Remember Me: Command, or a Desire?

It is 2008 and ex-staff members of companies like Ubisoft, Cryterion and Electronic Arts band together to form their own studio. A first! Excited, they name their studio: Dontnod Entertainment. A name that perhaps refers to them never nodding in agreement to the higher-ups ever again. Another first. Then comes the big question: what will their first game be? Do you play it safe, or use your newfound freedom to make something the bigger publishers don’t dare make?

They decided on Adrift, a Playstation 3 exclusive. The goal of the game? To show that developers and even publishers aren’t afraid to try out fresh ideas and concepts. The title was a nod to its premise: a world where politics, economics and even technology had gone adrift. Sadly the title, alongside nine others like The Agency, were cancelled by Sony in 2011. Dontnod’s first heartbreak.

It could only have been fate though. When Capcom announced in 2012 that they were planning to expand their business in the West, Dontnod was one of the first to apply for a partnership. Capcom said yes; Dontnod’s first redemption. In their new partnership Adrift was brought back and took on a more focused approach, slowly going from three elements having gone adrift, to just one: technology – eventually more specific: memory technology. This had the original gameplay vision go adrift as well, turning a story based title into an action-adventure title, known today as…

Remember Me

Their first real title

This new vision sees (t)Errorist Nilin explore a world where memories are open for anyone to see. Lovers share past experiences, corporations seek to control recollections while others seek to twist thoughts to fit their own ends. In this dystopia the gameplay is a mixture of exploration, climbing, sneaking, shooting, puzzle solving and fighting. Stealth sections see you sneak by the same searchlights time and again, while climbing is a matter of pressing the right direction. Instead of focusing on one core element, the game aims to constantly switch up its structure to stay fresh. However, because of this, some concepts like the heavily promoted puzzles where you edit a person’s memory are barely present and never fully expanded upon. Is the combat better implemented?

Remember Me’s brawls are built around a two button format with combinations of buttons giving different results. Combos have a fixed length and the moves that fill these strings can be customized in the menu. Each attack in a string is called a Pressen. In a neat trick all moves have the same animation length, meaning you can play more into how they look and where you want to place them in the combo-chain.

Pressen come in four forms:

Remember Me Pressen

Power honors its name by laying the smack down. Regen heals you, while Chain is an enhanced copy of the attribute from the previous attack in the combo-chain. Cooldown is different however. In Remember Me there are special attacks called “S-Pressen” that require a meter called Focus to use, which is filled by attacking. Once used they will need time to recharge, some taking upwards to 3 minutes. Cooldown Pressen reduce these, allowing you to use your stronger abilities more often during a single engagement.

Combos placed further in the chain have stronger effects, but some foes may die before you can complete the whole chain. A nine hit Power combo ending with a Chain sounds fancy, but don’t expect to see it play out often. Completing the longer combo-chains rewards you with Procedural Mastering Power (PMP) which can be used to buy new attacks, urging players to use the longer combos.

How you lay out your attacks is a balancing act and a big focus of the game, only held back by long load times and menu-animations making switching setups in the Combo Lab a chore. You also cannot save combo-chains that you like. Being able to switch between a library of your own setups with a button press could have greatly benefited the combat flow.

Aside from these punches and kicks, Nilin also has access to a ranged blaster that deals minor damage and an Overload ability; if you deal enough damage to an enemy in a row using Power Pressen,you’ll be rewarded with a cinematic kill with a little PMP as an added bonus.

Lastly there are the special S-Pressen as mentioned before which come in various forms, each unlocked as the game progresses. Some like “Sensen Fury” are more in line with what we’re used to: a nice buff that makes you faster and stronger while replacing all your attacks with a generic attack chain. Others are more specific like “Sensen DOS” which stuns everyone, while “Sensen RIP” allows you to control enemy robots until they die. Using the right S-Pressen at the right time and managing the Focus and Cooldowns surrounding it is what separates the rank and file Remember Me players.

Experts will quickly build Nilin’s short chains around Power Pressen for the quick stuns, while the longest chains consist only of Regen and Cooldown. This allows them to continuously use the longer combo-chains for extra PMP without killing their enemies, while keeping their Focus and Health maxed out. Once their S-Pressen are available they unleash them for a quick finish only to quickly get them back thanks to their long Cooldown chains.

If an opponent dares to attack, you can time your dodge correctly to keep your chain going. Strangely, killing a foe breaks the chain and resets it – essentially punishing you for killing a foe. Ironic. Nevertheless there is a great emphasis on style while still retaining layers of depth in spacing, meter management and combat flow. The fights are all about rhythm, constantly being on the move and using your S-Pressen at the perfect time. When you get into this flow it can be magical but at times you’ll also wish that attacks had more differences to them than just their stats and that the Combo Lab would allow for more experimentation in how the combat played out.

The enemies that dance with you on this rhythmic beat don’t promote variation. They are generally defined by the way they should be killed. Regular Soldiers and Leapers are food for your combos while flying Robots need to be shot out of the sky or destroyed using Sensen RIP. Certain bosses like Zorn can only be damaged by your ranged attacks, making it a very monotonous fight. Other enemies like the Invisible Leapers can only be fought if they are exposed by environmental lights or the Sensen DOS. With later fights lacking the lights, expect yourself running around in circles waiting for that 180 second cooldown to tick away. Some enemies will also employ shields that are only vulnerable to the Sensen Logic Bomb, while others cover their suits in an electrical current making them deal damage to you if you hurt them (even from afar) forcing you to kill them using Regen Pressen.

As mentioned before, the magic of Remember Me’s combat comes from the rhythm. Being on the move and timing that perfect S-Pressen. Yet the enemies don’t compliment this, especially on a first playthrough. The game constantly tries to break its rhythm with invisible enemies, electrical foes and shielded soldiers, grinding the game to a halt. Later playthroughs alleviate this problem somewhat as you can predict what resources you’ll need later-on in the fights. The bigger problem still stands however: Remember Me’s enemies aren’t just a threat to Nilin, but to the game at large.

Despite their annoying nature, the enemy’s designs are striking, as is the world they inhabit. Based on a mix of a utopian and dystopian vision of Paris – dubbed Neo Paris – the game uses large contrasting colors such as neon green, warm shades of yellow and full whites to emphasize its designs. Robots are slim and attractive in their curvature, while soldiers are clean yet menacing in their bulky posture. The music does a great job too, mixing classical tunes with distortions and audio-glitches inside of it to exhume a feel that is almost Neo Classical.

Main character Nilin herself combines all these elements together with a stark contrast in her white shirt, mixed skin color and menacing look. Designing a female character is always difficult, forever walking the thin line between unattractive design and oversexualized appeal. The goal, according to game director Moris, was to “avoid the pitfalls of making her just a damsel in distress or a sex bomb”. This struggle shows in her design. Her top clothing is a spin on a jacket with some futuristic flaps that doesn’t reveal much skin while her skintight jeans leave little to the imagination, a firm balance: their first protagonist stands tall.

This is even more commendable when knowing just how contested Nilin’s gender was at the time of production. When looking for publishers in 2011 many backed off at the notion of a female protagonist, citing it wouldn’t sell. Yet Dontnod held its ground. They wanted Nilin to be female as the vision of Remember Me revolved around words such as emotion, intimacy and identity – feeling a woman would fit those themes better.

Once her adventure through the game’s around 10 hour campaign is finished, Remember Me offers a New Game Plus feature that allows you to finish up any loose ends. Sadly there are no extra costumes or unlockable difficulty-settings that change up the gameplay. Add unskippable cutscenes into the mix and Remember Me isn’t a game you’ll often re-visit. 

In the end, Remember Me is a game about context. You don’t shoot if the game doesn’t want you to, you can’t attack if it doesn’t want you to. You are to listen to its story. Like the dystopia it tries to emulate, it is controlling. It’s further held back by a desire to mix up the gameplay: Memory Remix puzzles, platforming, stealth and combat never come together as one whole but are instead forever kept apart, even in boss-fights. The combat, while novel, is held back by its enemies. It tries to stick too close to what we’re familiar with instead of building the Combo Lab into something masterful. Remember Me has a unique presence, but considering it takes place in a world where identity is fluid, it would’ve been better if it had a more singular direction in mind. So, is Remember Me their first failure? Or their first lesson?

Remember Me Poster

鑒 reflection style 鑒

In this short section I reflect on the article from my own viewpoints as a gamer and lover of the genre instead of a critic.

Remember Me is a game you generally don’t buy. Short, no replay value, unskippable cutscenes: it reeks of a game you’ll play once and then throw away, forever to be forgotten. Originally I took a peek inside the game using less than savory methods and beat it, only to buy it years later for a bargain price. The game still impresses me with its sense of style, both in terms of art and music. Songs like “The Enforcers” and “Our Parents” are tunes I often listen to when looking for inspiration or just background music.

Yet in terms of its gameplay all I see is wasted potential. The Combo Lab is a neat streamlined spin on what God Hand offered in terms of customization, but fails to put the games unique animations to good use. Instead it falls back on a simpler version of Batman: Arkham Asylum’s dodge and punish combat. Remember Me isn’t a game I’ll personally recommend to people, but I’m still glad I own it. Maybe I’ll play it again in a few decades when it will feel fresh again.

斬 postscript notes 斬

  • Though it isn’t set to it by default, it is highly recommended that you play the game using the French voice acting. Not only is the quality better, it just fits the world so much more;
  • It was incredibly hard not to fill the article with puns on memory. I purposely didn’t make any comment on it being ‘forgettable’;
  • The game is swarming with DLC that gives you attacks based on famous Capcom games. These moves are generally overpowered and you’re better off avoiding them;
  • Dontnod Entertainment has said that, despite the game’s strong sales of 1 million units, they don’t intend to revisit the title. Instead they aim to “reinvent themselves with every game”. Both to keep their staff, but also their fans, motivated;
  • When added to Playstation Plus, it accumulated nearly 1 million extra players; becoming the second most downloaded PS Plus title in Europe. Considering the game’s reputation of low replay value and short story, it is understandable that many players dove in to see what it was all about when part of a subscription;
  • While the Playstation 3’s successor was around the corner when Remember Me was developed, and would have been launched when the game was out, the end cycle of a console is considered to be favorable publishing grounds as you’ve got the highest install base looking for one last hoorah;
  • Composer Olivier Deriviere won the 2013 award for Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media by the INTERNATIONAL FILM MUSIC CRITICS ASSOCIATION with Remember Me’s soundtrack – well deserved;
  • Being an Errorist, Nilin alters memories of people to have them commit suicide or turn them into a vegetable, all to serve her goals. Not the type of deeds one would expect from a hero. The game at times hand waves these away to promote her as a hero fighting the good fight, but it is interesting to play a game that portrays its hero in such a dark shade at times. Not a first, but noteworthy nonetheless;

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