Remember Me Preview
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment / Publisher: Capcom / Platforms: Xbox 360 / Release Date: May 2013 / ESRB: Rating Pending
A brief showing at last year’s Gamescom was enough to generate considerable interest in Remember Me, the first game from DONTNOD Entertainment, a Paris-based studio founded in 2008 by several industry veterans. At its core this new project is a familiar third-person action adventure game, but its use of memories, its setting in neo-Paris 2084, and its combat style all hint at something unique and potentially quite special.
We got to play through the first two levels of the game that teased some very unique gameplay mechanics and storytelling devices. To begin, you play as Nilin, a former elite memory hunter who was imprisoned by Memorize, the organization that basically controls the citizenry in this intriguing future. You see, come 2084 memories are both a commodity and the drug du jour. As creative director Jean-Maxime Moris explained there is no such thing as privacy or intimacy since Memorize controls and monitors the network on which all the memory data is collected and stored. Now, such power wouldn’t be used for nefarious purposes, would it? I mean, many citizens enjoy being able to plug into a memory dispenser, much like an ATM, to withdraw a pleasant memory.
But activists such as Nilin and her Errorist organization brethren—led by Edge, who’s in your ear as a guide—were skilled in retrieving memories from the heads of people deemed to have useful information. As a result she was shut down by the corporation and sent to the Bastille where her memory was wiped. But as she’s about to undergo a further wipe her coffin is ejected into the sewers and washed out into the Seine, surfacing in an under-Paris occupied by the lowest class of citizens, the leapers.
This sets up the clichéd trope of a hero without a memory uncovering skills, background, and secrets about themselves as they progress through the story. But at least in this case the context makes sense in the framework of the game’s lore, and the potential for a bit of eye-rolling from cynics isn’t lost on the developers, ensuring they keep the story tripping right along.
But right out of the coffin Nilin faces scavenging leapers and must get her hands dirty by smacking the snot out of them. Here we’re introduced to the hand-to-hand combat mechanics that also riff a little on familiar styles but add their own creative flair. The melee combat works around combos, but as you level-up and unlock more functions you can shape the combos to suit either your play style or the functions that best suit a particular encounter.
It starts simply enough in the Combo Lab, placing what are called Pressens in a combo chain to generate a power attack. The first combo is a simple three-button attack, but quickly another five-button combo opens, and as you level you add your choice of Pressens from groups that cover power, health, and slowing time, which increases your focus and reduces the cool down time for accessing five additional special attacks.
That’s a lot of functions packed into a combat system that doesn’t include any weapons (though a ranged attack called the Spammer will be available later in the game). The first special attack we unlocked was Fury, which temporarily ditches the Pressens combo system for a straight multi-attack, with each successive attack you link together delivering more damage, which means you can drop a pack of six or more enemies pretty quickly, fighting game style.
The cool element is the pacing of the combat. To execute the combos you need to steadily hit the right button order, timing them in steady progression to earn the boosts of power hits or health regeneration (the later in the combo, the more powerful the effect). That can make all the difference later in the game with six-button combos and you have to decide the power you want in that last slot, where its effect is most significant.
Mix in a dodge move that still allows you to maintain a combo, and each encounter can be fluid, visceral, and also quite balletic. Nilin’s nimble moves involve vaulting over enemies and rolling out of danger when you anticipate an incoming attack, handily foreshadowed by a red exclamation point over the attacker’s head. Successful combos also build up a kill-shot Memory Overload attack that’s totally PG-rated despite Nilin seemingly pulling brains from the back of the target’s noggin. The general combat format definitely owes some style points to Batman: Arkham Asylum and in format, going way back to Oni (but without the guns).
Remember Me may also generate references to other third-person games like Mirror’s Edge and Uncharted as some of the early scenes we experienced involved clambering around heavily vertical levels. But it’s in the environmental design of Paris 2084 that Remember Me really shone. Sure, the cinematography is designed to make you pause and soak in the visual impact of the moment, but it was invariably worth taking that moment. The juxtaposition of classic Parisian monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Saint Denis, with the elevated skyscrapers that have invaded the relatively flat cityscape of modern day Paris, is incredibly effective in retaining both the character of a city owning so much history with a new facade telling a modern, clearly futuristic tale.
Curiously, the developers told us that they had to be prodded to ensure the city still looked and felt Parisian–the boulangeries, fountains, and building architecture–rather than become a generic sci-fi location of Anywhereland. Just from the start in the underbelly of Paris the landscape itself seems worthy of exploration.
But the true standout feature of Remember Me‘s gameplay is what’s known as Memory Remixes. At four points the story will see Nilin dive deep into the memories of a target and then manipulate those experiences to generate an outcome that solves a crucial puzzle. Aside from the sweetly stylized visual presentation of these events, the gameplay mechanic is intriguing. Within the memory you control time, firstly watching the “regular” outcome, then rewinding to spot specific objects or events that can be tweaked to create a new outcome. In the one remix we experienced you had to make three distinct changes to the memory, though there were several other objects in the environment you had the chance to tweak, each of which could have resulted in a totally different conclusion. Now, the story is linear, but if you fail—a memory bug, as they’re known—you still uncover background detail to the world and Nilin’s role within it.
Just a couple of levels in to Remember Me, it’s clearly a story worth exploring, supported by detailed, stylish environments. Backed by an impactful combat system that really benefits from some expertly fluid animations, particularly on Nilin herself, Remember Me feels like an experience with all the juice required to pull you through to its (hopefully) very memorable conclusion.