Sunday, January 5, 2014

Review - Remember Me

The bulk of the reviews out there all say it in a different way, but they all want you to know that Remember Me is 'forgettable' because it's just so perfect that things worked out that way.  The title of "Remember Me" is almost a challenge that is destined to fail and allow me to add to the consensus in saying that it does indeed do that.  I wanted Remember Me to be so much more than it ended up being and it is a little disappointing, but as disappointments go lately, it's a mild one, so unfortunately it is helped along by that.  Regardless, it promises a lot initially and doesn't carry out a single one of those promises, so what we're left with is a game that honestly feels like it was supposed to be far larger than it ended up being.  And it's a damn shame because the world that Remember Me creates is something that you don't want to forget.

goddamnit, I made a pun already

 The game centers around Nilin (no last name given because it might be important later) who starts the game as an amnesiac memory hunter.  "Irony" (the rain on your wedding day flavor) is actually a core theme of Remember Me and plays key to several important plot points over the course of the game.  It's...honestly a little grating after the first one, as is most of the story as it unfolds.  The story is just not very good, because the pacing is all over the place which ruins what is supposed to be dramatic reveals, and while it shoots for a good Moral Ambiguity on everything, it goes a little too far and simply makes everyone unlikable, including your protagonist.  But to explain why involves a little bit of spoiling, so that's what I have to do here in the next paragraph or so.  It's not that bad and it's an early-game thing as well, but still, it's worth mentioning.

So, as a Memory Hunter, Nilin has the ability to steal memories from people and is, well, honestly what she kind of does.  However, Nilin is special because in addition to stealing memories, she can alter them (the game calls it remixing) and the way you're introduced to this is especially horrifying.  A bounty hunter, Olga, drops in on Nilin because she wants the bounty that's on her head.  Having just gotten her gear back, Nilin decides that now is the best time to try it out and you're thrust into the remix scenario which plays out a particular memory and then tasks you to go back through it and change little things that will alter the course of it.  On its face, that's not too bad even if it has the veneer of being an absolutely shitty thing to do coating it.  Or maybe that's just my perception coloring things here.

Now, Olga's memory is of her husband who's suffering from some sort of memory-related illness that is making him sicker than you would expect.  In the original, she is sent Nilin's bounty poster right as the Doctor explains that her husband's treatment is going to be expensive and she says that she will be able to cover it, so go ahead and do whatever because she's going to get the money for it from Nilin's bounty.  This gives the game the easiest opportunity to show off just how twisted this concept is, because the goal of the remix is a rather rough one:  Make the doctor kill her husband.  It's worth noting that you're simply altering memories, not history, and in fact, that makes it a bit worse.  By manipulating a few things as the memory progresses, it goes down different routes due to what was changed (the doctor injects the husband with a stimulant rather than a relaxer, a wrist binding is undone) and the sum effect is that the husband goes crazy which forces the doctor to hit the conveniently placed "Terminate" button, leaving Olga helpless to watch as her husband is lasered to death in a hospital bed.

Because of that memory changing, Olga's entire perception of things changes to the point where she thinks she tracked down Nilin to team up with her against Memorize (the company who runs the facility he was 'killed' in) rather than take her down to pay for her husband's bills.  Her husband who is, by the way, likely still alive and lays forgotten in the hospital for the rest of the game.  All of this is so that Olga can give Nilin a lift in her ship.  Nilin is kind of a Dick.  Later on, she gives you another lift somewhere (far after you've forgotten who this woman is, leaving you to think about it for a few moments after she drops Nilin off) and your constant companion in your ear, Edge (Nilin's 'boss' who gives you instructions through the course of the game) makes a remark along the lines of "I don't know why I didn't make you 'enlist' her a long time ago!".  Edge, too, is kind of a Dick.  Given enough time and space, I could elucidate why more or less every other character in the game is also a Dick.  Everyone is simply that unlikable thanks to an ill-advised attempt to make a 'grey area' for the scenario to exist in.

While the game's world might not be interesting from a narrative point of view, Neo-Paris in 2084 is stunning from an aesthetic one.  Locales are crafted with thought and care and are exceptionally interesting to look at.  There's an underlying style that's honestly on a level higher than the game itself is on which is almost jarring.  Of course, all of that is brought down a little bit by the linear platforming structure of the game, since it turns a lot of these nice areas into places where you are the only person who can get around in because all the blocks and barricades necessitate some sort of wonky parkour that your standard person isn't in possession of.  I want to say that the -thought- of the mechanics are lifted straight out of Uncharted in that there's supposed to be a weighty feel to them, but they're obviously not executed quite as well.  Nor are they all that thought-out since a lot of the platforming sections feel downright silly in how you get to Point B from Point A.

This is further complicated by the fact that every area, linear as it is, has some little nook and/or cranny here and there that's 'cleverly' obfuscated by the camera because they hide the various power-ups that the game has decided to hide everywhere.  Of course, it's not bad enough that you just have to keep an eye out, no, at every area where this happens (well, not with Scaramechs, but fuck Scaramechs) a little screen materializes itself out of nothing and gives you a screenshot from the game (literally, some of them have little UI things, it's silly) for a location where you can find a goodie.  The game tells you to remember that location so you can find it, which makes you go, "Oh, well I'll just memorize every detail of this because it's going to lead me to treasure and I'll want to kn-oh, it's right over there" because yes, these things are generally placed about ten feet away from the area in question.  Some of them require non-linear thinking to get to, but most of the time it's like a signpost with Plot pointing one way and goodies the next.

I like to think that the attention and thought put into every area means a lot more than them simply having a good set designer.  It feels like every area is so good because it was meant to be something a lot more, something bigger at some point in development, and given the fact that the game did indeed have a rocky way of it, perhaps it's true.  It sort of felt like, to me at least, that the game was meant to be a little more open than it ended up being (a couple other things help me think this) and that every area just ended up constrained thanks to the new direction it took.  It would explain a lot and make me feel better about what it was supposed to be, but it doesn't change what it -is- and what it is is just frustrating.  Particularly in the later areas where you're given the tools to manipulate the world in silly ways to nonsensically achieve small feats in transportation.  Like using two cargo carts to get across an area so you can get to the bottom of it so you can push a couple buttons to call more carts that you ride to push -more- buttons...only to have it take you about halfway back so you can ride one of the earlier carts again in a -different- direction.

Remember Me is not about platforming, thankfully, even though that lends a good portion of the gameplay to it.  Remember Me -is- however supposed to be about its combat system which is the main focus of it, but it manages to fall a bit flat itself.  I heard tale of the focus being the 'build-your-own-combo' aspect and was intrigued by that and how it was pulled off, only to be disappointed in the rather round-about way it is accomplished.  Because it's far less than "Build-your-own-combo" and far more "customize this template with special Squares and Triangles" which is a lot less compelling.  It's also a lot less appealing when you realize that there are four combos in the entire game and each one of them is about as uninspiring as the last.  Unless you think Square, Triangle, Triangle, Square, Triangle, Triangle is something that you'll be excited with every time you use it, of course.  (That's the third combo in the game, by the way)

As stated, the combos are little less than templates that you have to fill out with the actual buttons.  In something that is kind of neat, you have four types of buttons - 'Pressens' as the game calls them - that do different things, letting you have your combos be built around specific principles.  The less neat part of it is that you have to buy these pressens individually with keys that you only gain after getting a lot of points that you earn over the course of the game by punching people with combos that you have already filled out.  The four types are:  Power, Regenerate, Cooldown and Chain and while they're fairly self-explanatory, I can expunge any question as to what they do.  Power pressens hit hard obviously, but they also push your foes towards 'Overload' status in which you can finish them off quickly.  Regenerate pressens restore some of your health.  Cooldown pressens reduce the cooldown time that your S-Pressens have after using them and finally Chain pressens are the most important of them at all in that they take whatever the pressen prior to it was and amplifies it for another strike.  Chain a power pressen and you deal some damage.

This is, of course, supposed to introduce the 'strategy' for battles, but it barely does since I'm not about to re-shuffle my goddamn pressens every now and then just because something is different.  Thus, my combos all ended up with a mish-mash of different types that honestly suited my purposes just fine enough.  Because there's just not that much thought needed for it, unfortunately, since everything dies eventually and all you're figuring out is what you want to get in the meantime since you'll likely need to use those Regenerate and Cooldown pressens more often than anything else.  Also, there are few things more frustrating than seeing that you can have three Regenerate Pressens that are Triangle, getting the last combo that is three Triangles in a row to start and only having Square pressens bought and ready to be allocated.  I'm not quite sure why each pressen is its own thing since it doesn't really fit into any narrative somewhere and just stands alone by itself, and I don't think unlocking just -square- pressen for one type to be used however you wish would've broken the game much, given the template nature of the combos.

S-Pressens are Special Attacks, if that wasn't obvious by the name in a way that sort of transcends what a Pressen is, which is a press of a button by you.  There are five S-Pressens in the game that you collect at plot-specific points because... - and they all have wildly varied uses in a sense.  Fury simply upgrades your melee strikes and takes you out of the combo system, allowing you to wail on Square and Triangle for a few seconds and make things fall over.  Logic Bomb places a bomb on one foe who then explodes and takes out mildly damages everything around that foe, including yourself.  Sensen DOS scrambles (most) enemy sensens (the things that govern your body more or less), leaving them vulnerable for a few seconds.  Sensen Camo allows you to be invisible for a short time, letting you get off an instant-kill attack on a foe.  Finally, Rust in Pieces is specific to robot types (of which there are two in the game...and they aren't very common) and scrambles their programming, causing them to become allies for about two seconds before they explode.  Each of them can be used only if you have a Focus bar for it, and they have a cooldown (somewhere around 120-140 seconds) before you can use it again - as stated earlier, you can shave off seconds with cooldown pressens, but outside of boss battles, it doesn't matter a whole lot.

I have one very specific complaint, however, and it's more of a design complaint than anything, since in the game it's not actually all -that- difficult to overcome.  However, it's something that I simply cannot wrap my head around as being considered a good idea.  Now, in a game where you are more or less just hitting things until they die with no real variation, there's pretty much one thing you probably shouldn't do.  Remember Me does it and it's mind-bogglingly stupid.  There exists in the game one enemy type that deals damage to you for every hit you make on it.  Doesn't matter if it's melee or your Spammer (basically a gun), you take damage.  Now you might be thinking that there's a reason for this, that there's some clever way of taking them out.  There is not.  If you want to damage them without being damaged in turn, you use an S-Pressen, specifically a Logic Bomb or the Sensen Camo (possibly Fury, but I didn't test it and why would that work?).  That is...your only option.  I don't think I can overstate how much of a weird, bad design decision that is, and while you can't kill yourself by punching these types, you can lower your health to almost zero, meaning a stiff breeze will finish the job.

Aside from Boss fights, these S-Pressens are quickly forgotten, but their role in Boss fights are almost minimal as well in that you use them because you -have- to, not because it 'just works'.  However, it's an exercise in frustration, as you simply use the S-Pressen so you can drop a combo or so on the boss until they pull back, unleash mooks and leave you to get the cooldown timed out (and build up Focus if you need to) so you can repeat the process over again.  It's in these times where the Dodging feature proves to be your real enemy, since the game tells you that you can dodge over your foe and continue your combo, but in practice this is up for debate.  In almost every case, you cannot continue a combo on another enemy, which means dodging over a guy only to hit him in the back (putting you not that far away from your initial spot) is..not an effective combat strategy.  So if the pressens you -need- to use (your cooldowns and regenerate, mostly) are buried deep in your combos (for better effectiveness, as per the game's instruction), you'll have a hell of a time actually -using- them, thanks to your combos getting broken all the goddamn time from getting hit or dodging and not hitting the right guy or not hitting the right guy soon enough.

It's this 'combo-focused' theory, however, that also makes me think that the game was meant to be a lot more than it ended up being.  In all actuality, a system like this, especially with just four combos, cannot be a finished one.  This can't have been what the developers were envisioning from the start, and if you think about it, a linear platformer is...obviously not the type of game you would expect to find it in.  Maybe it's just a pet dream, but I have thoughts of a Sleeping Dogs-style open-world with a melee-focus adaptation of Remember Me, with the vibrant, cyberpunk Neo-Paris in all its glory and I can't help but think -that- was the initial goal of the game.  Something big and breathing, something wide to let you stretch and let you play around.  There had to be more combos, and a better way to 'build' them, but I fear that a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor to simply release.  Perhaps I'm simply giving them too much credit since that, -that- would've been an unforgettable game indeed, and it's what everyone would have preferred, but in any case, it's just not what we got.

The Good
  • The actual design of the world is wonderful
  • There is a good bit of actual style in the game itself, the menus and the feel of it
  • While not great, the combat system is good for the most part, if mostly for its ease-of-use
  • Some of the music is really good - particularly Fragments, one of the Battle Themes
The Bad
  • The story and characters are just unpleasant and unlikable - Moral Ambiguity does not mean Everyone is a Dick
  • The whole "Memories as Commodities" angle is more or less mishandled and poorly thought-out from start to finish
  • Platforming in a game that didn't need it and isn't made better for it
  • Introducing an enemy type that damages you when you attack it - this is not a good idea
  • Boss Fights become battles of attrition regrettably quick
  • Only four combos in a game all about customizing combos
  • Buying Pressens is horribly under-thought and poorly executed
  • The game feels like it wanted to be so much more, which makes it all the more disappointing
Mogs Says
Remember Me isn't a bad game, but it's solidly mediocre at best.  The ideas it had were good ones that just didn't get used properly or given enough room to actually grow into what they were meant to be.  What we're left with then is a game that feels half-finished and confined to something much smaller than it should have been.  All the style in the world, and though the game has plenty to spare, can't cure gameplay ills which litter the title from start to finish.  Combined with a few design decisions that are more than questionable and just a general lack of cohesion means Remember Me simply didn't leave with fond memories.

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