Notes on Remember Me

This post contains spoilers on Remember Me. I’m going to assume you’ve played the game before reading on, so my explanations of in-world organizations and events will be truncated. Even if you’re not familiar with the world, it shouldn’t stop you from following along.

Below I talk about the combat and navigation design, the believability of Sensen (Remember Me‘s memory-based technology), the quality of morality missing from the story, Nilin as an acting agent, and the male gaze.

  1. I don’t mind when you’ve got this wonderful world but end up putting a lot of exposition in journals. Sometimes they can be the height of the experience, as it was for me with Mass Effect, although that was facilitated with a voiced narration. But if you expect the player to want to find and read your journals, don’t then make them nigh impossible to read. Tiny text on a nearly empty white screen fits the plastic style of this future, but you need to decide if you want me to read these or not. It gave me headaches.
  2. I like the music. I don’t know much about music, I’ve no education or experience in talking about it at a critical level, so I don’t know how useful I can be here. I don’t have the language to properly explain what I mean when I say it put in mind the digitization of classical culture, and a sense of lived-in dissonance not unlike shards of memories. Far more than anything else, the score made me feel the cross-over of digital to reality: this was a European city with a long stretching history, suddenly interrupted, spiralling towards a dystopia.
  3. Batman: Arkham Asylum combat needs to go away. I’m not a fan of Rocksteady’s popular button-bashing system. Remember Me manages to worsen it. Dontnod adapted it as rhythm-based to enforce the spirit of tactics and chains. So in Batman, you can wail off a load of inputs and Batman will swirl around following the animation, but here, you need to press the next button at just the right moment or the chain will break. And chains break very easily. Because you’re never going to memorize all the attack animations to anticipate the exact moment you strike the enemy, you need to count it by the sound of your attack hitting the enemy, like in Vagrant Story. But whereas Vagrant Story pauses everything to allow you to focus on timing and your choice of input, Remember Me functions in realtime, so there’s a lot of visual and systemized interference to throw you off. You’re not given the wiggle room mid-sequence to shift the chain you’re building or to dodge an attack. Because of a rhythm dependency on animations and the game’s tendency to throw half a dozen guys at you a pop, it can be very difficult to dodge an attack within your rhythm, so you may as well forget about dodging and continuing the chain.
  4. This business about choosing the effect of each attack in each chain makes for an interesting system in theory. I’m not sure how it worked in practise. Maybe I’m dreadful at the combat, but because of my difficulties with the rhythm-based gameplay, I found myself stumbling through chains. The easier ones I memorized, and attributed to them a single unified effect, rather than a string of different effects. What’s the point of having a healing kick as the fifth step in an awkward combo when it’s much easier to spam a punch or a kick to deliver an effect to match my needs. Since combos are much of a muchness outside of this, I found myself repeating two or three chains for most of the game, rather than mixing it up. I’d like to see this sort of combo lab without the problems inherent in the combat system itself.
  5. The memory rewrite sections were easily my favourite part of the game. They essentially function as Ghost Trick‘s core mechanics, which isn’t a complaint, but because they were so few, the lasting effect is making me wish for a Ghost Trick sequel, rather than for more Remember Me. Seriously, everybody go play Ghost Trick.

  6. Navigation felt like Final Fantasy XIII. That’s a bad thing. While it’s ok to have that sort of floaty, off-set movement in a JRPG, in a game where I’m expected to deliberate myself through the gameworld like an action star (by jumping, running, climbing and so on), it felt too ethereal. Especially because all the jumping and climbing is overtly encompassed within the linear progression of the level, to the point where jumping and climbing feels roped into the same basic action as walking, as “moving”. I lacked the sense I was tracking out my own path that I somehow achieved in Uncharted and Enslaved. They both feature the same uber-user-friendly platforming as Remember Me (and I’m fine with it – I prefer it to Mario-style platforming), so as for why the different sensation this time, I don’t know.
  7. That leads me to a macro complaint of the game’s gameplay design: why did it have platforming at all? Why did it have combat? I get the impression it had these things because other games have them, and for a game like Remember Me, players expect platforming involving navigating landscapes and combat, so you have to have it. It had a very AAA feel to it, by which I mean it felt like it was aspiring to be what other games are, and to be middle of the road at it, to meet expectations. I’ll tell you now, Remember Me didn’t need to have platforming or combat, especially considering how unimpressive it managed them to be. It especially didn’t need combat that enforced physical prowess in contradiction to the game’s most curious mode of action: memory manipulation.
  8. Although it might be bad taste to offer suggestions for what could have been, I’m going to entertain a thought: Remember Me could have excelled had it forsaken its combat and platforming for memory-centric gameplay. The rewrite segments offered a taste of the potential I saw in the premise of the sci-fi – it would have been wonderful if expanded upon to encompass a more dominant part of the game. Along with remembrances and some of the other hokey technological ideas, more than enough can be imagined to build a game where you deceive and manipulate your way into Memorize buildings to complete your goals. Tricking a guard into thinking he’s yet to patrol, or that he heard a noise a second ago, or saw a shape a minute ago he’s only now realised could be an intruder, or thinking a door used to be open that now is closed. Visually distorting an employee’s vision to mask your presence, or dashing past her and then making her forget. I would adore a game like this.
  9. I enjoyed the potential offered by memory-centric gameplay and technologies, but I never bought the core idea that Sensen had ingrained itself in the whole wide world. It’s reasoned by two factors: everyone was sad and alienated after the European civil war, and the digitization of memory offered advantages. I’ll be generous and allow the first, they can point to the rise of social media as a precursor and nudge and wink enough for me to grant it. But I’m not convinced the cost of digitization implants would enable a financially disadvantaged citizen to invest, to sell their memories on the market in order to get back on their feet. When we start to talk about cybernetic dystopia, you need to consider the practicality of the tech that would drive a substantial proportion of the population to pitch in. It’s not like Ghost in the Shell where a digitized mind allows for (what is effectively) telepathy, internet ubiquity, an additional interface with which to interact with the world around them, and so on. Remember Me stretches the application of Sensen with remembrances, hacking computers, breaking terrain, opening doors, and so on, but too little of this technology allows for anything over what is already available to a non-digitized mind in a non-digitized world. You wouldn’t get a costly implant just to open a door unless all the doors were already so that you’d need the implant. Besides, how much of Nilin’s use of Sensen would be applicable outside of espionage? So what would drive the world to shift to such a state where one needs a digitized mind to operate? Either a corporate monopoly, which I don’t buy because Memorize would have gone under long before Sensen got a foothold. Or a massive population uptake of Sensen on cultural grounds for its primary intrinsic purposes of caretaking memories, which strikes me as too fanciful a stretch of human nature. Let alone the huge philosophical potholes this functionality conjures (getting addicted to memories? forgetting memories drastically changes your personality? there’s a disconnect between what’s remembered and what is that needs to be remedied, but Dontnod steamroll right over it).
  10. The reason I don’t buy that is because it amounts to a load of sad people getting a thing to trade memories with one another in order to be happier. But if there’s enough of a pool of happy memories to propel the market onward, who are these happy people who picked up Sensen and why? Or are they happy memories held by sad people, in which case why wouldn’t the sad people just cling onto their happy memories, instead of selling them in trade of someone else’s happy memories? The economic value of their happy memories would likely help them to realize that their happy memories have value outside of Sensen’s market value, sicne the user demand for memories puts tangible, quantified value upon them for the seller to see. There is an interesting economic process going on within Sensen; were it predicated on already-established digitization technology, it would be held aloft. But Sensen is not convincingly applicable beyond tiny niche markets.
  11. I say all this assuming there exists a huge class divide in the world of Remember Me, and it’s just that we are never made privy to the squalor of the immigrants and non-digitized citizens that the journals hint towards. Which is a pity – I’d have liked to see that explored more.
  12. An attempt was made at questioning the morality of Nilin’s actions, but it was so thin it came across as shallow. And nothing came of it. I might have preferred a more subtle, inferred rebuke of her actions, a la The Last of Us.
  13. This whole morality of rewriting memories to change the entire personality of their owner is sketchy as hell. It makes zero sense for Nilin to break down over causing someone to shoot themselves over his rewritten memories, when Nilin is resolute (and carefree, in the case of Olga) at corrupting and perverting their entire being. Furthermore, Nilin deliberately kills and brain-wipes hundreds of people as a matter of course. I’m not positive what overloading a guy’s brain actually does, either it wipes their minds and renders them catatonic (and is perhaps incurable) or it outright kills them. I didn’t see anybody move after Nilin doing them over, so I think it kills them. With this in mind, it makes even less sense for Nilin to have an emotional reaction to mister man’s suicide, except that his death was a plot beat.
  14. It’s hard to think of Nilin as a good person. I didn’t remark on any attempt by her to justify or rationalize her actions, and I never figured out what her motivations were earlier or now in her Errorist career. Her inability to read people (especially Edge, regarding the dam) and to consider the long-term consequences of her actions conjures images of a petulant child.
  15. Nor does she seem to have any semblance of agency. You could make the argument that it’s intentional, that her amnesia makes her susceptible to following orders or that it dampens her wilfulness, but that doesn’t match her internal monologue or inter-character interactions on a whole. Nilin is a hair’s breadth from being a non-entity. She follows Edge’s directions when she has little reason to adhere to his mission statement. And she’s powerful enough an Errorist to strike out her own mission to rediscover herself. There’s a lot to be said here that could easily encompass a post of its own.
  16. I knew from the first trailer that this game would abide by the male gaze, and I was not wrong. Nilin’s heels, her strutting, the camera’s swooping and angling to encompass her painstakingly modelled rear. Graffiti and advertisements and other in-world imagery all help establish this world as one yet aspiring to the sexualisation and objectification of women. I noticed, as well, how unsettling it is for all the servile robots to be gendered as female. (Why do these robots have breasts?) I’m not sure if it’s intentional that the most passive, subservient people-as-props would be identifiably female, and is a commentary on modern cultures, but given how you need look no further than the front cover to find evidence of the male gaze, I’m inclined to think otherwise.
  17. Which is all to say, congrats to Dontnod for featuring a female protagonist, but this game is nevertheless atrocious for its gender politics.
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