A well realized setting creates the basis for a promising series, though linearity keeps it from greatness.
Premise: Third person platforming and fighting against a backdrop of corporations, poverty, and altered memories in a futuristic Europe.
The archetype of an amnesiac protagonist isn't the worst thing to happen to video games; it may be overused, but nothing connects the player and main character like being two ignorant peas in an unfamiliar pod. The problems arise, I think, from at least 3 possible sources: the main character is never given their own identity, keeping them faceless; a somewhat realistic introduction to the world is never given; and amnesia is used purely as a plot device, serving no other function and having no other role within the game universe.
Remember Me, developed by DONTNOD Entertainment and published by Capcom, is a cross-platform, third-person action title that avoids all three of these pitfalls. The game is set in 2084's Neo-Paris after humans have developed the technology to treat memories like data; they can be shared, deleted, etc, and the resulting futuristic world successfully and realistically captures the societal repercussions of such technology. Moreover, the future itself is believable, describing one in which climate change has created a weather-racked and unstable Europe defined by a level of wealth inequality that would make even J.D. Rockefeller feel ashamed. I'm neither a climatologist nor an economist, so while I can't endorse this future as truly realistic, I can assert it creates a well-defended argument for the setting of the campaign. This additional history is trickled in as collectibles over the course of the overarching 8-10 hour story, making it accessible but never daunting, and I found myself looking forward to whatever new tidbit of background I had just found. The history is, however, not required; what is needed to understand the here-and-now part of the tale is delivered succinctly and quickly through an initial commercial and a believable exposition.
This exposition is given soon after taking control of Nilin, our amnesiac and captive protagonist. An ally in radio communication (possibly; the specifics of whatever hands-free iPhone the future uses aren't explained) orchestrates your escape from La Bastille Prison (because, Paris) and quickly rattles off a stream of information about your character, him, and the current situation. None of it seems forced, though, because this is a future where memory wiping not only exists, but is the trademark of this particular prison, wherein one's memories are returned the day they leave as part of their possessions. Nilin is a former Memory Hunter working for the Errorist cause, a group working to remove Memorize, a monopoly-like corporation controlling the production of popular memory-interface Sensen. What's a Memory Hunter, you ask? Truth be told, your guess is as good as mine. Their role is never truly explained, but I can guess they are mercenaries-for-hire (often allied with the Errorists) who deal in the industry of Secrets, stealing sensitive information from directly under behind one's nose...at-a-45-degree-angle-above-horizontal.
The final piece pulling all these circumstances together is the presentation, and it is spectacular. The art direction is well defined and consistent, alternating between rich and poor as Nilin moves from upscale metropolis to slum to, well, a ruined upscale metropolis. The high-class neighborhoods blend old world European and neo-Classical architecture with futuristic innovation: towering skyscrapers litter the background panoramas while robots blend seamlessly with well-dressed cafe patrons. Arches and columns are as common as projected HUD-style advertisements. These places are the best Remember Me has to offer, as the slums look unsurprisingly dirty while the purely futuristic facilities are almost stereotypical. You'll miss these early wonders during later parts of the campaign.
Character design follows the same pattern; the best of it blends old and new, while the worst are just designs you've seen in other places. Animations likewise follow this quality curve, with where Nilin and other main characters consistently move with realism and fluidity, while lesser important NPCs and enemies can sometimes move in an exaggerated, comical fashion.
Similarly designed is the audio; the voice actors perform very well and convey realism (especially Nilin herself), even if some enemies fall into the "I'm bad, and you can tell because of the sneering edge behind my voice" category. Sound effects are effective, but the star here is the music. Like the art design, it blends classical orchestral strings with modern electronica to create grand, sweeping melodies and high octane sequences. Furthermore, it is purposely scattered and sporadic in areas, reflecting the state of Nilin's memories. A nice touch is how the music reacts to your hits during combat; it isn't as fluid as one would hope, but helps immersion nonetheless.
Combat stands as one of the gameplay pillars in Remember Me. It follows the standard fare of attacking with combos while dodging enemies, but the hook here is the ability to create your own combos with varying effects...sort of. The combo lab gives the player specific combo templates - XXX or XYYXYY, for example - which the player then fills with unlocked Xs and Ys (named Pressens) that each produce varying effects when the blow lands. Experience from defeated enemies and scattered collectibles increases one's pool of Pressens, though there are only 4 kinds in total: more damage, regenerate health, multiply previous Pressen effect, and reduce S-Pressen cooldown. These S-Pressens are, in turn, special abilities with varying effects, ranging from invisibility and stun-waves to bombs and damage-boosts. Rounding all this out is a ranged digital "gun" of sorts, in order attack robots and wall-clinging foes.
The combo lab is an interesting concept, but not fleshed out enough to truly matter (at least on the default difficulty); the rigid combos don't allow true flexibility, and a player will survive just fine dropping a variety of pressens in any old slot. Set it and forget it definitely applies here, and getting truly invested in the combo lab doesn't offer enough of a reward.
What does work, though, is how attack variety pairs with enemy variety. Nilin is given enough options in combat to deal with the opposition ahead of her. Invisible enemies are meant to be stun-waved into vulnerability, enemies that cause damage when struck are meant to be removed stealthily or pummeled with regen-combos, and robots are meant to be hacked into bombs or turrets. Encounters thus become puzzles as Nilin works through the crowd one by one, exploiting each enemy's weakness while avoiding their resistance in turn.
Don't expect frustration-free combat, however. Foes attack in waves, but the game doesn't let the player know if another is inbound once the current slew of enemies is taken out; often I would use my S-Pressens with reckless abandon, leaving me with little health and high cooldowns for the next wave. This never ended well, and it adds a shoddy trial-and-error aspect to some encounters. I was better off waiting around and dodging one hapless enemy while all my cooldowns reset rather than move forward. Cooldowns as a whole impede the combat occasionally; if an encounter or enemy requires a certain ability to be used, the player is forced to just...wait. While it's true that cooldown pressens alleviate the tedium, there are only so many of them, and the wait always seems too long.
A final complaint can be leveled against the combos in general, in that switching enemies doesn't continue the current combo, meaning the player has to focus on one enemy. Since even touching the left stick ends the combo, dodges have to be done purely with the context-sensitive A button, which is hit or miss in itself for maintaining combos. Plus if your opponent is KO'd, the combo just ends. As a result, fighting never achieves the high-level of flow and intensity you would like; it feels sporadic instead, and somewhat unfulfilling.
The other pillar of gameplay is movement, that is, climbing and jumping around the environment as many games are prone to do. Suffice to say, the climbing portions are smooth, non-offensive, and done effectively, although much like the rest of the game suffer from rigid linearity. Climbing works, and I'll refrain from commenting more for reasons elaborated on in a separate article.
As stated, the game suffers from linearity in both level design and choice. Exploration is practically non-existent apart from extremely minor excursions off the beaten path for collectibles, which is a shame given the beautiful and well-established world. Only in building combos and the woefully underutilized "memory-remixes" is the player given more freedom.
These remixes occur as major plot points in which Nilin alters a character's memory in order to alter their present state of mind. Only one solution exists, though players are free to experiment by changing various elements of the memory (turning off a gun safety, altering medication, undoing restraints, etc). The consequences of characters realizing their memories have been mixed is unexplored, which creates a slight plothole when it seems a brief explanation could revert them back to their original convictions. For example, one character is convinced to be an ally by letting her believe someone is falsely dead; this character remains an ally much later in the game, though it seems probable she would have checked up on this supposedly dead person. Either way, the remixes are a fun and fitting form of deception within the world of Remember Me, and are reminiscent of the indie title To The Moon but with malevolent rather than benevolent intentions.
Nilin muses on her actions at points, contemplating guilt over these remixes and other events, oftentimes rightly so. Early on it's left ambiguous as to whether Nilin and the Errorists are truly helping people, and I was usually unconvinced by their reasons for downing the Memorize establishment. Nilin will show disapproval, but never rebellion, so much of her brooding ends up pointless. The Errorist-Memorize debate is never fully realized, nor some of the plot points completely explained (I still don't understand why the Leapers exist in Neo-Paris, let alone an odd lack of firearms), even though the Errorists come out on top in the end. Thus, the game makes its moral claim at the end without defending it. It requires the player to just take some things for granted, which keeps the ending from being truly fulfilling. At the same time, the impact of Nilin's actions on the Sensen-dependent world are left in the air. I'd like to see what happens and how the world reacts, though perhaps DONTNOD is saving that for a later entry.
Not that getting a sequel would be a bad thing. Remember Me's greatest accomplishment is creating a captivating, interesting, and believable vision of the future. It's a great start for the IP, and as long as future installments allow greater freedom to explore both combat and world of Neo-Paris, the series will easily become something memorable (my apologies, I couldn't resist).
Overall: Worth it. The enthralling future created by Remember Me should be experienced, and the gameplay is easily enjoyable enough to warrant playing through the 8-10 hour campaign.