There are few tropes in story-writing that have been used as often as amnesia. A pivotal character loses parts of their memory and spends the story hazily recollecting their previous life. The idea of playing with memories and how changing them changes your world is a wonderful sub genre of this. There are a few standouts like Memento and Total Recall (based on Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.) What are we but the sum total of our memories? And if these are altered, changed, or wiped completely, then what do we become?
Remember Me, set in Paris of the 2080s, explores these ideas through the main protagonist, Nilin. In this world, a company called Memorize can sell you any memory you want via ATM-style machines. Memories travel as visualised data through the air to your Sensen, a glowing radius at the base of your neck - like a prettier version of the jack plugs from the Matrix.
The reason Nilin is so important is that she can remix memories. A former mem-hunter who was captured by Memorize and had her memory scraped almost clean, Nilin stumbles through the first level struggling to recall her former life. When she is attacked by a high profile bounty hunter, Nilin instinctively reacts by remixing the hunter’s memory.
Remixing, a key gameplay feature, allows you to watch and then change a character’s memory. In this first instance you change the cause of death for the bounty hunter’s husband. These memory changes alter how the character interacts with you; foes become friends, etc etc.
The slums of Paris line a series of canals where hawkers sell dead pigeons and slimy fish in between sex bots touting for trade. The Sensen also overlays your world with holographic projections; it colours in some places with bright yellow warnings or neon advertising as you clamber over broken roofs and up drain pipes.
It feeds you information about stores and accessways, gives you warnings about areas, and basically tells you where to go.
Remember Me follows in the vein of Uncharted when it comes to climbing, and Batman’s Arkham series for fighting. Inside the game menu you can rearrange and create your combos, swapping hit types in and out to either do more damage or to regenerate energy. During fights you also get a chance to overload your enemies’ memory through their Sensen when they are stunned, sort of like a finishing move.
Remember Me creates a beautiful world, one they are often keen to show you via set-up scenes (turn a corner and get a stunning panorama with the Eiffel Tower or Sacré Cœur) and through intricately constructed levels. But everything is fake.
While you are shown an amazing world, you cannot explore it. Your Sensen tells you where to go and gives you clues about where to find other useful objects, but your path is constantly blocked by small boxes or, most annoyingly, people. A path that wanders tantalisingly into an amazing city of the future may be blocked off with three people standing having a conversation who you can’t push past.
And people I can’t talk to. None of the NPCs can be interacted with, you can’t ask people for information. Similarly large piles of garbage that lines the streets don’t move at all when bumped. Having said that I noticed that the splash and ripple effects when walking in water were missing as well and will clearly be added later, so it’s probably the case that more environmental interactions will be introduced to the final version.
Non-interactive NPCs and wonderful but unexplorable worlds are not unique to Remember Me. And after all, this is not an RPG where they may give up valuable information or where you need to stock up on supplies.
Sadly though I felt the current version (it may still change!) boils Remember Me down to a 3D platformer with some fight scenes and a fun video-editing mini game. The mini-boss fights are very fun but a little hand-holdy (“shoot the weakness here” etc) and end with a quicktime event - but I was playing on “Script Kiddie” difficulty in order to get through as much as I could, so perhaps on harder levels it gets better.
But these are fiddly things, which may yet be fixed in the final release.
My main problem with the game is Nilin. She wakes up with 90% of her memory wiped and carries out pretty much any order given to her. But, as she slowly regains her memory, she never questions if she is being told the truth or if the memories she still has (or suddenly recalls) are real. Even after she remixes someone else’s memories in order to change their allegiance, she still never questions if, perhaps, someone has been remixing her own thoughts. I will admit that this could come much later in the game, BioShock style, but even the emotionless Neo questioned the meaning of reality early on in the Matrix.
This lack of self-awareness makes Nilin and the game feel hollow. The straight path pretending to be an open world that Nilin walks around is a perfect allegory for the idea that all is not what is seems and yet it turns out that Nilin really is just a secret agent.
It’s like Quaid woke up in the chair at REKAL and realised: “oh, everything is so clear now.”
Remember Me is out June 6th, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; whatever you do, don't confuse it for that movie with that guy from that vampire movie in it.