11-11: Memories Retold looks like a moving painting, there’s no other way to describe it. Made up of millions of individual paint strokes that are rendered every frame, it’s a wonderful effect and gives the game a particular and unique style. Video games more typically turn to watercolours, when taking on a painted art style, but 11-11 takes after the many quick brush strokes and oil on canvas look of impressionism.
When it works, it works remarkably well, creating the, well, impression of a scene. It’s aided by strong and colourful lighting, when there’s contrast between colours more simplistic shapes can relate to you what’s going on. The opening of Harry’s story has him photographing a woman named Julia, before being coerced into heading off to war to chronicle the glories by Major Barrett.
At the same time, the look can struggle at other times, switching from Harry to Kurt on the German side of the war, as he worked in a Zeppelin constructing factory. Here the noisiness of the airship frame’s many metal struts shimmer as they move, as the thick lines manage to look like aliasing against the golden brown sunlight streaming through the windows. It works better as still frames during this point, but when in motion, it’s less impressionist and more blown up PS1 game.
While it would certainly be better for the art to work across the board – perhaps I’m a little harsh on the game’s low points – it does make for some truly striking scenes as you inevitably head to war. Harry and Kurt both willingly sign up, but do so for very, very different reasons. Harry’s all about impressing a girl, making a name for himself, going off to war to have a jolly good time and teach those Gerries a lesson! Kurt, on the other hand, receives the more sobering news report of his son’s unit suffering major losses, deciding to sign up to try and find him on the front.
There’s certainly an emotional undercurrent as you find them on opposite sides of a mad assault on the heavily fortified German defences. Major Barrett leads the way, going one of bit of cover in the utterly obliterated no man’s land, calling on you to follow him all the way, and it’s here that the game looks by far at its best, with the pools of light in the muddy wasteland and the night’s sky being cut through by machine gun fire and explosions as artillery shells land. On the other side, Kurt is running back and forth trying to keep the German lines running smoothly, trying to fix a munitions lift, getting water for cooling and more. It’s not the most inventive or most polished gameplay, but it’s really about building an atmosphere and story.
Appropriately for the name, it feels like we’ve been here before. While there haven’t been many WWI games, that helps those that have been made stand out all the more. Battlefield 1 told a series of short stories through the war, trying to undercut them with an emotional impact, but arguably it was Valiant Hearts: The Great War that got the tone just right, mixing its sidescrolling puzzles with those meaningful stories. It’s no faint praise to say that 11-11: Memories Retold is reminiscent for me of the latter. Perhaps a bit more grounded, but reminiscent nonetheless.
Heck, there’s even sections where you get to play as animals. As Kurt and Harry come together on the battlefield, they’re isolated, they’re enemies. Kurt has a gun and you have a choice. But before you see the result of your choice, you’re transported to be a cat in the trenches, spotting a rather tasty-looking pigeon and giving chase down into the tunnels.
As Remembrance Sunday approaches, and with a release date just before on 9th November, 11-11: Memories Retold looks to be a more engaging look back at what was a devastating and wasteful folly of rival empires. With contrasting viewpoints on the conflict, it’s really brought to life by the vivid art style that’s quite literally painted before your very eyes.