I played this game a while back but have only recently felt compelled to write this review because of how much people seem to like it, and how much that irritates me. It was described to me as 'brilliant and brave' but I found it to be disappointing and quite predictable in its plot and structure. It has the air, not of something beautifully crafted by an old-hand, but of cack-handedness and cliché. It feels like the work of an incompetent storyteller retreating into a new medium, not for the new opportunities it offers, but for the sake of diminished competition. There are some positives - the environments are nice looking and there is very little repetition of game mechanics. There is a tendency among game designers to stick to a rigidly limited amount of gameplay elements for the sake of readability, but in doing so you deprive the player of experimentation - a cornerstone of the medium. Besides, all of the puzzle elements in this game are tied together by a common language - physics. You pull, push lean and swing. None of this has to be taught because we are already familiar with these actions from real life. I very much enjoyed playing a game where each experience is a new one.
Unfortunately the rest of the game is a let down. The mechanics never deliver on the promise made by it existing as a game, although in fairness, it does try - the bond between characters is meant to be forged by your actions - puzzles that require both brothers to complete. However you never identify with one character due to the disconnect created by you having to control both, and likewise you never form a bond with either as neither are truly external to you as the player. This leaves the story in an awkward place where it feels separate from the gameplay as it plays out in cutscenes in which you lose control - creating distance. The core mechanic too where you control one boy with each stick never stops being confusing and its only saving grace is that the game is short enough for you to persevere despite it.
Also noticeably jarring is the poor execution of the ending - throughout the game you solve challenges as part of a pair - surely the most elegant way of showing loss would be to come across more challenges subsequent to the death of one brother and find yourself unable to complete them, forcing you then to take a longer, harder road. Instead you're bolstered on by the dead boy's memory and are able to complete tasks with one that before required two. Rather than emphasising a point, they design a solution to bypass it, a solution to the very punchline that they have built up to until this point. A bizarre choice.
In Remember Me there is a shining gem of a game, worn dull by an outdated world structure, cliched themes and a combat system that just falls short of brilliance. It should though be commended for its portrayal of a well-realised, non sexualised female lead. Let me first say that I enjoyed playing this game more than I have enjoyed any in a long time. For all its flaws I felt its strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. It is one of the most inviting worlds I’ve ever experienced in a game. It’s also worth saying that I’m only ever this critical of things I love, because I want them to be perfect. This annoys my friends as I appear to have more of a problem with the films, games and books we like than the ones we dislike, but it’s only because I’m interested enough to obsess over the details.
I’ll try and keep this spoiler free.
There are several problems that I have with the narrative, some missed opportunities I think would have been really great, and there are also a wealth of small gripes like poor voice acting, (though the main cast is excellent). It’s not really worth focusing on these as they’re easily ignored, but I do wish they’d made more of certain story themes - Nilin’s amnesia for example would have been a great opportunity for her to be manipulated by people claiming they were old friends.
The combat system has some fundamental flaws and later unlocks make it pointless to ever use initial combos, as you get no bonuses for finishing them. The bigger sin though is that although you can continue your combos between enemies, if the one you’re fighting dies you lose the progress. It almost feels like a bug.
I also find the inclusion of the mutant ‘Leapers’ disappointing. Must all games include a mutant or zombie of some sort? They come with Gollum-like voices and it all feels a bit silly.
My main problem with Remember Me though, is that like a lot of older games it’s a slice of a world I wish I could explore fully. You play in closed off environments, bookended by cutscenes and mission cards. You have access to abilities that are only available to you a few times throughout the game and only at certain points. It feels like a teaser for something much bigger, a vertical slice. You do not feel like a free agent.
One such example is your ability to enter someone’s memories and alter them, changing what they do in the real world. However these only happen at set points making you feel a loss of agency. It’s a shame they couldn’t have built a system where you could steal anyone’s memories, gaining you access to a variety of places around the world, some insignificant, some vital to the story. It would not have been able to be as complex as the current implementation, but I would rather have an ability that I could use at any time, anywhere, than one that I wasn’t truly free to use.
It’s these things that make it feel outdated. I want to be free to explore the world I’m in, after all, along with interactivity, exploration is one of the fundamental differences that games have from other art-forms. Gameplay too is our way of touching the worlds we play in. If we’re shown that a character has an ability we are not free to use, it only distances that character from us.
Nilin is supposed to be a Memory Hunter, someone who operates above neo-paris, a detective who steals peoples memories in order to unlock the city. It’s just a shame that we were simply told that story, rather than living it ourselves.
Digital sightseeing in Remember Me. I have to admit this one almost passed me by due to the slightly disappointing reviews, but I’m very glad I played it. It’s set in a meticulously and beautifully crafted world. It also made me realise that this is what I love in a game - being taken away to another place. Escapism. Interesting how the rest of my current design team differs. I think my creative director has similar sensibilities, but the other two designers play games for very different reasons. One likes create characters who are very different from themselves and who they then rollplay, while the other is fascinated by numbers, statistics, odds and probability.
I have been addicted to this little game for a number of reasons. Chiefly that it looks great, sounds great and only takes up to a minute per-playthrough, which is perfect for an iPhone game. I read somewhere that Terry Cavanagh gave a talk at GameCity and that it revealed a host of interesting things that the game is doing without you noticing. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the talk online, but knowing this made me notice a number of things.
First of all the speed of the difficulty settings do not affect the speed at which the player moves, so from the very beginning you are learning the skills you need to play the game at its hardest setting.
The game also appears procedurally generated, but it isn’t. It has set sections that play randomly. Either that or the whole thing is in order, but you are started at a random point along this path every time you replay. I thought this was especially clever, because it means that you get an equal amount of practice at every section and you go from barely being able to complete a third of a level to completing the whole thing very quickly. This really ties in well with the music, which re-starts every time you fail. Hearing a longer section of the track becomes huge positive reinforcement.
I’d still love to see that talk, so if anyone has it, let me know!
This morning we lost connection with the servers at Disney, so I used the time to play Proteus. Wow! What a lovely little game. I only managed to play it for 20 minutes but it wasn’t what I was expecting. You wonder around a little island filled with ambient, abstract sound and then you find a story unfolding around you. There is a lot more atmosphere here than in many AAA titles - a testament to the rejection of industry standards that the indie movement represents.
This is also very much the kind of game I’m interested in building at the moment. Or one of the types at least; Small sandbox worlds that have a very limited population of things in them, but those things are fully realised, and the worlds although small, are also perfect because of this. Too many games are packed with many things that aren’t particularly interesting. I find the idea of worlds with a few well developed elements in much more appealing. Telling the story of a changing world, or simply telling a story around the player is something games are really brilliant at doing. Experiencing this story is also something that simply can’t be done in any other art-form.
EDIT - I have now finished it, and although visually striking I was disappointed to find that there is in fact no emergent storyline, and no real point to the thing at all. There is no hint to any kind of meaning however abstractly sign-posted. Shame.