This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Remember Me.
I've heard it said that you should name your game the same way you name a dog; it should be snappy and memorable and it shouldn't be anything you feel weird about yelling it across the public park when it runs off and tries to chase the ducks. And if you talk about it in conversation it shouldn't sound like you're trying to change the subject as in "what have you been playing this week, Yahtzee?" "Remember Me!" "Of course I remember you, you're the bloke who keeps sitting in my bar pretending to not ogle everything that walks in wearing a skirt".
Of course the other thing you have to worry about when naming a video game is not to call it something games journalists can twist into snarky headlines like "Remember Me?: Kinda Forgettable" *Arf Arf* before running off to write slobbering breaking news posts revealing that the dog in Call of Duty: Ghosts will have real time duck chasing gameplay, which is irritating because Remember Me deserves some props for at least trying, bless it's heart, for doing a few things really rather well and also for the splendid bum on the cover. I like to pretend that the bum is the one speaking the title aloud "Remember me?" "Certainly will."
So, what we have here is a third person brawler but also puzzly with climby bits and- oh fine let's just call it "Action-Adventure." In the Future, science has finally stopped worrying about how to make pieces of toast land right side up and has figured out how to digitize human memory, so everyone can delete the bad ones hold them back and relive the nice ones, but then the people go crazy for it in ways Apple could only dream of and the society of Neo Paris (No Seriously) becomes divided between blinkered luxury and appalling poverty under the watch of your standard breed of evil mega-corporation, the one that somehow runs the government, justice system, media, salvation army, ice cream vans etc. You play Nilin, who is a memory hunter, apparently some mix of MMA fighter and librarian with a posh accent and stupid haircut, who escapes from prison with the help of "Edge", revolutionary leader and former U2 guitarist because only she can help him bring down the hated Aristos. So the experience could be summed up as a triangle formed by the three points of Mirror's Edge, Beyond Good and Evil and Total Recall and a big shapely bum stick out the middle.
Now, when you establish early on that the central theme of the plot is the mucking about with memories, you might as well erect a big neon sign over it saying "There is going to be a twist". When we also learn that the main character has amnesia and that nobody seems to know where she came from, that sets off like five alarm bells that some revelation about our identity is due. Don't tell me Edge from U2 is only interested in us because we're the illegitimate daughter of Bono and Bono's wank doll that looks like Bono. Then we learn that Nilin has the unique ability not just to extract memories but to change then, so I guess we're bringing Inception to the mix as well.
In fact, this drives the game's most interesting mechanic where you have to scan back and forth from someone's memories of their life's defining moments looking for small elements to alter so that they remember the event differently and it fundamentally changes their personality. It's clever and well implemented, I just wish we did it more than four times in the course of the game. And it's presence adds another twelve or so alarm bells to the cacophony, "Oh yeah big ol' twist coming, your entire memory is probably false and you did it to yourself out of shame of being related to Bono or something." So the plot was just yodeling "Twist! Twist! Twist!" like a mountain top pretzel shack and I kind of felt taken out of the story as I played "Spot the Foreshadowing" the whole way through, and I was almost already more lingering in the doorstep of the story than inside the thing.
Visually, the game is very striking with a sort of clean, white, medically sterile aesthetic. Even the main character's name "Nilin" sounds like a brand of subscription medication, but the connectivity between locations is very shaky, probably because between every mission we cut to Nilin standing in the Doctor Who opening title blabbering about what's happen off camera and how she feels about it before jumping abruptly ahead to the next mission. Maybe it could help if Nilin could make up her bloody mind whether she's tough or fragile. Half the time talking in a voice quavering with emotion like she's watching Grave of the Fireflies in a wind tunnel. And the other half saying things like "This little Red Riding Hood has a basket full of kickass!" That is a direct quote and I'm going to leave it dangling here like a corpse on a gibbet while we consider that someone charged actual money to write it. Christ.
The combat is quite interesting, I've often wondered why no one had a build your own combo feature since God Hand because it was a really neat idea in God Hand, but Remember Me has one. Featuring the additional neat idea of having blows or "Pressens," another name that sounds like prescription medication, that restore your health when they land so you can turn the tide by slotting a bunch of those into your quick combos and enjoying a healing nutritious banquet of knuckle sandwiches. However the room by room punchouts do tend to get a bit samey and arduous.
With the slower soldier enemies you're just going through your custom Tai Chi sequences upon helpless stunlocked meatheads who endlessly drool out the three faintly misogynistic taunts right up to taking a fisty siesta, and with the faster mutant enemies you can barely get past your opening nose tweaks and nipple cripples before having to dodge out of the way of four other attacks. Being able to continue a combo after dodging, however, is quite nice but what isn't nice is the enemies that require multiple uses of super attacks to defeat so you have to jump around dodging for two minutes waiting for the cooldown, but then there are some combos pressens that reduce cooldowns. Erm...eyh fine let's just give the combat a "B" overall, yeah.
Remember Me is perhaps overly ambitious and overexcited about it's new ideas that it can hardly breathe. The memory editing feature could carry a game by itself, the build your own combos could carry a game by itself, having to share space makes them a bit lacking the room to grow, like a pair of ginger twins who kind of creep everyone out. The story's ideas are above average but at the same time presented baggily and muddily failing to make the most of the main points like a badly constructed tent. For a while it makes a big thing of how morally questionable Nilin is shaping up to be. Yeah none of the villains behave like they'd be terribly out of place going up against Captain Planet, but rewriting their personalities carries some dodgy issues of manipulating free will, leaving the whole pummeling people into unconsciousness thing. And while she angsts up a storm about it, at the end, Nilin is basically like "Bah! What can you do?" and closure for this arc is lost.
And finally without wishing to spoil, the twists I came up with were way better than the ones the plot actually had, not that I'm spoiling that there's a twist. Maybe the twist is that there is no twist, you just don't know. Maybe the twist is that this video doesn't end two words from now.
Remembers when all this was fields: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
"Fisty siesta" sounds like it'd make a good name for a cocktail, actually, possibly incorporating tequila
Next week: E3, once we've all beaten our erections down