strong graphics from such an unknown (to me, at least) developer before.
The game’s soundtrack is almost equally as strong. Mostly orchestral, it constantly fills in any needed emotional space and alternates between fast paced, epic, moody, or melancholy with nary a misstep to be heard. It’s never intrusive or incongruous to the on-screen action.
That leaves the story, which, while not groundbreaking at all, is certainly above average. It does a good job at world building without ever really resorting to exposition or info dumps. Nilin suffers from amnesia, so she doesn’t really know anything that we don’t and both of us learn important information at the same time. Interestingly, there’s one major element of the gameplay that’s woven directly into the story at some of its most pivotal moments, and that’s the memory remix. During a memory remix, Nilin effectively enters the mind of her target and causes them to remember past events differently enough to change present behavior. It’s very similar to the film Inception, but instead of planting ideas to achieve long-term goals, you’re altering memories to affect an immediate outcome. These memory remixes take place in a sort of virtual reality state and you get to control the direction and speed of the action while sussing out what can be changed and trying to predict the combination and order of changes that lead to the desired outcome without hitting a “memory bug” where you accidentally kill the target, but since you can’t technically remember dying, doing so has no effect other than forcing you to backtrack and try something else. I really enjoyed the memory remixes and was disappointed that there weren’t more. It’s too bad the developers didn’t have the confidence to use them in the way boss battles are typically used. In fact, the game ends on a disappointingly normal boss fight when it could have done something far more interesting.
Overall, though, despite Remember Me’s flaws, it’s one of my favorite games of the year. I don’t mind that it’s just another combo-based brawler with too-easy parkour shoehorned in like every other non-FPS action title ever. What it does right, combined with the game’s unexpected difficulty and longer than expected length (closer to 15 hours for me than the expected 10) is more than enough to offset its flaws - which are really only failures of originality anyway. That combined with the fact that Remember Me is an original IP out in the last year of the current console cycle and stars a non-white female protagonist means I’ll never forget Remember Me and neither should you the next time you're out looking for something new.