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Wot I Think: Remember Me

relive memories of positive experiences

Remember Me is a sci-fi action game from Capcom and French dev DONTNOD, and it is about doing unpleasant things to people's memories and punching other people. Mostly punching people, to be honest. Let's see I can totally recall what I thought of it.

I know exactly what you're thinking. You're thinking "'Remember Me' refers to this Capcom action game's plot and theme, concerning the technological manipulation, trade and abuse of memories in futuristic France." You are incorrect. It actually refers to trying to remember lots of button combinations. The subtitle was originally going to be "No? Then you're going to be rubbish at this game." Check Capcom's United States Patent and Trademark Office registration for this game, you'll see.

Yes, this is one of those proverbial games of two halves. One half is punching, which I'll come back to in a bit. The other half, on paper the most compelling to me and I suspect to a fair few of you, concerns dark science-fictional memory hacking in Neo-Paris. Remember Me sort of gestures broadly towards concepts of what memory, and with it identity, really means, especially when any memory can be altered, and has some fun depicting a society wherein the wealthy are hooked on being able to relive memories of positive experiences (primarily sex, as well as that hormonal condition you humans call 'love') on demand, while the memory-harvested poor are murderous, babble-spouting ghouls living in slums and sewers.

It's very much a classical science fiction high concept - what if you could buy someone else's memories? - but if you're hoping for a homage to 80s camp, I'm afraid it's a lot more like Colin Farrell Total Recall 2012 than Arnie Total Recall. An 80s sci-fi touchstone whose influence is very much apparent is Blade Runner - pan-ethnic fusion culture, giant light-billboards, metropolitan ultra-sprawl and the juxtaposition of gleaming high-tech with urban squalor and ruin. Very nice to look at indeed, and like BioShock: Infinite it's one of those games where the artists look to have been free to indulge themselves, but in both plot and tone it does feel like it's a collection of hoary old sci-fi tropes bolted together and then painted in particularly shiny colours.

Paris in the future is Neo-Paris, because obviously in the future all city names in the future will be prefixed with Neo- in the future, areas have names like 'Slum 404' and characters are called things like 'Bad Request.' In the future, everyone's obsessed with antiquated website error terminology, apparently. It's the future, you see. It's just all so obvious, like the only film whoever came up with that stuff has ever seen was Tron Legacy.

The cast, meanwhile, spout mountains of Neo-Fromage and struggle to attain more depth than a slice of deli counter ham. While extreme amounts of effort seem to have gone into the visually engaging levels, all distinctively Parisian streets gone to seed or overlaid with holographic ads and brightly-coloured C-3POlikes, the words and ideas supporting that are a mess of well-intentioned but rather obvious cliches.

Two aspects of the game rise above that. Firstly, the playable character, the action hero of the piece, is a woman of mixed ethnicity, and the game doesn't feel it has to draw attention to either of those attributes. Enemies aren't aghast or amused that they're fighting a woman, she doesn't have to go on some journey of self-discovery in order to become magically capable of punching people to death, the camera doesn't linger on her curves (though it arguably has worse problems - more on that later) and, well, she's just there, being the star of the piece. There are many ways in which Remember Me might be compared to the recent Tomb Raider reboot, but I'm glad to see this behaving as though it's just always been the case that a female character can be the protagonist of an action game. The cause can be strongest when it's not making a big deal of it.

Then there's an all too occasional minigame in which we get to manipulate - 'remix' - other character's memories in order that their present day behaviour changes. For instance, make an assassin working for the memory-stealing corporation you're trying to take down believe that they caused the death of her husband and she'll suddenly feel disinclined to slit your throat. This is done by entering the memory of a life-saving operation her chap was receiving courtesy of The Tyrell Corporation Memorize and looking for 'glitches', whatever they're supposed to be. What they do is allow alteration - loosen the straps of his anaesthetic mask or stick the wrong medicine in the machine that goes ping, that sort of thing. Soon enough, she'll believe Weyland-Yutani Memorize offed her fella through medical incompetence/mendacity and must be taken down.

It is a little arbitrary and doesn't stand up to much analysis, but winding and rewinding through the memory, looking for glitches and using a combination of logic and trial/error to work out which ones should be altered and in which order is fascinating stuff, with a few alternate (but fail-state) outcomes if you get it wrong. Yeah, in a way it's a quick-time time event writ-large, but with more convincing context and variance, while the moral oddness of manipulating memories in order to have someone later do you a favour is by far the most compelling aspect of the plot. OK, you're trying to take down an evil corporation, but does that justify making someone believe their husband died in tragic circumstances? Later narrative events do a bit more with the ethics of this stuff, but really the story just burbles off into technology-as-magic gibber and for the most part the memory-hacking is just a rare, more cerebral diversion from the game proper.

The game proper is a combo-centric punchathon, whose main activity has about as much to do with the much-touted memory-fiddling concept as the Vatican has with Grindr. (Actually, I'm probably completely wrong on that last, aren't I?) The best point of reference is probably the fisticuffs of the Batman Arkham games - just a couple of buttons, but an emphasis on the timing of punches, keeping the blows flowing and pinballing from enemy to enemy in order to avoid openly highlighted incoming attacks.

What you don't get is semi-freeform exploration in between this stuff - while the amount of incidental art in a level can create the illusion of wide-open spaces, you're very much on a rail, regularly stopping off for far too many, far too long cutscenes. In between the fighting, there's some very lightweight, Uncharted-esque parkour, but it's meatless stuff - rote jumping and ledge-grabbing just to kill a bit of time before the next fight-dance. There are few sequences you could technically call puzzles, but I'd rather call them Doing Things That You Are Told To Do.

What Remember Me does instead of environmental freedom is flexibility of combat combos. There are no fixed combos; instead you program your own. Want a sequence that replenishes a ton of health? Stick a load of yellows in there. Pure damage? All the reds, please. Recharges your special abilities (e.g. mass stun, superhuman punching)? Purple it up.

It's a neat idea, especially because you can mix it up again whenever you like if you feel a different tactic is required for a certain enemy, because you get bored or even if your muscle memory is just having a hard time with a particular button sequence. Even so, it gets old faster than it perhaps should - whatever the circumstance, really you're only ever trying to achieve one of a small handful of effects (and all of which extrapolate to 'everyone else on-screen is now dead') against attack of the clone enemies.

I suspect people who adore the precision and self-discipline of something like Devil May Cry will get a lot more out of this than I did, but I'm afraid I increasingly became bored and frustrated when another small group of zombie things or armoured guards dropped in and I had to repeat the same dance yet again. Doesn't help that I spent most of my time looking at the Guitar Hero-style combo bar at the bottom of the screen instead of what was actually going on - at times Remember Me wound up feeling like a rhythm action game with too many cutscenes.

I wound up playing on gamepad too, as comfortable button-tapping was far more important than any sort of precision aiming. And in any case, the camera's a nightmare - too close to the character, often pointing itself at the corner of the floor, and generally undermining the lavish environments by making me feel as though I was trapped inside a small box.

Remember Me is one of those games I admire more than I like, then. It looks fabulous on an aesthetic level (though after early, glorious sights of an alternately augmented and squalid Paris, it shoots itself in the foot by spending about a third of the time in dreary sewers and corridors), it's certainly kicking around a few smart ideas in both concept and mechanics, but despite early ambition it doesn't wind up going the distance in either regard. We don't give scores here, of course, but the degree to which Remember Me is the very definition of one very particular number does make me laugh.

I can't remember when Remember Me is out. Oh no, that's right, it's 'now.'

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