Remember Me arrives at the end of a console cycle, as gamers chew over the future of used games and wonder which next-gen consoles are worth their money. It’s strangely fitting that this game’s story revolves around class consciousness in a futuristic world obsessed with a dangerous but alluring technology. Remember Me deserves more than to wind up as a cult favorite in bargain bins for gamers who couldn’t afford a fancy console upgrade, but given the game’s themes, that wouldn’t be a bad hill for it to die on.
After all, the protagonist of Remember Me, Nilin, is the heroine of the underclass. It’s 2084, and Neo-Paris has been segregated by status. Everyone has a device called a Sensen installed on the back of their necks; a massive corporation called Memorize developed the tech, which lets people modify their memories. Trouble is, messing with memories causes nasty, zombie-like side effects in the long term. Everyone has a Sensen installed, but most folks can’t afford to stay human for long.
Memory alteration also seems to be addictive; the poorer districts of Neo-Paris feature men and women desperately begging passers-by for a memory upload just so they can experience something, anything. The analogue to videogames doesn’t seem like much of a leap, here.
Nilin begins the game in the Bastille with no memory of who she is. (Yes, the upper-class of Neo-Paris went ahead and called their futuristic prison the Bastille; presumably the rich hipsters in this world also wear “let them eat cake” T-shirts.) Nilin soon gets her memory jogged when Edge, an activist friend of hers from the outside, hacks into her Sensen and tells her how to escape the compound.
Soon, Edge barrels Nilin with piles of exposition and tasks to help their cause. It turns out Nilin was quite the bad-ass before the brainwash, and now her escape has rocketed her back to being Public Enemy Number One. As Nilin’s old tough act persona filters back into her memory in bits and pieces, she must choose which parts of her past she still identifies with.
Throughout the game Nilin wrestles with her past, but also with what she has done to others for the sake of the “cause”. Remember Me’s strongest sequences are Nilin’s memory remixes; she can change someone’s personality and motivations by hacking their Sensen and altering their memories of past tumultuous events. These sequences play like point-and-click adventures, in which the player must select the correct combination of objects to produce a desired result. Nilin just keeps changing the story until she gets the result she wants; she has learned how to “game” other people’s senses, as though playing their brains in a sort of God-mode.
Unfortunately, in spite of being about games thematically, Remember Me features some unfortunate missteps as a game. The combat system invites players to design their own combos, and the menu for creating these attacks feels user-friendly and simple. In practice, however, the combos often don’t work as they should; the slow-motion timing of attacks is likely inspired by Batman: Arkham Asylum, but Nilin doesn’t share the terpsichorean grace of the Batman in action. Remember Me’s controls feel clunkier and less responsive than Arkham. When fighting large groups, Nilin must spend more time leaping around than attacking in order to avoid getting surrounded. When Nilin gets encircled—and she does, often—Remember Me’s slow combat style and bizarre camera shifts drag her down.
The choices for enemies in Remember Me seem to go against its central themes, since Nilin’s most irritating enemies are the zombie-like underclass who have been corrupted by Memorize’s technology—the very people on whose side Nilin should be on. Nilin also fights agents of Memorize, but ironically, these enemies are slower and easier to take down. As Edge tells Nilin, it is strange but apparently necessary to fight people you wish you could protect. If only the combat sequences with them were not so annoying, I could have spent more time feeling sorry about their plight.
I had hoped for a more complex combat scheme—or, at least, smoother and more responsive brawling—from Remember Me. Instead, I got the opportunity to play as a bad-ass, anarchist woman of color fighting to reclaim her own identity, all within a stylized, colorful world that celebrated the kinds of themes that I always wish games would discuss: class, race, gender, who has a “right” to game, and who we expect to be good at hacking and gaming the system, as well as the difficulty of dealing with being the people’s tokenized hero. I’m willing to forgive boring, occasionally unresponsive, and frustrating combat for the sake of the experience provided by the aesthetics of this game’s world.
The game’s strongest points—its striking visual aesthetic, its unusual fusion of classical and electronic music (no doubt an homage to the game’s futuristic French Revolution theme), and the character of Nilin—may not feel like enough to players seeking a long-form experience with tighter combat, especially since this game is only 10 hours long. But for those willing to overlook programming missteps, Remember Me has a lot to offer narratively and thematically. Many videogames are metaphorically about videogames already, but Remember Me manages to go beyond just that initial trope to also juggle a narrative about class, corporations and systems of power. Here’s hoping a future sequel will someday sort out the combat mechanics as well.
Maddy Myers writes the biweekly Hyper Mode column for Paste. Her work has also appeared in the Boston Phoenix, Kill Screen and at the Border House. She also blogs at her personal website Metroidpolitan and tweets @samusclone.