Published on February 18th, 2014 | by Andrew Vestal


Remember Me: This Was Supposed to Be the Future

RememberMe06“Unless you’re over 60, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.”

That’s a joke, except it isn’t, and that’s a joke. We really are living in a surveillance state where corporate monopolies have more power than most governments, and yet it’s not so bad, once you get used to it. Every day people are still born, they die, they fall in love and make beautiful art and music. Google’s watching, but life goes on. What else can you do?

RememberMe05I really like Remember Me, even though objectively it’s not a very good game. I like it because it tries to make art within an oppressive system. Not the cyberpunk dystopia of Nilin’s Neo Paris, but the crippling constraints of AAA game development. Viewed holistically, Remember Me is a generic action game of linear platforming, tedious combat, and flat characters. But look closer, and the title is full of strange and personal decisions and moments of unexpected beauty that reveal the humanity of its creators. Remember Me is uneven, but those peaks and valleys are more memorable than a focus-flattened experience.

RememberMe04Remember Me’s greatest sins are mechanical. Its beautiful levels lack obvious environmental cues, so the HUD guides you every step of the way. Seriously, every damn step. Its combat is both overly complex and mind-numbingly simple. And the story does its best to undermine the characters at every turn. From the moment you start playing until the credits roll, you’re taking instruction from an unlikable “Errorist” leader on the other end of the phone. It’s hard to become invested in a story of rebellion when the player has no agency to speak of. The game tells you you’re a hero but treats you like a gofer.

So: linear levels with no freedom, combat with no challenge, and a hero with no agency. Not a great place to start. And yet…

RememberMe02There are moments and images I can’t shake. Emerging from your prison beneath the Bastille to see the Eiffel Tower, lit up in neon. The Vendôme Column, sagging beneath the weight of a dozen pirate cable feeds. A robot strip club: Bits. A character called Kaori Sheridan, a bicultural name so completely on-the-nose as to be perfectly cyberpunk. The sunsets and the shadows. The idea that a dystopia doesn’t have to look like either Blade Runner or THX-1138, that it can have clean parts and dirty parts and most importantly just lived-in parts that bridge the squalid slums and shimmering spires.

RememberMe01Tokyo is considered one of the most futuristic cities in the world, but visit it and you’ll be struck immediately by how the old and new constantly intermingle. An 80-story glass skyscraper is built down the block from a 300-year-old shrine. It doesn’t matter how much the land is worth, that shrine was there first and that means something to the people who live there. No great world city will ever be redesigned from scratch, no matter how utopian the vision. Remember Me understands the past is never that far away, especially in a city as lush and loved as Paris. Technology may come and go, but the Paris Métro is forever.

RememberMe07I’m tickled every time by the way your HUD displays the name, hours, and services of every storefront you pass. I’m shocked by how your HUD visualizes the threat of an advancing robot as a mass of roaring teeth. I’m pleasantly perplexed by the way every character, regardless of social class or wealth, has the same ridiculous holographic Sensen daisy spiraling out the back of their neck. In the world of Remember Me, every person has a flower. Technology may not define us, but it still informs us and shapes the way we interact with our world.

The game is beautiful. Simply awe-inspiring and gorgeous. Beautiful enough to make up for its other shortcomings? I thought so. I could not believe how beautiful this game was always.

RememberMe09And the soundtrack! Olivier Deriviere’s incredible score is a haunting masterpiece  of subverted expectations. Instead of the synth-laden tracks that have defined cyberpunk since Blade Runner, Deriviere recorded a traditional score with a full symphony orchestra, then chopped and glitched the results back at the studio. The final soundtrack could be described as a combination of Don Davis, Clint Mansell, and Burial–polytonal  horns and soaring strings, undercut with a start-stop feeling of overproduced unease. It’s the sound of classical grandeur under siege by transgressive technology.

RememberMe10Ultimately, the parts of Remember Me that succeed stand out so clearly because the other parts are so perfunctory. Like two other “bad” games I’ve loved, Nier and Binary Domain, this is the work of a team whose reach well exceeds their grasp, but who damn well reached anyway. As the saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you may land among the stars.” With a busted-up rocketship and a critical average in the 70s, but still, for a moment there, you flew.

Sometimes it’s more interesting to play a game that’s interesting than a game that’s good. And there’s more to life than a 5.0 Fun Factor.

RememberMe11I liked Remember Me not because it has heart but because it has teeth. I’d rather play an interesting “failure” that moved me in unexpected ways than yet another AAA experience with all the bumps smoothed out. I don’t need a designer to do that for me, because with time my memory will handle that itself. Why, I’ve already started to forget all the parts that bothered me! And now the parts I loved burn brighter still.

Thanks to Janine Hawkins’ SingleFrameVideoGame tumblr for the beautiful screenshots.

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About the Author

Founder. Still likes videogames, but for different reasons. Has two cats.

4 Responses to Remember Me: This Was Supposed to Be the Future

  1. Terry Torres says:

    Phew… Well, this makes me wanna check it out.

  2. jrronimo says:

    I pre-ordered Remember Me after seeing some screenshots at a GameStop. I think it was cheaper than average, too, like $40. I haven’t completed the game yet, but I put a few hours into it right after I got it and loved every second for the same reasons mentioned here.

    I find myself wandering around the limited areas of the city, examining the wires, the neon, and even the scraps of paper on the ground. It’s almost frustratingly linear in that there is this huge world I want to explore every nook and cranny of, but that I can’t. And that makes sense, too: The smaller the “scope” of an individual area, the more dense the art and flourish can be packed. Unless you’re Rockstar, of course.

    I bought the soundtrack from Amazon ( ) and much like the Mirror’s Edge soundtrack, it was worth every penny. The “glitched orchestra” sound is phenomenal, and I hope the artist receives some recognition for it some day.

    I can’t say more, really, without just repeating everything said in the article. It’s an enjoyable enough game with superb graphics that I think is severely under appreciated. I’m really glad that it’s a PS+ game this month as I really hope more people get a chance to check it out and the studio gets a few more bucks towards whatever their next project may be.

  3. kamikazeblonde says:

    I’m torn on this game, for several of the reasons mentioned here in the article. But mainly my biggest frustration is that Remeber Me an incredibly beautiful world that refuses to let you explore it.

    The city-scapes are amazing, and it was refreshing to see a dystopian, cyberpunk future set in some city other than Tokyo or NY. This future-Paris feels organic, like the only logical conclusion to a city so steeped in the past as it grew into the future. I loved that about it. It was so real and so stunning.

    And totally agreed on the music. Definite win there.

    But for me, the controls just killed it. The game was so domineering… EVERY move was controlled. You couldn’t explore, couldn’t jump when the story didn’t want you to jump, couldn’t climb when it didn’t want you to…

    I really just wanted to BE in this world and absorb how phenomenal it was and I felt like it wouldn’t let me. So frustrating, and rather disappointing. I understand why the designers built it this way but I think a little leeway might have made it more enjoyable over all. Mass Effect is a good example of how to do it better. You have a limited map available, but all the places within it are explorable to the character. There are some things you just can’t do (jump off sky bridges, for example) but otherwise you have a certain degree of autonomy. I think Remember Me would have been much better if it had been modeled a little more like that.

  4. Erika Bee says:

    Wonderful article! I may never actually play this game, but I appreciate appreciation of games as something that can be art–with all the aesthetic, emotional and complicatedly human elements that entails. Things that are moving and thought provoking and visually/aurally pleasing are much more interesting and worthwhile than the generic toxicity of most games, even if the latter are more mechanically polished. Mechanics, by themselves, are just boring. I need to be spoken to, by creative endeavors; I need to feel like someone, on some level, wanted to make the thing I’m experiencing.

    Breaking my (irregularly followed) regular internet code of silence; but you’ve written and featured some really fantastic stuff since the site resurrection, and are one of a handful of games writers I can still enjoy and get some meaning from as an adult. So, thanks!

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