In spite of the massive social changes made over the last three decades, the video game industry vontinues to have a problem with its portrayal of women. We’re still seeing an abundance of big-breasted, overly sexualized bimbos created with “jiggle physics” that exist to titillate juvenile libidos in order to help the game sell better, or damsels in distress that need to be rescued by the macho hero, a plot device that, while proving stable for years, has started to wear thin. Thankfully progress is being made. This past console generation has seen a number of titles with well-developed female characters that don’t fall into stereotypical conventions or outdated archetypes, and who avoid falling into the trap of being made bland through removal of all feminine aspects: Naoto Shirogane and Chie Satonaka from Persona 4, Alyx Vance from the Half-Life series, Elizabeth fromBioshock Infinite, Alicia Melchiott from Valkyria Chronicles, and practically ever female companion from the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. However, these characters are all secondary protagonists, never given the starring role. Even in this enlightened era, it seems that a game with a female protagonist, regardless of quality, will not sell unless she’s hyper-sexualized (Bayonetta, Juliet Starling), devoid of any defining feminine traits (Chell, Samus Aran), or a long-standing icon ingrained in the public consciousness (Lara Croft). French developer DONTNOD Entertainment encountered this issue numerous times in the search for a publisher for their debut titleRemember Me, being turned down many times for refusing to capitulate to demands that they change the gender of their protagonist Nilin to a male or make her more sexualized in order to appeal to a larger male demographic. Eventually the company found luck with Capcom, which accepted the title without demanding they alter their character, publishing the game for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I was greatly anticipating this title, hoping it would be one of the breakout hits this year. Instead, it turned into an inconsistent mess that ended up as of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played.

By the year 2084, memories have become a commodity. Sensory Engine or “Sensen” technology developed by the Memorize corporation allows people to electronically share, store, or even erase their memories as they desire. You can relive the best moments of your life, or anyone else’s life, whenever you want, while tossing away unpleasant past experiences like they were trash. Most of the population of Neo-Paris has willingly accepted this apparent miracle, too concerned with the thoughts of continuous happy thoughts to worry about the darker aspects of Sensen technology. With everyone’s memories uploaded to a central server, they can be freely observed by the government or by Memorize’s executives, allowing for a constant police state where no one has any secrets or freedom. Furthermore, Sensen has created a strong class divide, as only the wealthy and powerful can afford to buy good memories and have the unpleasant ones removed, while the lower class must remain miserable. Even worse, this technology can be used to abuse the poor and dissidents by overwhelming them with painful memories, or even completely removing their memories to leave them devoid of identity. Predictably this misuse of power has given rise to a rebel group known as “Errorists” dedicated to fighting against Memorize and those who abuse its technology to torment others. One of the most notorious members of this group is Nilin, an elite memory hunter who has the ability to not only steal the memories of others, but also alter them to manipulate her targets into serving the Errorist cause. After a failed operation, though, Nilin was apprehended and subjected to a near total memory wipe, losing all aspects of her identity except for her name. After escaping from the prison with the aid of Errorist leader Edge, she’s convinced to join their cause once again, fighting not only to bring down Memorize and the repressive false utopia it built, but also to regain her identity. The question is, when Nilin discovers who she used to be, will she like what she finds?

Remember Me arose from an idea conceived by creative director Jean-Max Moris when DONTNOD was formed called Adrift. The game would have been set in a future where global warming had melted the icecaps, flooding most of the planet. This idea was abandoned as Moris saw the growing prevalence of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and how many users were so willing to share personal, intimate details of their lives with complete strangers. He theorized where this trend could lead, eventually arriving at a future where people could share their memories. It’s a fantastic concept that appears to be cribbed from We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (the short story by Philip K. Dick that inspired Total Recall), but it does have some rooting in sound science.

For decades neuroscientists have been making advances in brain-computer interfaces, where the human mind can be directly connected to a computer and manipulated by programmed signals. This technology has already seen breakthroughs in restoring partial vision to individuals with acquired blindness and letting subjects with electrocorticographic implants manipulate electronic equipment using only their thoughts. Another neuroscientific breakthrough has been the use of MRIs and computational models to reconstruct visual stimuli, making it theoretically possible to create a visual representation of a subject’s dreams, and possibly even their memories. There is still much more that can be obtained through this line of research, though it has already caused some alarm by raising concerns about potential privacy violations; if a computer can interact with a human mind, it’s conceivable that it could read private thoughts and memories as electronic impulses, essentially reading a person’s mind to discover their innermost secrets. There is definitely a precedent for the technology featured in Remember Me’s cyberpunk future, a topic with serious ethical quandaries. Unfortunately, the true limits of such a discussion are never achieved in the game’s story, one of several major issues the title has that hinder it.

The greatest problem with Remember Me’s narrative is the failure to fully explore the concepts it addresses. For every interesting point that’s raised, there’s a missed opportunity to better flesh out the world. To be fair, the developers did put some effort into the depiction of the oppressive future they envisioned. In the first two chapters, we see how bad the social gap in Neo-Paris truly is as the poor living in the slums struggle to find what they need to survive, while the upper class live in luxury with almost constant technological pampering to keep them satisfied. Frequent propaganda news broadcasts are heard as Nilin fights her way to Memorize, manipulating the public into remaining complacent, unwavering in their trust of the powers that be by twisting the facts and painting the oppressive authorities as heroic. We even get to see the impact of an Errorist attack that floods a district, as innocent survivors try to escape the horror they’ve been subjected to, leading Nilin to question the validity of her group’s fight if they’re so callous about innocent casualties. Unfortunately, these ideas are never really carried through to be fully effective. Despite claims that the Errorists have been active for a decade, only two other members are encountered throughout the course of the game – we never see fellow agents on their own missions or the impact they have.

There’s also a missed opportunity to show just how a society where memories can be purchased and sold negatively affects the people. You’ll see a scene where a depressed homeless man is begging for a memory of something good, a man at an ATM buys a memory of his first kiss, and later on, the shocking mental breakdown of a soldier suffering from an overload of neural damage. But other than that, it’s all just occasional background chatter you’re unable to interact with, walling you off from the world. Aside from a scene where Nilin’s remixing drives a man to suicide, it’s never shown what consequences arise when her targets learn that their memories have been altered, the mental strain of discovering that the truth has been replaced by an illusion for the sake of another’s agenda. The moral and ethical dilemmas this technology presents are ignored when they could have added another layer of depth and complexity to the story.

It also doesn’t help that key information about the technology, history, and key figures in the game are never addressed in full as you play. Instead, you have to find collectibles that offer a brief synopsis (written in a very small, difficult to read font) of subjects like how Sensen works and how its use became so prevalent over the decades. To paraphrase Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, this is bad storytelling; exposition should be integrated into the plot, not simply handed to the player without context. A game can get away with this if it’s ancillary flavor text that simply expands on the world the designers created, but not if it’s supposed to discuss elements that are crucial to the plot. Also, this is a slight nitpick, but I find it very strange that in a futuristic Parisian setting, you only encounter two characters throughout the entire game who have French accents.

The game also seems to have a problem settling on a tone, whether or not it wants to be a cerebral science fiction piece or a gripping action title. Blending these two genres is difficult but not impossible; Blade Runner is probably the best example of how it’s done right. Here, though, the styles never really mesh. It tries to have an intelligent discussion about the nature of identity, whether the ends justify the means in the struggle for a just cause, and the potential hazards of a society willing to forget its unpleasant pasts in exchange for continuous pleasure. Again, though, these questions aren’t thoroughly explored, just briefly touched on in an attempt to appear deep. Even having the game set in 2084, a century after the year George Orwell’s totalitarian state ruled, is superficial symbolism.

There are a few dramatic moments and twists that try to give the story more weight, but too many of them are improperly presented, coming out of nowhere without context and thereby lessening the impact they’re supposed to have. The more action oriented segments are hit and miss. High points are the first appearance of the Leapers, mind-wiped humans mutated by the filth of the slums, and an impressive chase sequence where Nilin has to run from a gunship. Then you have some cheesier moments with character and place names like “Bad Request”, “Neo Paris” and “Slum 404”, along with an attack called “Logic Bomb”. Massive robots will taunt and sometimes, for no good reason, even roar at Nilin. There’s some pretty laughable dialogue that doesn’t gel with the intelligent discussions the game is trying to have, like “Remember you soon,” being a recurring farewell, and hackneyed taunts from enemies that sound threatening but come off as a parody. Though there are a couple of gems, such as when Nilin punches out an operative who’s been following her and utters the line “Little Red Riding Hood’s got a basket full of kick-ass!” It’s lame, but enjoyably lame in that cheap 1980s action movie way. Unfortunately, the ending is a huge letdown with no real sense of closure. We never see how Neo-Paris reacts when Nilin’s job is done, how the people whose memories were altered or stolen react once the truth is restored to them. It’s a missed opportunity that greatly diminishes the quality of the overall game.

Characters are a mixed bag as well. Nilin, thankfully, is a very well developed protagonist, even though when we’re first introduced to her she’s practically a blank slate following her memory removal. This actually helps the player relate to her more, as we get insight into how she develops while trying to make sense of a world she’s lost all information about, trying to reconcile her new feelings about society with those she once held. We see how conflicted she is about some of the choices she’s forced to make, her remorse when she sees those hurt by her actions and remembers how she hurt others in the past. Nilin is a breath of fresh air from the overabundance of badass emotionless action girls. Yes, she can be aggressive and harsh as the situation requires, but she’s also vulnerable, sympathetic to the plight of others. Kezia Burrows brings Nilin to life with her excellent, passionate performance, making her stand out in the mediocre setting she’s been put in by giving her thoughts and actions a stronger impact. And I do have to say that I am glad DONTNOD refused to compromise in changing Nilin’s gender, because having played through it and witnessing her interactions, I don’t think a male protagonist would have worked as well. If you were playing as a man, there’d be too much risk he’d fall into the trap of being another interchangeable tough guy, the kind of which are overwhelmingly prevalent in the industry. I’m not saying a male protagonist couldn’t effectively convey the same emotions Nilin does, but I don’t know if it would have the same weight.

The side characters are definitely the most hit-or-miss. The strongest has to be Edge, Nilin’s confidant and leader of the Errorist movement. You never forget for a moment that he’s a fanatic who’ll do anything for his cause, coldly dismissing the suffering of innocents as a necessary sacrifice, only showing frantic emotion when Nilin is close to achieving one of the jobs he’s tasked her with carrying out. He isn’t seen in person until the end of the game, and while his true nature makes some sense in context, it’s still a bit ludicrous. At least his motivations are made clear, which is an issue most of the other NPCs struggle with. Some, like Charles and Scylla Cartier-Wells, the couple responsible for creating Sensen, have rational reasons for wanting to use their technology to improve the problems they see with society considering the suffering they’ve endured in the past. Others are less well defined; Madame, the sadistic prison matron running the Bastille, just comes across as a power hungry sociopath who likes seeing people suffer, while the manipulative Dr. Quaid has some vague rationale in that he sees collectivism being stronger than individuality. Once again, though, the driving force behind these characterizations is never fully explored, so we’re just expected to believe they’ve been assholes all their life. Almost every other major NPC is inconsequential, briefly introduced then dropped without being mentioned again. The only other character that really stood out was Kid Christmas, a bombastic bounty hunter with a pro-wrestling motif and an attitude rivaling that of Mr. Satan and Dwayne Johnson. But he’s brought in and then forgotten about too quickly to have a real lasting impact.

Gameplay is pretty average with a few standout moments. Much of the game is spent traveling through Neo-Paris via parkour platforming, running across roofs and jumping between ledges in order to progress. Some caution is required for traveling around electrified or moving platforms, since falling from a significant height will injure Nilin, plus there are several instant death traps and pitfalls present. While I’m glad that the game didn’t fall back on a sightseeing tour of the most recognizable Parisian landmarks, the world you do travel through is incredibly restrictive. You follow a linear progression from the beginning of the chapter to the end, with checkpoints popping up to indicate where you’re supposed to go next. There are occasional points of deviation, but this only takes you a little out of the way, usually just to pick up a collectible to increase your health or fighting energy. Some of these collectibles are hidden in one end of a branching pathway, but you’re given no hint about which way leads to the object and which takes you further along in the plot. Plus, if you go down the storyline path, you’ll be unable to go back for the collectible unless you restart the chapter. It falls into the same trap as titles like L.A. Noire and Final Fantasy XIII, creating a fantastic world that you’re unable to freely explore, only being allowed to stray from the pre-determined path when the game allows it. There’s a huge missed opportunity for side-missions like assisting fellow Errorists or helping people overwhelmed by bad memories. There are a few basic stealth sections and simple puzzles thrown in, but they do little to liven up the experience.

Combat is a bit more engaging, though. You have four set types of attacks or “Pressens” that each perform a different function: delivering a powerful blow, recovering some health, decreasing the time needed before you can perform a special attack, or doubling the effects of previous attacks. Pressens can be arranged in various combinations from a three-hit to an eight-hit attack, allowing for experimentation to determine which combos work best against certain enemy types. Defeating enemies unlocks new Pressens, which enables you to build up more combinations. Like theBatman: Arkham series, attacks flow in a rhythm, requiring you to hit the buttons right after landing a hit in order to build up a chain. Unfortunately, there is a slight delay that can throw off the rhythm for longer chains, though I’m not sure if this is just a problem on the Playstation 3 version or if it’s an issue on all platforms. Switching between enemies or getting attacked can also break a chain, so you’ll need to be aware of anything surrounding you and dodge effectively if you want to build up the most powerful attacks. The camera handles very well, making it easy to get the layout of a fight scene. Strangely, a red exclamation point appears above the heads of enemies that are about to attack, which is a meta-game concept I’ve had trouble understanding; is it just a combat design that doesn’t fit in the game world, or does Nilin’s Sensen implant give her something like Spider-Sense?. You’re also given a glove that allows Nilin to fire energy blasts which are useful in hitting enemies from a distance (and occasionally stun-locking them), dealing damage to the more heavily defended robots, and manipulating locks or machinery in order to progress. You can switch between targets on the fly, though there is a slight delay with the auto-targeting.

Special attacks called “S-Pressens” allow for short, powerful moves that can provide a strong advantage, such as increasing the impact of your attacks, stunning enemies, hacking machines, even temporary invisiblity. S-Pressens require energy that can only be built up through traditional combat to use, and after using a move, a cooldown period is required until you can use it again. While you only have five S-Pressens, they all serve a purpose against specialized enemies. Leapers that can become invisible to avoid attacks require the stun attack in order to make them reappear, while a hacked robot will turn their fire on your enemies, helping to thin out a crowded battlefield. Several advanced enemies can actually drain your S-Pressen energy if they get the drop on you, so again, you need to be on your guard, though I was left wondering why you can’t perform sneak attacks on enemies as well. There are only three basic enemy types: Leapers, soldiers, and robots, each with some small variations that require different strategies to effectively defeat. Some of the boss fights also incorporate quick-time events in order to succeed, but you’re given a fair amount of time to respond to the prompt. There are hardly any really unique boss fights, though; too often the battles are just one swarm of enemies after another, happening so frequently in the later chapters it becomes overwhelmingly monotonous. Even in the boss fights, you usually end up reliant on one special attack (usually the stunning power), spending the rest of your time doing basic damage until you can use it again. It’s only in the final confrontataion where you make the most use of multiple S-Pressens, but that’s a small concession.

Remember Me’s most interesting gameplay mechanics are those that focus on Nilin’s expertise as a memory hunter – the theft and manipulation of memories. Memory remixing is by far the highlight of the game, sending you into the mind of a target and altering their memories, finding and adjusting specific objects in order to change the outcome of what happened, the end goal being that the new memory will affect the target enough to do what you want, like turning a former enemy into an ally. It’s a fun concept reminiscent of classic adventure game puzzles, most notably in the fact that there’s usually only one correct sequence of events that needs to be followed to succeed, with a few amusing mistakes that can arise if you make the wrong choice (one of the most morbidly funny being a man drunkenly playing with his gun who ends up shooting himself after you remix his memory to make him think he took off the safety). Again, though, the game doesn’t make the most of this idea since it’s only used four times, twice with the same specific memory. Memory theft is less well thought-out, requiring Nilin to simply hit a button in order to take someone’s memories, then activate “Remembranes” which allow her to follow their footsteps. This is necessary to get past certain security protocols like armed drones, or find the solution to puzzles. But it could have been more engaging if, like Inception, to successfully steal a memory you actually had to navigate through the target’s mind in order to retrieve the information. Nilin even says that the mind of a Leaper she stole a memory from was a “bubbling sea of rage and suffering” – I would have loved to see that depicted rather than just have it left to the imagination. It would have also helped lengthen the play time by a bit, since on a normal runthrough it can be beaten in about 6-7 hours.

Graphics are absolutely stunning, reminding me of the visuals seen in A Scanner Darkly. Character designs have this appearance of advanced CG rotoscoping, creating almost realistic yet still slightly stylized figures. This helps them convey suitably realistic facial expressions without descending into the uncanny valley. Nilin herself has several animations that make her character appear more human, such as shielding herself with her arm when she gets too close to a blazing flame, or struggling slightly to get up after falling. Neo-Paris boasts an impressive design as well, with a start contrast between the bright, clean, idealized sections of the city populated by the upper class, and the dank, polluted slums. It includes elements to depict a futuristic society without going overboard, such as having humanoid robots in the background performing menial tasks, holographic projections in place of signs, and a technologically advanced aesthetic to buildings and vehicles. In the more action-heavy cutscenes, this attention to detail provides an impressive cinematic aesthetic. The mental landscapes have a surreal, minimalist, cubism-inspired scheme that really stand out as an impressive depiction of a person’s mind. The game’s overall color scheme used relies heavily on red, yellow, and white with high contrast to make them brightly pop, though I’m not exactly sure what the significance is unless it’s for visual flair. I have heard that the color yellow is supposed to simulate sense memories, so if that was the developer’s intention, I applaud them for the subtle color symbolism. I also like the visual effects that convey mental stress, notably the static glitches that appear on the screen whenever Nilin takes too much damage. The only real issue is an excessive use of bloom lighting and shadow, to the point where sunset scenes are blindingly bright, while some of the bleaker areas like sewers are so dark it’s very difficult to see anything except the navigational beacon. There isn’t much I can say about enemy design; the look of the Leapers is fittingly grotesque, but other than that, there’s very little variety among the low number of foes aside from palette swaps.

The sound design does well to reflect the setting of the game. Most of the time there’s hardly any background music, which heightens the artificial, sterile nature of the world Memorize has created. The only things you hear are the echoes of Nilin’s footsteps, her breathing, or mechanical noises, all of which have a natural feel that again, helps the setting feel more realistic. When we do get a musical score in cutscenes or fights, it has a heavy electronic influence. Composer Olivier Deriviere actually composed the game’s score as a traditional orchestral piece, then modified it with electronic equipment, adding instruments like synthesizers and Theremins to reflect what he considered the confusing nature of the title. String instruments feature most predominantly, delivered in rapid crescendos for tense moments like fights or chase scenes, and slowing down to emphasize sadder, more somber moments. The fight scenes also have heavy percussion, most likely to reflect the rhythmic nature of combat. Enemies will sometimes speak while fighting, but the only dialogue that really stands out is the insane jabbering of the Leapers, indicative of their decaying mental state. Other than that, it’s usually just the same one or two lines repeated until they’re taken down.

Remember Me was a colossal letdown, but it shouldn’t have been. This game was brimming with impressive concepts and novel gameplay mechanics that could have made it a hit. Unfortunately, it was all just wasted potential. I have to credit DONTNOD for trying something new, but new isn’t enough unless it’s executed properly. If the company wasn’t able to fully explore the ideas they addressed, perhaps they should have simply stuck with their original concept for Adrift. I can only recommend Remember Me as a rental, at least for gamers who are looking for something original. The flaws and lackluster presentation don’t merit a full price purchase. If you’re looking for a good sci-fi piece with thrilling action, a strong female protagonist, and deep discussions on the nature of identity, you’d be better off watching Ghost in the Shell.

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