the artistry and psychology of gaming


Remember Me

Remember Me

Review in Brief
Game: A third-person action-adventure brawler set in a dystopic 2084 Paris addicted to saving and modifying human memories.
Good: Very interesting core mechanic; well-written female protagonist.
Bad: Horribly broken combat system; generally purposeless gameplay design; tragically underused core mechanic; meandering storyline.
Verdict: Generally weak and amateurish in every way, even if justifiably so.
Rating: 4/10 – “Poor – Game is unremarkable and flawed”
Recommendation: Not worth playing, for anyone.

“One interesting trick, underused in an amateur mess of a game.”

Remember Me is the first game by new developer Dontnod. The game went through a bit of development hell; first announced in 2008, its contract was later cancelled by Sony, only for the intellectual property to be purchased up by Capcom for a cross-platform release five years after the game was first teased. Unfortunately, the result is exactly what you would expect from those circumstances: an amateurish game with one good idea characterized by several glaring, rookie flaws and a structure that reeks of several iterations of design revision long after implementation began.

If you go to any programming or game design forum on the Internet, you’re sure to stumble across a non-programmer who has a “great idea” for a game and just needs someone else to do all that little coding stuff. In many ways, Remember Me comes across like that: it has a great central idea, but its implementation of that central idea is very lackluster, and the lack of polish elsewhere in the game completely destroys what little appeal it might have had. But it’s Dontnod’s first game; hopefully, they’ll take the lessons they learned here and, coupled with a more durable contract, create a better game next time. They have the potential to do so, but in the case of Remember Me, the execution is way off.

The Game
In Remember Me, you take the role of Nilin, a memory hunter in Neo-Paris, 2084. In this futuristic culture, a company called Memorize has invented a device to let people digitize, upload, and download memories for future retrieval, sharing, or deletion. Unfortunately, as their technology became ubiquitous and literally everyone bought one, flaws were revealed: consistent usage of the device left people without memories or personalities of their own, unable to remember without the device. Nilin is a member of the resistance force, the Errorists, aiming to take down Memorize and undo the damage they have done to so many minds.

In terms of gameplay, Remember Me is an action-adventure brawler with some platformer elements. It would not be disingenuous to describe it as Uncharted without guns in style (though not in quality). Combat is conducted brawler-style with four customizable combos at your disposal as well as five special abilities that can be triggered with limited frequency. Fights put you up against a variety of enemies, most similarly melee-oriented, and almost always several-vs.-one. Fighting earns “PMP”, the game’s version of experience points, which unlocks longer combos and new attacks to put into them.

The Good
Although Remember Me is a decidedly amateurish game with several glaring flaws, it does have its moments. The world the game creates is indeed interesting, although a little too filled with holes to be truly praised. The combat system, although deeply flawed, has some satisfying moments to it and a little bit of strategic depth. The game has a great auto-save frequency that effectively removes the penalty of death, which is good considering how often the game puts the player in situations where they are sure to die the first time. However, overall, the game only has two truly remarkable positive elements.

Interesting Core Mechanic
Remember Me revolves around the broad idea of memory management. You, as a memory hunter, are able to steal others’ memories and, in certain instances, even change (or “remix”) others’ memories in order to change their behaviors going forward. This memory “remixing” was likely the cornerstone of the game’s marketing campaign, and truly is very interesting. In this mode, the player can enter into a person’s memory and play it back, then rewind it and modify it by changing little details about it, such as whether or not a seatbelt was buckled or whether or not the safety on a gun was on. After making these changes, the player can play the memory back to see if the final result has changed. The number of possibilities is finite, of course, but is still well-implemented; the designers actively anticipated several different possible end points for each instance of memory remixing rather than a narrow non-branching path, and the game provides enough of these options that it does not feel like you are simply trying to trigger the ones that the game wants you to pick. The interface could be done a little bit better, but overall, it’s an excellent, well-designed, unique feature.

The memory gimmick extends beyond just that mechanic, however. Memory is used at the core of nearly every element of the game. In some places, you steal others’ memories so that you can replay some of their actions and recreate their paths. Battle elements, too, are motivated by the underlying memory gimmick, even if the battle result is effectively the same as any other brawler. And, of course, the entire plot centers around these memory elements. The central gimmick and selling point is used appropriately, so at least the game really did have a good idea going for it.

Good Female Protagonist
The other main strength of Remember Me is that it has a female protagonist who is very, very well-implemented. The reason I call special attention to this is because, allegedly, several publishers expressed doubt over the game’s prospects because of the female protagonist, and because Remember Me is released in relatively close proximity to a few other high-profile games featuring women in the main roles, including Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Unlike many of the other similar games out there, though, Remember Me implements the female protagonist very effectively, mostly by making you forget that she’s female altogether. Whereas other games that feature females in the lead role go to great lengths to leverage and utilize gender stereotypes, such as Lara Croft’s initial fearfulness or Juliet Starling’s over-the-top cheerleader persona, Remember Me makes no such attempts. No element of the plot is reliant on the protagonist being a girl. Nilin opens the game kicking ass and concludes it that way, and the only psychological development that takes place is deep and earnest enough that it would apply to either gender equally. There is no love interest, there is no overt sexualization or innuendo, and there is no hedging based on her gender. Remember Me is a great example of a female protagonist in gaming because the game gains nothing from Nilin being a female: it simply makes her female because it felt better to the creators.

The Bad
Just as Remember Me had a few good features that weren’t worth discussing at length, so also it has some bad elements that pale in comparison to the messier portions of the game. The world is thematically interesting, but internally inconsistent and “gamey”, with ladders to nowhere and long linear passageways that scream “game” instead of “world”. The graphics, too, have suffered from the long development time, resembling something from 2008 more than 2013. Those things, however, are insignificant compared to the game’s major flaws.

Horrible, Horrible Combat
The core of the gameplay in Remember Me is the combat, and it’s awful in many, many different ways. It reeks in every way of a studio’s first attempts at developing a brawler combat system, and they apparently had very little appreciation for what makes such combat systems good and what makes them bad. This is not to say that they made obvious, careless mistakes, but rather that they made basic mistakes. These are things that you might not think of automatically when creating such a system, but that you figure out very, very early because of how significant and game-breaking they can be.

First and foremost, there’s the camera. The camera in Remember Me is an enormous problem during battle. It isn’t as bad as some games, but it suffers from two very significant flaws. First, thanks in part to the construction of some of the areas (but more to faulty camera design), the camera has an incredibly nasty habit of letting things cross between you and the action. Whether they be trees, doors, or other decorations, there are definitely common instances where you find yourself unable to see what is going on. That’s especially problematic considering the enemies do not spend very long telegraphing their attacks, there are often several enemies at once, and one hit can make a pretty big impact on the battle. A well-designed camera would intelligently hide environmental pieces when they fall between the player character and the screen.

The second problem with the camera, though, is even more egregious. Remember Me is a brawler that typically puts you in the middle of an arena with several enemies, and yet the camera has no ability to lock onto a certain enemy. The camera stays stationary all the time unless you move it manually. If you’ve played many brawlers, you can imagine how unbelievably frustrating that can be. Half the time in battle is spent wrestling with the camera and Nilin’s position to try to get a good perspective on the battle at hand rather than actually fighting. My wife, who watches me play most games, commented that it seemed like the entire time in battle I was running away because that was the only way to get the camera in a halfway decent place to see the action. And to make matters even worse, a lock-on feature was implemented: it just can only be used while you’re using the “spammer”, the game’s weak gun. So, the technology is there, there is just no way to use it when you need it most.

The lack of a lock-on feature is awful from a camera point of view, but it is even worse in terms of the battle itself. A lack of lock-on means there is nearly no way to predict or control which enemy you are going to attack. That’s a problem for several reasons. First of all, combos seem to only carry through when you’re consistently attacking the same enemy (I could be wrong about that, but I cannot recall an instance of the contrary), so the fact that the game will randomly decide to switch your attack target to another enemy can have devastating effects on your attempts to chain together powerful combos. Secondly, different enemies react differently to different attacks. Some enemies will damage you unless you attack with a certain kind of attack, but that kind of attack is weak to the point of uselessness against other enemies. If one enemy of each of these types is standing side-by-side, there is no way to intentionally target one with the right kind of attack. Instead, what you end up doing is running around and around until one of the types of enemies is far enough away from the rest that you can attack knowing which enemy you’re hitting.

The difficulty with combos does not end there, though. The bread and butter of the game’s battle system is the ability to string together combos that have different effects, either doing damage, restoring your health, or reducing the time until you can use one of your special abilities. The longer your combo, the more damage you do or more health you heal. However, the game goes to such great lengths to make long combos difficult to execute that it effectively just makes them impossible. Every battle starts out as a one-vs.-many battle, and any enemy can attack you at any time. The only way to avoid an attack is to dodge, and while technically you can continue your combo after dodging, in practice doing so is nearly impossible. Part of this is because, as I suspected above, combos must be continued on the same enemy, and after dodging it is almost impossible to ensure you are still attacking the same enemy. Part of this is because enemies attack you so often that if you are anywhere near a group, you have to operate on a two-to-one ratio of dodges to attacks, making a combo impossible. Part of this is because the game also includes enemies that can teleport or hurl projectiles, meaning that even when you think you’re far enough away and safe, you still have to constantly dodge. This, too, leads to the behavior I mentioned above: you end up just running away until you can lure one enemy into the open to execute a combo before another enemy can get an attack off. It’s clear that’s not the strategy the game was going for, but ultimately it’s really the only one that works; if you actually acquiesce to combat in a crowd, you just end up dodging over and over until you can get a weak one-button attack in.

This reflects, in my opinion, the amateur nature of the developers. Seasoned developers understand that one-vs.-many crowd-based combat needs a layer of abstraction between the basic engine and the gameplay. In Assassin’s Creed, this is enemies knowing to circle around and take turns attacking. In that game it makes it almost comically easy, of course, but there is a middle ground where the game understands the restrictions and challenges of crowd-based combat and creates a fair challenge within them. In Remember Me, there is no such intermediate layer. All enemies attack the same one-on-one as they do in a group, meaning attacks come so frequently that it is nearly impossible to get into any kind of rhythm with the battle system.

In few places did this ever become more clearly distilled and aggravating than in one battle late in the game. During this battle, you fight two strong enemies who can teleport around, and who summon weaker enemies to fight you (and continue to summon them again as you defeat them). The only way to attack the teleporting enemies is to use a certain power-up, a power-up which has a 2+-minute cool-down time and to which several of the weaker enemies are immune. So, you are in a room with the two teleporting enemies, several weaker enemies, half of whom are immune to this power-up. You need to, preferably, get rid of the immune enemies before using the power-up so that when you use it, you can attack the teleporting enemies nonstop. However, there is no way to target the immune enemies, and if you defeat too many enemies total, the teleporting enemies summon more. Not only do you have to keep attacking, but you have to keep running around to try to lure out the immune enemies alone. The teleporting enemies can also teleport nearly instantly and attack, making them essentially impossible to dodge if you don’t just dodge around the room constantly, thus making it difficult or impossible to actually attack those immune enemies. With two teleporting enemies on the field, their attacks come less than every five seconds, removing any chance of getting off a long combo – the type of combo that would restore your health, which you desperately need since it only takes 4 or 5 hits from the teleporting enemies to die. The entire battle cannot be described as anything but frustrating: it is not challenging because there is not an ideal strategy that one can pull off, it is just frustrating because the only way to win the battle involves stupid, tedious tactics that completely break and semblance of flow within the game. And that battle did not even have any enemies spamming projectiles from off-screen that are telegraphed for approximately a half-second before hitting you and stopping your combo (and for which successfully dodging stops your combo anyway).

The game has five built-in power-ups with different effects: one lets you turn a robotic enemy to your own side; one super-powers your attacks for a limited period of time; one lets you turn invisible and insta-kill one eligible enemy; one temporarily paralyzes all enemies (including teleporting ones, the only way to defeat them); and one bombs all enemies in a certain radius. However, in many battles, the gist of the battle seems just to be to hold out until you can use the power-up that you want to use again. Using them requires you to wait for the power-up to cool down (usually over two minutes, though that can be shortened with certain attacks) as well as charge up enough “focus” power by executing regular attacks. Sometimes it almost feels like the normal battle system is just a way of charging up and biding time until you execute these attacks, but the core of the fighting system should not be these limited power-ups.

Overall, the battle system is just a disaster, filled with an abundance of rookie mistakes and amateur miscalculations. Worse, the battle system really does make up 80% of the gameplay. The aforementioned memory remixing is neat, but barely comes up, and the rest of the game is spent on artificial platformer sections and mundane door “puzzles”. This not to say that the battle system does not have its moments, but overall it is a sloppy, amateurish, nearly unplayable mess.

Purposeless Gameplay Design
Outside of the battle system, the best way to describe the rest of the gameplay is purposeless. By ‘purposeless’, what I mean is that while the developers put in many features you would find in many other games, they somehow forgot that other games include these features with reason and purpose, not simply to arbitrarily pad out the gameplay time.

The first place this is readily apparent is the platformer sections. Generally, between every battle, there is a long platformer section that sees Nilin crawling around rafters, rooftops, ladders, pipes, and whatever else is in the environment to get to the next destination. It is not unlike the platformer sections in Uncharted or other games, but the problem is that in Remember Me, they never feel necessary. In Uncharted, they feel like real obstacles that Nathan Drake would encounter over the course of the plot as it is written; they feel necessary, purposeful, and deliberately designed. In Remember Me, however, all of these sections are effectively the same, and all seem to serve no purpose other than to put some time between the battles. Without them, the game would be pretty short, but they just feel like arbitrary hurdles on the way to completion. There is no challenge, there is no flow, there is no real thought process; it’s an elongated game of “follow the waypoint” as the next step in the platforming process is always marked by a little yellow arrow. It’s as if the developers looked at other games and said, “Oh, so we need platformer sections” without stopping to ask themselves why those platformer sections were there in other franchises.

In some ways, the fights in the game are similarly artificial. In Uncharted, for example (my ongoing comparison since Remember Me‘s linearity is most similar to that of the Uncharted series), the battles are actually motivated by some element of the story. Sometimes you come across an enemy fortress, sometimes you do something that draws the enemy’s attention, or sometimes the enemy just catches up to you; there is always a story explanation for the battle. In Remember Me, the battles come out of absolute nowhere; with only a couple exceptions, you enter a big open area and suddenly enemies pop out. It becomes almost predictably formulaic; as soon as the path stops being a narrow hallway, you know some enemies are going to come out, and later in the game you know there will always be two waves. It’s again like the developers looked at other games and said, “Alright, battles between the platformer sections, got it”, again without asking themselves why those battles were taking place. They don’t seem to have an understanding of the interplay that is supposed to exist between the gameplay and the story, so instead the gameplay sequences – both battle sequences and platformer sequences – tend to feel just like artificial padding between plot points.

I could go on and on about this. Throughout the game, Nilin will randomly get a new power-up with no real explanation given for why she received them and when (except that, of course, the power-up always arrives right at the start of a battle that really benefits from it). There are, of course, random quick time events at the end of each boss battle, for seemingly no reason except that the developers wanted more than just a cool-looking finishing animation (which, incidentally, they still have, but you’re too busy watching for a button command to pop up to watch them). The level-up system is pretty stereotypical, with experience points leading to level-ups that unlock new abilities.

Aside from the significant swaths of the game that seem to be the completion of a checklist of what modern games are supposed to have (again, with little understanding of why those things are good to have), there are also a couple external indicators of the game’s design flaws. None of them are more apparent than a frequent pop-up during boss battles; during most boss battles, after a few minutes of toiling unsuccessfully, the game will pop up a little message that says, “Try this power-up to defeat this boss!” Typically, these messages are so unexpected and strange that the player could really not have been expected to discover that solution on their own. The game’s design is so poor in these places that it has to tell the player how to win battles. Good games let the game’s context and design make weak spots clear to the player, but Remember Me misses that mark and does not seem to have any qualms about it.

Tragically Underused Core Mechanic
This criticism is short, but dramatic. I mentioned that the only good gameplay feature in the game is the core mechanic of “remixing” other people’s memories. It’s a really cool, well-implemented series that I really enjoyed using… occasionally. In the entire game, though, remixing memories only comes up four times in extremely plot-specific places. There are only four memories to remix, representing maybe 5% of the overall gameplay time of the game. The core mechanic of a game should not command less than 10% of the game’s screen time, yet in Remember Me, it does. It’s like if Portal only had you use one portal per level, or if Super Mario Kart was just a quick race between worlds of a Mario platformer. It’s tragically underused, which is sad because it’s interesting, well-executed, innovative, and the only thing that really had the potential to set the game’s gameplay apart.

Meandering, Hole-Filled Plot
The plot of Remember Me isn’t awful, but it has enough problems to warrant mention in this overall section of criticisms. Of course, I can’t discuss it at length without spoiling things, but suffice to say the plot generally has a major problem with meandering. To its credit, it sets up a good justification for the early exposition, but it lacks an overall plot arc. There are nine total “missions”, and each mission seems to have its own internal plot motivation that only loosely ties to some abstract, vague semblance of a higher-level plot arc that ultimately barely equates to more than “take down the enemy”.

That is not to say that the game does not try. It does its best to achieve some form of character development and plot intrigue, but it ultimately does not do very well. The only major character development occurs in lengthy monologues between the missions, a lazy way to go about character exposition. It does feature several twists, at least one of which really is impactful, but broadly once the initial reaction to the twists fades, the questions that they leave behind are far more resilient. The plot is riddled with holes throughout, several that get big enough that they actually detract from the story as a whole rather than just annoying the detail-oriented gamers among us. Perhaps even more sadly, some of these plot holes are not direct contradictions, but rather just massive portions of the story that really needed to be revealed in order to create a satisfying conclusion.

The Verdict
Remember Me is Dontnod’s first release, and considering their inexperience and the development hell that went with the project, it is actually quite an admirable release. However, those major caveats do nothing to actually improve the quality of the game. If a group of kindergarteners managed to reprogram a version of Pong, that would be quite an achievement, but that does not mean I’d rush out to recommend that anyone play it.

Separate and apart from the context in which it was created, Remember Me is a disappointing failure. Its only main distinguishing gimmick, while still incredibly well-implemented, is used so rarely that it barely contributes anything to the gameplay or story. Its core gameplay is riddled with basic, amateur mistakes that cripple any enjoyment it could have provided. Oftentimes, it plays like a checklist of every stereotypical gaming feature, such as platformer sections and random interspersed battles, without a true understanding for the reason why other games include these things in the first place. It lacks any real unity between the gameplay and the plot, and the structure of the game just feels like a series of artificial hurdles between plot points.

All of these things are characteristic of the types of mistakes that an amateur development studio would make. Remember Me had some strong ideas at its core, and with this experience under their belt and (hopefully) a more solid development contract, Dontnod could create a truly special game in this franchise. Sadly, Remember Me is not that game.

My Recommendation
Pass on it, it’s not really worth playing for anyone.

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