Published on February 18th, 2014 | by Andrew Vestal4
Remember Me: This Was Supposed to Be the Future
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?
I 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.
Remember 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…
There 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.
Tokyo 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.
I’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.
And 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.
Ultimately, 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.
I 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.