The futuristic, memory-remixing action game Remember Me captured our attention when it debuted last year, and I've been curious to play it ever since. A game about a kickass lady memory-thief who lives in a dystopian future-version of Paris? Sounds good to me.
Tuesday at a Capcom press event in San Francisco, I had a chance to play a chunk of the game. I worked my way through the two opening chapters, which took me about an hour. Here are five things I took away from my time with Remember Me.
Why five things? Previews are always dicy, and it's hard to issue too much of a value-judgment after seeing a small part of an unfinished product. That said, I thought Remember Me was pretty cool, so I figured that rather than waste your time listing a ton of features and minutiae, I'd treat this preview as though someone in a bar asked me to tell them five things I noticed about the game as I played it.
Whenever possible, I've included video that I captured while playing so that you can see it in action. Here goes:
1. The Setting is a Winner
Remember Me takes place in the future-setting of Neo-Paris, a sci-fi world where the government is always watching, and where memory is king. Capcom is publishing the game, but it's being made by the French game developer Dontnod, and there's a distinctly European sensibility to the art and design (and, obviously, the setting.). Everyone in Neo-Paris has a glowing augmented-reality-looking "node" on the back of their head, through which they can share and transfer memories. This leads to all sorts of covert shenanigans, including spies who manipulate the memories of others to steal crucial information. The game stars a woman named Nilin, who is one of these memory hunters; she begins the game waking up in a dark corner of Neo-Paris with, natch, no memory of how she got there.
The Neo-Paris setting is a pastiche of various sci-fi tropes — the nicer areas of the city are crystal-clear and beautiful, but they're a lie — the underbelly of the city is lined with slums infested with mutants who have, I'd imagine, somehow lost their memories entirely. It's one part The Fifth Element and one part Minority Report and three parts every other sci-fi thing, but while the world may be something of a hodgepodge, it still feels fresh and interesting, at least compared with your run-of-the-mill video game dystopina future. Augmented-reality text pops out of everything in the world, and the clear colours and posh design call to mind the austere city of Mirror's Edge. As I wandered around Neo-Paris, I found that I wanted to learn more about this place.
Here's a video I captured from my playthrough, when Nilin first comes above-ground in a nicer region of the city:
The music is killer too.
2. The Memory Manipulation Is Just (Cool) Window-Dressing
The neatest idea in Remember Me is the fact that in the game, you can "hack" into other people's memories and change them to suit your needs. I got to play one of these remix sequences, when a bounty hunger/spy/something named Olga attacked Nilin, and Nilin jumped into her memory to change it so that she'd become friendly. From what I played, these bits are neat in concept, but they're not all that deep in terms of gameplay.
Capcom actually wouldn't let me capture any video of the remixing process, but the fine folks at VG24/7 were allowed to post video of it, so you can see it in their video here. What I found when playing this section is that it's a bit like an adventure game, or a Rube Goldberg machine: Trial and error with one clear solution. It's a neat gimmick to rewind and fast-forward a person's memory and try to find the right combination of tweaks to change it, but it's not all that reactive and doesn't really allow for player creativity. That may change in later remixes, I can't really say.
Eventually, I rewired Olga's memory so that instead of remembering her sick husband getting an expensive treatment that would prompt her to accept the contract on Nilin, she recalled her husband going insane and attacking the doctor, then getting himself killed. I then snapped back to the present, where Olga was suddenly an ally with a different set of memories. (Of course, who knows what'll happen if she learns that she's been compromised.)
The whole thing is neat from a storytelling perspective — doubtless, things aren't what they seem even for Nilin, and some of her memories are likely false. (I wouldn't be surprise if the fellow "Edge" who's helping her out in the early goings turns out to be evil, since, you know, video games.) But the remixes appear to be more of a storytelling tool and a way to break up the platforming and fighting than a real third type of gameplay.
Elsewhere in the game, there's also a nifty little trick that ties in with one of the "memory" functions where in some sections, you load up a ghost from someone else's memory to follow what they did in the past. In the section I played, Nilin was given a memory by a wannabe memory hunter who helped her break into a building. It's an interesting idea, though I'm not sure if it'll go very far beyond "Follow the ghost of the guy to not get detected." Again, the part I played was more or less a tutorial. Here's some of the memory-assisted sneaking, and some platforming:
3. I Really Like Nilin
It's hard not to look across the crew-cut, bro-laden landscape of big-budget video games and wish for a few more non-embarrassing female protagonists. Nilin fits the bill — she's a smart, tough character who doesn't wear super-revealing clothing or have goofy, unrealistic proportions. Her physicality is interesting too — she moves in a somewhat unsettling way, all long limbs and sinew. It was a genuine relief to play a game where I wasn't a buzz-cut, dark-haired scowler dude. (Though the stuff the guards say to Nilin as they fight, calling her "little girl" as she wails on them and saying dumb crap like "You like that, don't you?" over and over and over started to grate. Hopefully Dontnod will tweak the enemy barks before the game ships.)
I'm hopeful that Nilin's story winds up being as interesting as the world she lives in, though it remains to be seen of that'll be the case. From the bit I played, she was mostly a perplexed, ass-kicking amnesiac, but that's because, well, she was a perplexed, ass-kicking amnesiac. It's rare these days that I'll find myself all that interested in learning more about a video game protagonist. Nilin has me curious, and so far, I think she's A-OK.
4. The Upgrade System Is Actually Pretty Nifty
Of all the things to focus on, the upgrade system? You only have five things! Sure, but... that's because Remember Me's Upgrade System is actually a highlight. When Nilin levels up, she's given the opportunity to unlock assignable "pressens." It's a little bit confusing, because I actually haven't seen something like this before: Basically, Nilin has a few combos that rely on presses of the X and Y button. The combos themselves are set, but you can assign different colours (or, "pressens") to the buttons in the combat. A yellow pressen will give health, while a red pressen will do extra damage. Later, a purple pressen adds focus, which lets Nilin pull off powered-up special moves.
So, if you have a combo that's red-yellow-yellow-red-purple, you'll get a powerful hit, then a health boost, then another health boost, then another powerful hit, then a focus boost, if you pull off the combo. Here's a video of how the power-up screen works:
It's interesting, for a power-up system. I don't know how deep it gets; in my time with the game I only had two combos. But if it gets more fleshed out, it'd be a neat twist on the idea of levelling up.
5. It All Feels Familiar
From a gameplay perspective, everything in Remember Me feels quite familiar. What I played revolved almost entirely around linear platforming and melee combat. The platforming is an almost note-for-note riff on Uncharted, with Nilin hopping to pre-set points and climbing ladders and pipes like a pro. (It actually feels a bit closer to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West if you want to get specific about it, since that game was another Unreal-engine Uncharted-alike.)
This video also gives more of a sense of how the platforming works:
The combat borrows from the Arkham games, with Nilin pulling off combos and dodging incoming strikes much like Batman does in his games. While it shares those games' basic approach, I'm not sure it quite has that secret sauce that makes brawling in the Arkham games so much fun. The enemies were very simple, and I found myself spamming combos and dodging with no real artfulness or flow. Furthermore, my fights usually wound up stuck in a corner, which also inhibited the groove. It wasn't unfun or anything, but it lacked the pop of an Arkham game. Then again, it was only the first couple of hours, so most of combat was a tutorial. I had only just unlocked one of Nilin's super-moves, which I'd imagine change things up significantly.
Here's a video of the game's combat:
You can see me sorta getting whupped (and hear the annoying bad-guy dialogue), then watch me pull it out by connecting combos that recharge my health before using the super-move that lets Nilin wreak some havoc. It's neat, but it was a bit repetitive and simplistic, at least based on what I played.
Remember Me doesn't look like it's going to break out any huge innovation in terms of its main gameplay stuff, but it works well and it's perfectly fun. And like I said, the world I was exploring more than captured my attention.
On the whole, I'd describe Remember Me as Uncharted meets Arkham Asylum with a sheen of Mirror's Edge and the fictional bent of Minority Report. While some things about the game remain a question mark, notably hether the story will really pay off in a meaningful way, and whether the combat will scale and be as fun as it could be, that foundation is promising enough that I'm looking forward to seeing more.
Punch a guy for health punch the guy in his brain-stem. Remember me yet?