Within Remember Me, there's an outstanding game struggling to be set free, held back by a story that never takes off and claustrophobic levels that never allow the fantastic near-future setting to take center stage. Remember Me is not the game its world and premise hint that it could have been; rather, it's simply a good third-person action game: entertaining, slickly produced, and flavorful enough to keep you engaged to the end of its six-hour run time. It also stars a great heroine who is both powerful and vulnerable, allowing her to stand out in an intriguing world of corporate influence and lurking danger.
That world is centered on the Paris of the future, where technology has allowed us to exchange and purchase memories, perhaps to replace painful memories with pleasant ones, or to share intimate recollections with friends and lovers. But of course, such power over human emotion also proves dangerous, and happy memories can be bought and abused like drugs, or even stolen and corrupted. Remember Me's opening moments show you the dark side of Neo-Paris, dropping you into a macabre science facility, and forcing you to share the young protagonist's fear and confusion.
Nilin is her name, and guided by the voice in her ear, she escapes into the welcoming arms of a separatist movement called the Errorists. As it turns out, she is a messiah of sorts to its members, though it isn't immediately clear just why she's such an important part of this group's plans. And so as Nilin, you set off to free the populace from the tyranny of the technology that has led to such abuse, and to fell the corporation that controls it. You also seek to recover your lost past. Who are you? What events led to this moment? Can you trust the words of this mysterious Edge, whose voice guides you from one objective to the next?
This is a fantastic premise, and occasionally, Remember Me makes good on it. The chilling opening is one such example, though late-game developments prove poignant as well, revealing how personal pain can lead to far-reaching consequences for the ones we love--and even for entire cultures. In between, however, Remember Me falls into a rut, leaning on typical video game tropes, the voice in your ear leading you from one objective to the next with only a few words of exposition to motivate you. Nilin even makes a crack about being a simple errand runner, and all too often, that's the role you play.
Elsewhere, corny dialogue and forced metaphors dull the story's edge. When Nilin plaintively calls out to a fellow Errorist codenamed "Bad Request" using only "Bad," as though it's his first name, it's hard to take the story seriously. Nilin herself is the common narrative element that pulls you through in the face of loopy writing. Her ability to change memories at will, and her tendency to kick major butt in hand-to-hand combat, make her an appealing game lead, but it's her strength in the face of a vague past and an uncertain future that makes her an intriguing individual. Nilin is wonderfully voiced, betraying her fear in harsh whispers and crying out in anger when the burden is too great to bear.
The world, too, provides phenomenal possibilities, only to reveal itself as a façade, rather than the well-defined setting it seems to be. Neo-Paris is a gorgeous mix of the traditional and the advanced. Café patrons sit at wrought-iron tables, while behind them, high-style skyscrapers reach into the clear cerulean sky. At one point, you collide with a busy shopper on your travels--but that shopper is not a fashionably dressed Parisian, but a fashionably dressed Parisian's android, frantically running errands for its demanding owner. Remember Me's second half leaves behind its most evocative sights for more mundane environments, but even so, the production values remain typically expert. Ambient lighting brings an eerie beauty to subterranean corridors, and digital glitches appear to remind you of the gaps in your memory. Audio glitches appear in the superb musical soundtrack, as well, taking on particular power when the musical score slows or hastens in accordance with your on-screen actions.
It's a shame that you never get a chance to explore this world to any notable degree. Remember Me is one of the most linear, guided games in recent memory, giving you little choice but to wander down its narrow paths until you reach the next battle, the next cutscene, or the next scripted platforming sequence. "Linear" needn't be a bad thing, of course, and plenty of games lead you from point A to point Z with little room to breathe in between. Yet Remember Me stands out as a particularly egregious example of tightly controlled roller-coaster design, in spite of the few nooks hiding various collectibles. Some areas are so confined that the camera fails to find a good angle, and the paths you follow are so narrow that you long to break free. In the meanwhile, you look into the distance, aching to investigate the inviting Neo-Parisian sights and realizing you are an outsider looking in rather than a true part of this incredible place.
Give yourself over to this theme-park ride, however, and you'll have a good time. Remember Me takes on a predictable but comfortable rhythm of scripted platforming, melee combat, and light puzzle solving. The leaping and climbing take a clear cue from the Uncharted series, the game always leading you in the single direction towards your destination. Visual cues always shows the path; the fun comes not from the true dangers of navigation, but from the camera angles that highlight the deep chasms beneath you and the gorgeous Neo-Parisian architecture. A few platforming stretches impart a sense of urgency, having you evade an aircraft's gunfire, or hurrying along ledges being periodically electrified. But for the most part, Remember Me's platforming isn't likely to challenge you, only to stimulate your eyes and ears.
Actually, Remember Me isn't challenging in general, though you are still likely to be entertained by its combat. On its topmost level, beating up your foes is a relatively shallow button-mashing affair, but the melee combat has a few extra twists to keep it from falling into a rut. Nilin looks good in battle, tumbling, punching, and kicking with ease, each blow landing with a nice thud. You can string individual attacks into combos, and it's here that Remember Me makes its first effort to set its gameplay apart from the pack: you can create your own combos out of individual attacks called pressens. Some attacks focus on damage, while others provide you with healing or recharge the meter that allows you to perform special abilities.
It's a neat system, but it's less exciting than initially meets the eye. You only get a few combo templates to work with, and you unlock new pressens slowly, so the potential of the craft-your-own-combos mechanic is never fully exploited. But the nature of certain attacks, the self-heal in particular, gives some battles a modicum of tactical dimension. Some powerful corporate guards deal damage each time you make contact, which makes that self-heal an important part of your combos. Meanwhile, a ranged gadget you collect early on allows you to knock memory-addicted leapers off of walls and fire energy charges at robots vulnerable to them. Crowded encounters and boss fights give you a good chance to break out special attacks, such as an area-wide stun, and a bomb that you can attach to unsuspecting freaks.
Battle is rarely difficult, though it does take on a nice rhythm, particularly in the final hours, when you have a greater selection of attacks at your disposal. As with the platforming, Remember Me's combat is more interested in pleasing your senses than it is in providing depth. The camera frequently closes in to show you planting a destructive bomb, or to showcase the final kick in your longest combo. It's fun to feel like a participant in a sci-fi action film, but you can't always find a good view when the tight spaces get crowded with foes. In fact, the camera might even break, forcing you to restart at the most recent checkpoint so you can regain control. You might need to contend with other bugs as well; you can break a couple of environmental puzzles if you aren't careful, for instance, or a scripted event following a boss fight might not trigger, forcing you to replay the final stretch of that battle again. Bugs aren't enormously common, but Remember Me's highly scripted design makes such hitches seem a little more egregious than they might have been in a more flexible game.
Puzzles and stealth sections break up the pace nicely, though neither element is all that engaging on its own. You use your wrist device to manipulate sliding platforms, open doors, and transfer power from one door lock to another, and every so often, you need to move past roaming sentry bots without entering their danger zone. None of this proves very intellectually engaging however, with one exception: puzzles that require you to interpret mnemonics, and then manipulate objects accordingly. Not only do these few puzzles require a bit of brain power (provided you ignore the game's insistence on telling you the answer if you take too long), but also tie nicely into the narrative.
Remember Me's brightest spark, however, is emitted when Nilin enters and manipulates someone's memory in an effort to change their present state of mind. These sequences lead to a few of the game's more impactful narrative events, though they're best not analyzed too much, less the plot start to seem too nonsensical. More importantly, memory manipulation is Remember Me's most well-developed gameplay concept. Once you view the event as it originally occurred, you rewind and forward through the scene, seeking the telltale static indicating that you can interact with an object. You might move a piece of furniture, drop a cigarette, unfasten a safety belt, or move a firearm. Adjust the scene in just the right way, and you will change the past--or at least, the past as remembered by the mind you have manipulated--to accommodate the present you require.
Your attempts to properly shape another's memories may not go right the first few times, but the scene will still change based on your actions. The ensuing events may even lead to your subject's inadvertent death, or maybe just the innocuous fall of an object to the floor. It's intoxicating to watch an entire cinematic morph around your attempts to solve the puzzle at hand, and the final memory manipulation makes use of a delightful concept you must experience for yourself to appreciate. Disappointingly, Remember Me offers too few chances to concoct new memories for others.
The scarcity of memory manipulation isn't Remember Me's only disappointing element, yet there are just enough great ideas bubbling under its surface to give this adventure some heat. Nilin is the best reason to make this game a future memory: she's resolute, conflicted, and all too human, making her a terrific escort through this beautiful and underutilized world. Remember Me is a good game loaded with intriguing ideas; here's hoping that its sequel, should we ever have one, rides these ideas to greatness.