Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Remember Me

I almost just put "Remember Me" there as the title, but then realized that if people didn't know straight off that this was a review, I might get a lot of really worried people clicking the title wondering if I was okay.

By all rights, this should be one of my favorite games this year.  It might make its way onto my top ten just because I think it deserves more attention than it has received.  It has multiple moments where I'm left going "wow," it has an interesting and engaging world that I want to know more about, characters who, while perhaps a bit flat, have some things about them that are truly unique, and there are ideas tossed everywhere that engage my somewhat underutilized sense of awe these days.'s not.  There's a good chance it won't make my top ten list, and if I had to break it down as to why, it'd be...I don't know why.

For every complaint I can come up with about the game, my brain manages to squash it with something that sounds like reason to the point where I have difficulty arguing with it.

"The combat scenes are predictable and boring after a while!"   "Name one game where fighting the same characters over and over again doesn't get monotonous after a while.  At least this game tries to mix up the types a bit to make you change strategies."

"The story is ridiculous!"  "You loved Saints Row 4, which is about the President fighting alien invaders in the Matrix.  And Kinzie."

"It's just a lot of platforming and jumping around!"  "Yes, but unlike games like Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and so many other games that expect me to just magically figure out which pieces of background I can interact with, this game actually has a small icon pop up indicating "hey, this is usable.""

Okay, let's start at the beginning.

Remember Me is a game about a young woman named Nilin who, if I can be quite honest (and also a total "guy"), has one of the best designed posteriors to ever wear a set of jeans.

Don't believe me?  Look at the cover art.

And it's not just there.  If you'll indulge me a moment, the game likes to make it a point to position the camera to where you get a good look at her from behind.

Seriously, it happens a lot.

And I mean a lot. doesn't feel exploitative.  Having played several Tomb Raider games, I can state beyond certainty that while my attention might have been distracted a couple of times, there's enough meat in the game that a little bit of detail work quickly gets swept away by all the other details in the game.

In the year 2085, mankind has reached a bit of a technical pinnacle.  It now has the ability to extract, manipulate, and implant memories (why yes, this did come out after Inception, how did you know?) in other people.  A simple implant allows people to upload their memories online to share with others (and even let other people experience, I guess, giving us a lot more shades of the movie Strange Days than Inception).  If someone has a traumatic break-up, a childhood trauma, or simply just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, they can have those memories extracted, allowing them to simply focus on the positives in life.

A small group of rebels against the giant "megacorporation" that invented the technology fight against how it's managed to essentially take control of "Neo-Paris" without much struggle.  They control the police, the wealth, and all of the political power through the mental implants.  There's also a class of people who are "mutated" by the mental implants, going insane and scurrying around in the shadows, attacking innocent people and threatening to pull the city down into the murk.

Nilin is, and no I didn't misspell this, an "Errorist" agent.  In the midst of having her memories wiped after being captured, she is able to break free with the help of "Edge," an Errorist agent who's able to direct her around and tell her who she needs to fight.

To me, that plot has about ten different things that immediately grab my attention and want me to know more.  It reminds me a lot of Shadowrun, one of my favorite tabletop game worlds of all time, where business replaces politics and the corporations run everything.  I love the idea of memory-alteration, of technology that becomes twisted in the people who aren't able to interact with it properly, and even some of the social issues like that convicted criminals have their entire memories erased while they serve their sentence, then returned to them once they're set free.

There's a lot of meat in this dish.

Combat is interesting because the game sets up "combos" for you to use, series of button presses that allow Nilin to deliver a set of punches and kicks to best combat the forces of ... evil, I guess?  She's also able to attach "pressens" to each button, doing anything from extra damage, healing, or reducing how long she has to wait to use certain "special" moves that turn the tide in combat quickly.  The later you put the "pressen" in the combo, the more useful it is and the more effect it has.  Getting to that point in the combo, though, is another matter entirely.

I tend to hate customizable battle systems where I have to do things like "enchant this sword with that spell, equip this shield for this bonus against this monster type, and don't forget to not wear those boots because they clash with the belt you need to get protection from rabid badgers or something."  Boooo-ring.

However, the combat system in Remember Me, while a little clumsy at times, keeps it interesting.  Certain foes damage you when you punch them, so you can just pop into a side menu, attach healing abilities to every single button press, and punch away to your heart's content.  You can deliver punishing blows early in your combo and then fill the rest with the buttons that reduce wait time for special attacks.  Whatever you want to do and however you want to play, the game seems willing to accommodate as long as "punching and kicking" is still involved.

Another neat fact is that in most games, if you have to dodge, your combo is broken and you have to start all over.  If you're setting up an eight-hit combo on some poor security guard when you realize one of his buddies is about to use a taser on you from behind, you can dodge by vaulting over the guard in front of you and then resuming the combo from behind him.  That's great, and it really helped make the game flow better for me.

Now, let's discuss the gimmick.  Every game has one.  God of War brought back Quicktime events, something I still haven't forgiven it for.  Just Cause 2 had a grappling hook and unlimited parachutes to use to fling yourself bodily across a giant island.  This game has the ability to enter peoples' memories and fiddle around with them, changing details here and there that completely alter how the memory plays out, thus changing how the person remembers an important event, thus changing their mind (literally) on major points of their personality.

Now, to be fair, from the get-go I was left feeling like this was kind of...well, evil to do.  A very early use is against a bounty hunter hired to bring you in.  Once you beat her in combat, you're able to access a memory she has of her husband receiving treatment in a hospital bed while she accepts the job that will pay for his treatment.  In your fiddling around with things like knocking over books, hitting switches, and repeating the "bed goes up, bed goes down" scene from The Simpsons, you can change things so that she believes the hospital killed her husband by severely screwing up his treatment.  Once you jump out, her personality is completely changed, and she agrees to help you by attacking the corporation that took her loved one away.

I sat there for five minutes going ", she is going to be upset, angry, and confused when she realizes her husband is still alive.  That is, if the corporation doesn't just kill her for attacking them.  ...which means the husband gets no more medical treatment and I really need to stop thinking about this, or the only justifiable action my character will have is to sit down and wait for the police to show up."

However, the game actually does address this in-game, leaving Nilin extremely conflicted about whether the directions she's receiving from "Edge" are really in the best interest of the people, or whether she's doing more harm than good (slight spoiler alert, but flooding the city so that thousands and thousands of people are left homeless...probably not a big heroic act).

The game is visually gorgeous, with crisp and clean graphics that rival some of the best I've seen on any system.  The city feels like it's constantly building upon itself, allowing those with the ability and the money to continue rising up in society while those without are...well, they're not left with nothing, they're just not left with much.

Simple little things like holographic signs that flicker to life because you see them through the advances in technology (imagine Google Glass if there weren't any glasses, and simply walking up to a restaurant would make the menu pop up in your vision), pigeons that fly between buildings at nice background moments, and the signs and writing used give things an amazing amount of depth and attention.  I spent a lot of time just wandering around, looking at things, seeing what popped up in my field of view as I got closer.

There's also a nice little bit between stages, but it took me a while to figure it out.  You see various different "Nilins" in something out of an M. C. Escher painting.  One's huddled in a ball rocking back and forth, one is pacing angrily, one is standing lost in thought...and as each chapter begins, you realize you're seeing things from one of the Nilins you saw before, each one being a different aspect of her reacting to everything going on in her life.

With an interesting morality struggle, advanced uses in technology that I haven't seen outside of outer space operas, an interesting hook to get you into the plot, and all the other stuff I mentioned above...I really should be recommending this game with everything I have.  But...I can't.

It reminds me of the original Assassin's Creed.  A game with a really unique hook and style, but while people acknowledged how different it was from every other game out there, many people complained that it was the "same old, same old" every mission and that it got boring.  Jump ahead a few years, and the Assassin's Creed series has stayed (mostly?) true to what hooked you in before, but now it has everything from the Renaissance, pirates, and the American Revolution.

Remember Me could be the next Assassin's Creed, if the developers just take what worked well, fine-tune it, and let the game build further off of that.  Explore the memory altering abilities to bring them into play more often.  Keep the combo building, because I really can't think of where I last saw anything like that.  Mystic Heroes, maybe?

The game is a good game.  I've had a lot  of fun playing it, and I think most people would find something to enjoy.  It's whether it works for everybody as a whole that I can't really answer.  But still, try it.  It's pretty cheap right now.

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