Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Amnesiacs don't usually get the opportunity to load a backup brain and pick up where they left off. Turns out, even a holographic computer hard-disk brain like the ones that the citizens of Neo-Paris have don't work like that. But Remember Me's amnesiac protagonist Nilin isn't like every other citizen. She wakes up in a holding cell and follows the voice of Edge into the light, wondering who she is and what happened to her memories.
DONTNOD puts you in Nilin's combat skin in the hopes that it'll help her ignite the inherited Parisian desire to overthrow, rebel, and generally turn their city into a heap of scrap. A vivid view of futurism lies in front of Nilin, even allowing gameplay mechanics to reflect the narrative focus and purpose. Despite that fearlessness, despite Remember Me's dogged and brave stand against clichéd hyper-marketed gaming tropes, DONTNOD still falls a little short.
In the game's first minutes Nilin escapes from what appears to be an asylum, but it doesn't take long for Edge, the mysterious voice in her head, to coach her back into fighting shape. Pretty soon, Nilin's got an entire frontal-lobe's worth of special abilities. She can beat the crap out of people, overload their brains with a blast of trash data, or even remix and alter the memories of certain characters.
Remember Me's strength comes from the risks it takes. The world is vibrant, but sometimes without restraint. It rivals Rapture (whichever....) in some sequences, but others like Slum 404 drag on and on in disservice to Remember Me's ambition. It feels like padding when you head back to the Leaking Brain (an "Errorist" hang-out) or one of the many oppressive corporate environments. Still, jaunting over, under, and through a futuristic Paris, as run-down and gothic as Blade Runner's Los Angeles, is fun. And platforming is broken up by copious hand-to-hand combat.
Grunt-level "Leapers" through to elite corporate soldiers in Minority Report-style garb can all be dispatched with Nilin's fists (which I call "GLaDOS" and "Sugar Ray"). Battle after battle, new elements will be added to keep combat fresh, plus every win will earn you additional Pressens. In the Combo Lab, you can string different Pressens together in a handful of different combos. The further a Pressen is in the order, the greater effect it'll have. Place a recover Pressen at the end of an 8 hit combo and you'll earn further XP and a huge health bonus.
S-Pressens give you special abilities and crowd-clearing effects. One allows you to turn invisible and select an enemy to Overload at will. Another is a bomb that lets you dodge out of its area of effect. Better yet, these Combo Lab mechanics play off the game's narrative. Nilin recovers her most elite moves as she remembers more of the world around her
However, combat still forgets a few things. The first 4-5 hours of the game are a slog of battle after battle. Enemies quickly develop sponge armor, forcing you to hammer away with your most powerful combo. Further, equipping a specific combo can break many scenarios, as spamming becomes the best tactic.
By comparison, other combat-heavy games layer gadgets, beat-downs, and grapples with special moves and, more importantly, counters. Another recent action-game also relied on sponge-y enemies, but it featured a greater variety of moves and acrobatics. That said, this game has the combat spark, a neat customization hook, and you can't deny there's a satisfyingly frantic feeling you get from attempting a huge combo when enemies can interrupt or outright jump in front of your target. It gets old after a while, but luckily memory remixing happens more frequently in the second half of the campaign.
Certain narrative scenes allow you to access an individual's memory and alter seemingly insignificant details to change their present-day outlook. You might have seen the gameplay above when the title was revealed; I only wish it happened a lot more often. The narrative can turn sharply in these moments, and it was intriguing to see how each altered moment played out. Nilin wonders in a monologue about playing God, and that's exactly what it felt like. But what should feel like discovering Shakespeare as you write it eventually turns into lines on a chalkboard in detention.
Still, there's a lot to like in Nilin, in Neo-Paris, and in the futuristic special effects. Watching blasts of holographic data pummel an enemy, finding the correct sequence to alter everything about a core figure, and leaping from building to building can be incredibly satisfying.
While I suspect many will either doggedly reprimand or passively tolerate Remember Me, at least it tries something new. Nilin is a cross between Faith Connors and Vanessa Z. Schneider, but maybe not as fully developed as Lara Croft's turn earlier this year. I had a really good ending to this review, but… I forgot.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on X360 version. Also available on PS3 and PC.