It takes a lot for a video game to get me excited these days – publishers have all but given up on new IPs and we are fed a constant stream of sequels, prequels and remakes. I’ve been keeping a close eye on Remember Me since we discovered its existence – originally named Adrift and signed to Sony, and whilst never formally announced the game made a surprise appearance at gamescom last year with a new name and new publisher. Why Sony dropped the game has never been revealed but after playing Remember Me I think they have made a huge mistake.
The game stars Nilin, a memory hunter who has had her mind wiped by the sinister Memorise corporation, her former employees. Female lead characters are starting to become more common but I predict Nilin will become a fan favourite very quickly as she is one of the most believable lead characters in quite a while, quite a feat considering the game is set in the year 2084.
Leading ladies in video games are usually buxom babes, with arse cheeks out and cleavage you could ski down but Nilin has more in common with Faith from Mirror’s Edge or Tripp from Enslaved than one of the Dead Or Alive bimbos. She is lithe and athletic, has a sensible haircut and there is not a single patch of titillating flesh to be seen. She begins the game in a prison outfit, a white suit covered in straps reminiscent of a demure version of the costume worn by Leelo in The Fifth Element and after the first stage she changes into her own clothes.
I admit I that as soon as a character in a cutscene mentioned Nilin was to change outfits I did expect a minute or two of naked thighs and jaunty camera angles but no, we fade to black and in the next scene Nilin is in her new outfit. This was an opportunity for the developers, Dontnod, to pander to the small but vocal section of male gamers who want tits and arse but they didn’t, and I cannot applaud them enough for staying true to Nilin’s character and not using the plot for the cheap thrills.
I must also mention the superb voice work by Kezia Burrows, a little known Welsh actress who has brought Nilin to life. She is not a brash, loud video game character, she sounds like, well, a normal human. Nilin is also English and all other characters – and indeed signs and displays – in Neo-Paris are in the same language. One has to wonder what happened to all the French people.
Much like our heroine the game world is totally believable. If, like me, you can remember the 1980′s you can probably recall television shows that told us that by 2013 we would all be living in space and driving hover cars. That of course didn’t happen, 2013 is pretty much like 1980 except we have flat video displays and can carry our entire music collection in our pockets.
Neo-Paris 2084 looks a lot like Paris 2013 but with holographic displays and the odd flying vehicle. Houses and shops look the same as they do now, people sit and drink in pavement cafes and at one point after I had dived through an open window I found someone scrubbing the toilet. Admittedly that someone was a bright pink humanoid robot but it added to the rich, breathing landscape Dontnod have created.
There are plenty of NPC’s scattered across the city, working in shops or having a quiet coffee. Additional dialogue can be heard as you walk past them and there are video adverts and news broadcasts on large screens – some of which may relate to Nilin. One character can be heard begging for fresh memories and another was in an argument, denying that he had stolen someone else’s thoughts.
I don’t want to get certain members of staff too excited but the game world strongly reminded me of another game created in France and that game was called Flashback. Perhaps it is because they share similar plots: Flashback’s main character has had his memory wiped, or perhaps it’s because like the old Amiga classic, Remember Me has a fantastic yet realistic game world. I really can’t say why but that’s what my brain was repeating: Flashback.
My playtime began with Nilin escaping from Bastille Prison, encased in a coffin deep below the streets of the city. She is released by a group of disheveled humans who have overdosed on memories and has to fight her way out into the sunlight. As our character is a sensibly proportioned female rather than an overly muscled space ninja the fighting is acrobatic and fast and owes more than a nod to the Batman franchise. Combos can be quickly racked up and you can swap between targets and leap over attackers to string together impressive fight sequences.
Now let’s talk about combos. I am awful at combos, in fact I have never, ever managed to pull one off on purpose. I completed Capcom’s other game, DMC: Devil May Cry by bashing all the buttons as hard and fast as possible but I am immensely proud to say I managed to land some spectacular punches whilst playing this game.
This is because Remember Me has a small display at the bottom of the screen that shows how your combo is progressing and which buttons have been pressed. Of course you have to learn the combos first and this is where Remember Me brings something new to the table as you can actually make your own combos.
As you progress you earn Procedural Mastering Power (PMP) which in turn will unlock ‘Pressens’ – new moves for Nilin. By entering the Combo Lab you can then string the Pressens together and design your own combo to use within the game. It’s not just punches you can link up, there are also cool-down and health power ups that can be included in your design. Another neat touch is that the further down the combo chain you place the Pressen the more powerful it will be.
For example I created a combo that involved five button presses: The first press of X was a punch, then a press of Y peformed a kick that – if landed at correct time – also regenerated a little of Nilins health. Then the next press of X was another punch, Y again to decrease the special move cool down period then a final press of X to finish the combo.
You can change your combo setup at any time and there is plenty of scope to tweak and create moves that suit your play style, Capcom have boasted that there are over 50,000 combinations. I had to use rather a lot of health regeneration Pressens in my combos as predictably, I was rather crap.
The cool down Pressen is used to recharge a special mode called an ‘S-Pressen’, five special attacks that are unlocked as you play throughout the game. As I was playing from the beginning I only had access to one these, a rage mode which when activated removes the combos and allows you to bash away at the buttons and wipe out entire squads in seconds. This is handy for clearing out large groups of enemies but much to my surprise I found the combo combat a lot more satisfying.
Nilin spends a lot of her time clambering across Neo-Paris and as the preview videos have suggested this works very much like Uncharted’s climbing mechanic. Ledges can be clung to, walkways traversed and death defying leaps are common. Much like Naughty Dog’s masterpiece the action is peppered with events: roofs collapse and pipes bend, events to keep you on your toes and add variety to the climbing.
I’m not going to explain any of the story of the game because I think that like me, you should go into this game knowing as little as possible. Suffice to say Nilin has to climb and fight her way to a rather seedy bar known as ‘The Leaky Brain’. Here she meets up with an old friend, although as she has had her mind wiped she does not recognise him, and after the aforementioned quick change of clothes she is attacked by Olga, a character who has been hunting Nilin since she escaped Bastille Prison.
As Olga and Nilin fight our heroine reaches round to a glowing disc on Olga’s back and the screen fades out as we dive in to her memories and a cutscene begins. The details are vague at first, just a bed floating in space, no walls or floor, but as the event plays out the room becomes more detailed as Olga’s memories become clear. Through the dialogue we discover the man in the bed is her husband Daniel and he has made himself very ill from overdosing on memories. A doctor from Memorise, the company that wiped Nilin’s mind, is tending to his illness and describes how he can cure the ailments but it will be expensive. Olga, who has been watching from outside the room then sees a video message displaying the bounty on Nilin’s head, cash she can use to save her husband’s life, so she tells the Doctor “Don’t worry, I’ll get the money.”
Then the cutscene ends and then, rather topically considering what the game is about, my mind gets blown. This is not a cutscene, it’s a memory and Nilin has the power to ‘remix’ the thoughts. You can fast forward and rewind through the sequence to locate glitches and by altering these you can completely change the outcome of the scene.
It works just like moving through a video, you can traverse the memory at high speed or slow down when you’re near a glitch. Pressing X will remix the glitch and the first of these I found was a strap holding down the patient which I loosened and then let the memory play out. Nothing much had changed by the end of the memory so I rewound and found more glitches, this time I swapped the drug injected into the husband, turned on a monitor and moved a trolley full of medical implements closer to the bed.
Now the memory had changed and had a completely different outcome: the husband reacts to the new drug and becomes violent, as he is no longer strapped to the bed he can reach over to the trolley and the Doctor, now fearing for his life, terminates his patient with a laser to the head. Daniel is dead.
The game flips back to the present day and Olga is no longer intent on capturing Nilin, she has changed her character completely and now wants to aid her in taking down Memorise because, as far as she is concerned, they killed her husband. It’s a stupendously clever game mechanic and works brilliantly but it’s also such an amazingly simple idea you have to wonder why no-one has ever thought of it before.
As you may have gathered I am seriously impressed with Remember Me, bringing one new idea such as the Combo Lab to the genre would have been enough to get the game noticed but by adding the remixed memory sequences they have created a game that will really stand out.
Remember Me is packed full of new ideas and nice touches, some are big new experiences and other are little things that you may barely notice. For example when the memory sequence gets remixed the camera angles change as well, DontNod could have used the same shots but have put in the extra leg work to create something rather special.
I could waffle on about the game for days – there are so many good ideas. The memory sequence for Olga is fantastic – when was the last time you had a back story that made you empathise for the ‘bad guy’? Heavy Rain perhaps, yet again another jeu vidéo Français, there must be something in the, ahem, water.
Whilst running through an alley Nilin crashes into a bright red humanoid robot carrying a bag of shopping. A short cutscene follows as the robot apologises and asks if Nilin needs medical assistance, offering to call for help. She quickly refuses as this would alert Memorise to he location and she runs off. Why did that happen? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than show Neo-Paris is a living, breathing city where people (or robots) have to go shopping.
Why does the screen glitch when Nilin is low on health? In any other game then I would accept this as a simple visiual aid to let you know you about to kick the bucket but in Remember Me is the effect hinting at something else? Are there shades of Assassin’s Creed in the mix, is the game we are playing one huge memory?
If I had a criticism of the game it would be, rather oddly, the game-y bits. Pressing buttons to open walkways seems odd when the NPC’s are not using them and there are a couple of areas that have electrified panels that zap on and off at regular intervals. Very standard gaming tropes that would not bother me in any other title but in Neo-Paris they seem rather out of place.
I may be wrong and I really, really hope to the heavens I am not, but Remember Me could be the surprise hit of 2013.
The game is scheduled to hit the shelves in May on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC and the preview code tested was for the Xbox 360 at Capcom’s HQ, London.