VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Nailing cyberpunk is tricky business—especially in video games. Contrary to popular misconception, the genre calls for more than just a Blade Runner–inspired aesthetic. The very best cyberpunk blends an original sci-fi hook with elements of noir and heist thriller—just replace the obligatory vault and its elaborate defenses with an equally fortified target that exists within the digital space. Thing is, most games champion physicality first and foremost—interacting with the world through punches and kicks, bullets and bombs—pushing the more cerebral, thoughtful aspect of the genre to the backseat.
That’s not the case with Remember Me. Dontnod’s debut establishes the studio as capable of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their triple-A peers by delivering a cyberpunk adventure that expertly strikes a balance between expected gameplay styles, a smartly crafted narrative, and moments of cyberspace deduction that would draw in Rick Deckard himself.
Similar to most crime fiction, Remember Me is set entirely within an urban sprawl: Neo-Paris, 2084. It’s hard not to regard the City of LED Light as the unanticipated show-stealing character. The Paris-based developers went out of their way to breathe life into this futuristic version of their hometown—littering it with a staggering level of detail that packs the city with personality. While mechanized pianists entertain the rich, the poor are surrounded by desperate human declarations painted on walls and holograms that market red-light-district delights by way of robotic companionship. All of this is accentuated by ambient sound and claustrophobic, sky-piercing architecture that protagonist Nilin—a memory hunter turned fugitive—must navigate and explore with the finesse of a finely trained parkour athlete, climbing and shimmying her way throughout Paname.
Pursued by Neo-Paris PD, monstrous mutations of the city’s more unfortunate denizens, and high-tech security forces of the sinister megacorporation, Memorize, at the heart of Nilin’s tale, players must prove their melee merit accordingly. To this extent, Remember Me offers a more than competent beat-em-up experience reminiscent of other modern, likeminded brawlers. Although hardly as demanding as her action-oriented brothers, Remember Me’s combos—while pre-set insofar as the button order—do boast enough customization to give players a sense of ownership. Whether a combo is a full string of damage-dealing attacks, regenerative right hooks, cooldown-quickening cross punches, or a mix of all three is left for the player to arrange. And when blended with Nilin’s dodge roll—which, when successfully performed, lets her seamlessly pick up where she left off in the combo sequence—these mechanics create demanding encounters that cannot be cheapened through lazy button-mashing.
Add to this the S-Pressens—Nilin’s obligatory arsenal of special moves, which are often the only solution for besting certain enemy types—and you’re left with combat that could stand to be more customizable but is hardly restrictive or limiting.
What can feel restrictive, though only occasionally, are Nilin’s controls. When fighting, she feels fine, fluid. But outside of battles, her responsiveness sometimes turns stiff, and a leap between platforms becomes a plummet to checkpoint restart. Perhaps this is a byproduct of her animation—Nilin boasts some of the most realistic, least game-y movement I’ve seen. And while it doesn’t prove itself problematic for the most part, a seemingly simple jump turned free-fall always feels a little frustrating.
Common with narratively driven games, Nilin’s journey is a linear one. While excellently designed environments and visually stunning vistas guide the player, exploration is extremely limited. A smattering of divergent paths that lead to collectibles do, however, keep the game from feeling completely confining, and not only enhance Remember Me’s replayability but also help flesh out history and lore with story-accentuating journal entries.
But the crux of Remember Me—that hook that sets it apart—comes in the form of memory remixes, when Nilin hacks the digitally recorded remembrances of plot-crucial characters to tweak their perceptions of reality to her cause. These play out in what are best described as sleuthy sequences that ask players to pay attention to tiny details that may seem insignificant but ultimately alter the flow of their owner’s understood memories—particularly in how one unassuming factor influences another, ostensibly unrelated element. Did a fallen vase distract someone from a worse fate? Or did it not fall at all?
It’s difficult, if not impossible, not to point out how Remember Me excels outside of how it plays. Remember Me boasts some of the most effective social consciousness I’ve seen in a video game. I remember more characters of color than not, more diversity than the absence thereof, and none of it ever felt heavy-handed or preachy. It simply existed comfortably within the game’s fiction as part of the norm. Dontnod may not have intended Remember Me to be a shining example of inclusiveness—and it’s all the better for that inadvertence—but the end result certainly is an admirable effort at acknowledging the underrepresented.
When a game manages to possess as much brains as smarts as Remember Me, not to mention unapologetically stay the course as an example of cyberpunk, forgetting about it is far from likely.
Insert EGM Link here.