While there’s often parallels drawn between cinema and video games for their storytelling, character work, and the use of violence and sexuality to appeal to consumers, one of the things that hasn’t really translated across is the concept of a “good-bad” movie. The closest we get is in the horror genre, where games like Until Dawn and Five Nights at Freddie’s embrace the often schlocky and silly nature of horror, but for the rest of the industry? Games are either good or bad, with little room for anything in between.
Bright Memory is a good-bad game.
You might know the game’s title from the appearance of the successor, Bright Memory Infinite, in the first Xbox Series X showcase. Coming from solo Chinese developer Zeng “FYQD” Xiancheng, it grabbed attention with its cutting edge graphics, stylish looking combat and the mystique of a game that many console gamers would never have heard of.
With Bright Memory Infinite expected for release in 2021, publisher Playism are hoping to capture some of that interest with a port of the original Bright Memory from PC to console.
Bright Memory throws your protagonist Shelia right in at the deep end. There’s next to no preamble outside of some brief, you’re just in the middle of a high stakes covert mission, wielding a pistol to take out a few enemy goons. Then, some basically meaningless dialogue and one exploding security door later, it’s time to fight them again with a submachine-gun before you and a terribly generic-looking bad guy who you seem to know are sucked up through an inter-dimensional portal.
Now it’s time to fight tigers with Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus neck frills, reanimated enemies with swords and shields, fire-shooting giant bats and more. There’s still the encounters with special forces goons thrown in for good measure, and it all adds up to a completely mad hodgepodge of ideas.
You’re given a number of abilities right from the off, with your SMG, shotgun and pistol accompanied by a dash ability, EMP force blast, energy-based zipline and a sword that can send slashes of power at your enemy. There’s more to unlock as well, but it means that from the very first moment you feel empowered to engage in high-paced front foot combat.
You might feel that way, but in truth, it’s often better to lean on more typical FPS techniques of backing away and strafing. Your sword is your only real close-ranged attack, and even that can deal damage from afar. Only a handful of enemies, predominantly the spec ops baddies, will fire weapons at you, but even then, it’s best to think about breaking line of sight to try and manage how much damage you’re taking.
Still, the combat remains fast and fluid, with plenty of flexibility to mix and match abilities and weapons together. You can use the EMP to knock enemies flying, leaving them floating in a temporary stasis while you unload your shotgun into them, which can fire as fast as you’re pulling the trigger. However you tackle the enemies you face, you’re awarded a Devil May Cry-esque rating for each fight, building up from D through to SSS if you can continually land attacks and headshots.
The challenge that you face across the game’s 30-60 minute runtime sometimes feels randomly unfair. Having battled through the first few arenas of mythical and reanimated enemies, Shelia spies the spec ops goons clambering up into a cave up ahead. Haring after them, you drop down into a smokey cavern, get flash-banged and find yourself being shot at by a dozen different enemies with only one or two rocky stalagmites to provide any kind of cover. It’s a sudden difficulty spike that’s instantly off-putting, alongside the difficulty of hitting those damn bat things.
Yet I unashamedly find myself enjoying the game, often laughing at how ridiculous some of these elements are. There’s a puzzle early on where you rotate discs with glowing symbols on the floor, Aleshia commenting that they match up to the drawings on the walls. I mean, they don’t, but spinning them round a bit let me line them up in a random fashion and the so-called puzzle let me through. Later, I encountered a sword sticking out of a fire. Interacting with it through the words “BONFIRE LIT” across the screen, just moments before fighting a boss that can only be described as the stock Dark Souls knight.
Then there’s the often quite odd localisation – creatures that are clearly dragons are called “Sea Serpents” for one – which gleefully skips toward unintentional comedy as Shelia talks about things in this world that “the Doctor” told her about. Which doctor? Doctor Who?
Bright Memory for Xbox Series X is also one of the most surprisingly literal ports of a PC game I’ve seen in a long, long time. With the main menu loaded, I started tapping at the D-pad to head to the settings, only to discover that it’s the analogue stick you need…. because you’re using a mouse cursor. That’s acceptable these days (I think we all tolerate it in games like Destiny 2), but once you get to those game settings, you’ll see PC-esque graphics settings for V-sync, SSAO, texture quality and more. When you’re in game and are notified that you have an upgrade available to you, the only way to leave that menu is to move the cursor and press ‘A’ on the ‘X’ to close the window. Then there’s just how the game’s control scheme bafflingly maps some of the sword attacks to the D-pad. Oh, and a smattering of minor glitches and bugs.
In essence, this feels like a time capsule for FYQD. It’s clear this was a passion project and a learning experience that’s a stepping stone toward Bright Memory Infinite. It also demonstrates just how empowering modern game engines like Unreal Engine 4 can be for solo developers. While there’s plenty of rough edges, it’s enabled him to craft something that can sometimes go toe to toe with games that have much larger budgets.