Remember Me: Command or a Desire?

First”: a word with gravitas. Your first steps, your first friends, your first kiss, first college year, first job, first - and hopefully last - marriage; nothing holds as much weight as that feeling of doing or experiencing something for the first time.
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 give the studio a name: Dontnod Entertainment - perhaps an homage to them being fed up with nodding in agreement to the higher-ups? 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 and more controlled companies 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 for Dontnod Entertainment their title was cancelled by Sony cancelled together with nine other titles in 2011. Their first heartbreak.

It could only have been fate though. In 2012 Dontnod Entertainment had reached out to Capcom to propose a partnership, who had just announced that it planned to expand in the West. Capcom said yes; Dontnod’s first redemption. In their new partnership Adrift took on a more focused approach, slowly going from three elements having gone adrift, to just one: technology. And eventually more specific: memory technology. This shift in direction 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 shift in direction

This new vision sees (t)Errorist Nilin explore a world where memories are open. Lovers share memories, corporations seek to control them while others seek to twist them to fit their own ends. In this world 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. But as such some concepts, like the heavily promoted puzzles where you remix a person’s memory, are barely present and never fully expanded upon. Is the combat an exception to this?

The brawls are built around a two button format with combination of buttons giving different results. Combos have a fixed length and the moves that fill these attack-combination can be customized in the Combo Lab; each attack in a string being 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: 

Power honors its name by laying the smack down while continuously attacking with this Pressen will also stun foes. Regen heals you, while Chain is a 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 Focus to use, which is gained by attacking. Once used they will need time to recharge, some taking up to 3 minutes! Cooldown Pressen reduce these, allowing you to use your stronger abilities more during a single engagement.

Combos further in the chain have stronger effects, but some foes may die before you can complete the whole chain. That 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 your own setups with a button press could have greatly benefited the combat flow.
Aside from punches and kicks, Nilin also has access to a ranged blaster that deals minor damage and an Overload ability. Just deal enough damage to an enemy in a row using Power Pressen and 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 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. Sensen DOS 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.

The menu showing the combo possibilities...

... and the combat showing the combos in action!

Experts will quickly build Nilin’s short chains around Power Pressen for the quick stuns, while the longest chains exist only out of Regen and Cooldown. Thus allowing 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, Focus management and flow. Combat is all about the 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 come in different shapes and sizes. They are generally defined by the way they should be killed instead of promoting variation. 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 are only damageable 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, only being vulnerable to 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 but the bigger problem still stands: 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 an 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 emphasis its designs. Robots are slim and attractive in their curvature, while soldiers are clean and at the same time 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 plenty 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 and you are to listen to its story and you’ll like it. 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 in one whole but are instead forever kept apart, even in boss-fights. The combat, while novel, is held back by its enemies and 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 really misses a string of identity in its gameplay. Taking place in a world where identity is fluid, it’s a shame it doesn’t have one quite of its own. So, is Remember Me their first failure? Or their first lesson?

★ opinion style ★
In this short section I switch my own style to that of an opinion and give you a little peak on what my take is on this article.

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 but the games unique animations to good use; instead falling 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.

★ wishful thinking ★
With this little section, I'll explore what small things could easily be added in a patch that would improve the game.
  • Allow players to skip all cutscenes;
  • Invisible Leapers can be hit if you avoid their attacks;
  • The Prisoner outfit from the prologue is added as an unlockable reward;
  • Killing an enemy does not reset the combo-chain;
  • You can assign preset combo-chains to the d-pad;
  • The icon of the Focus Bar is changed to a meter, making it easier to see when it is nearly filled up;
  • A battle-arena mode is added, where players can fight enemies and bosses;
  • Error 404 difficulty is added which remixes enemy layouts and increases the PMP cost to unlock new combos.

★ postscript notes ★
  • Though it isn’t set to default, it is highly recommended 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.
  • 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. 

★ sources ★