Bright Memory: Infinite shot into the spotlight in May 2020 as the opening game for Microsoft’s Xbox Series X game reveal stream. A great looking game trailer, it threw every Unreal Engine lighting and shader trick in the book at a high octane shooter experience, it wowed people when they figured out that this was the passion project of just one person, Chinese solo developer Zeng “FYQD” Xiancheng. Of course, many PC owners already knew of the game thanks to the original Bright Memory, this game intended to be the more fully-formed follow up.
As an experience, Bright Memory: Infinite is quite a bit more put together than the original Bright Memory release. That game was such a mad jumble of ideas and enthusiasm that it veered wildly from modern day shooter to battling demonic Roman-esque soldiers in another dimension and then having a mad Dark Souls homage boss battle out of nowhere. Many of these ideas actually remain – not the Dark Souls skit, mind you – but they’ve been joined together a fair bit better.
That doesn’t mean it’s a great story. It’s not. The game starts New Years Eve, but Shelia is called away from watching fireworks to go and investigate by the mysterious acronym agency that she works for to investigate some weather anomalies. Some other acronym agency is sending their soldiers in, so you’d better watch out. Oh, except there’s a black hole hanging in the sky, and every once in a while there’s a big energy pulse that causes the aforementioned demonic Roman-ish soldiers to appear instead of near future sci-fi goons. Shelia takes every single insane occurrence in her stride, and there’s barely any reaction from the other side of the radio either, the seemingly omniscient Director Lin who watches on and guiding you by satellite data.
You’re funnelled through a Chinese village setting, battling both of these enemy types, gradually picking up more and more weapons. There’s a standard assault rifle, shotgun, machine pistol and sniper rifle, but each one has an alternate fire that can deal a devastating blast or fire homing ammo. They’re quite fun to use, especially the shotgun which is basically a sniper rifle when you aim down sights.
Alongside firearms, that acronym agency has equipped Shelia with an energy sword and an EMP, both of which can be upgraded with new abilities to send waves of damage from a distance, suspend weakened enemies in the air, do powerful ground-pound and charge attacks, and more.
There’s a fairly broad set of enemies that you’ll face, though they mostly fall into set archetypes. There’s the AR-toting grunts, shotgun guys that will throw grenades and snipers. Some demonic enemies come with sword and shield, others with a big axe, and they’re backed up by unerringly accurate archers.
But then there’s the special enemies that mix things up, whether it’s a hulking brute with twin spiked maces that it will throw your way, the heavy soldier that will send flaming projectiles you way, or statues come to life that will chase you down. These need to have their shield blasted away before you can deal damage to their main health pool.
You need to stay on your toes, constantly strafing, dodging and turning to sprint away, but Bright Memory: Infinite can overwhelm you. That’s especially true in the boss battles. Each of these focusses more on melee attacks while you flit around trying to take pot shots, either draining their armour so you can deal real damage or chipping away at a towering foe’s health.
At times the game feels unfair, whether it’s a boss that you’re spending most of your time running away from also spawns frustratingly accurate ranged enemies, or a handful of combat scenarios that feel like you’re running into a brick wall of bullets and other projectiles.
FYQD tries to mix up the action with a stealth section and a driving segment, but these feel clunky and underdeveloped. Stealth falls into the familiar trap of instant fail states if you’re spotted, while the car handling had me ramming into walls instead of cornering a bit too often in what was meant to feel like a high octane chase sequence. Additionally, there’s several points where, for want of a better way of signalling intent to the player, giant blue graffiti arrows are sprayed on walls to suggest that you wall-run and jump up to a ledge.
The whole game blends into one visually. One of the first things you notice is that Shelia is little more than a moving mannequin, her cold dead eyes and emotionless face belying the game’s minimal production. The Chinese village theme sticks around all the way through, the strong winds and rain from distant hurricanes are incessant, and there’s just never a change of pace from that weather event. It’s a good thing that the game’s fairly short, weighing in at around two hours so that it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
I do also miss some of the excesses of the original. For one thing, the UI felt cleaner in that game, Infinite putting ability tooltips down the left side of the screen, and for another, the Devil May Cry-style combat ratings have been dropped. There’s also some areas where polish is needed. Audio cues can come from where a teleporting boss used to be stood, the ‘F’ key is both used to interact and to perform the EMP attack, so you can imagine what happens when trying to pick up ammo, and I’m not sure why my weapons would sometimes switch to their secondary fire without me deliberately swapping type.
Through it all, you have to remember that there’s just one person behind this game. Yes, they’re able to draw from asset libraries and lean on the maturity of Unreal Engine 4 as a development platform, but putting those elements together has been on a single person’s shoulders. There are obviously shortcomings, but it’s admirable what FYQD has been able to create. It feels like he will need more help to take that next step with future games.