One of the year’s most intriguing games so far, the sci-fi action adventure “Remember Me” (PC, PS3, X360; $59.99; rated M) takes a lot of risks. Not all of them work out, but enough do to make the game well worth exploring. And in the realm of big-budget console titles, where every creative decision is weighed for market potential, any sort of risk-taking should be applauded.
Developed by French game studio Dontnod Entertainment, “Remember Me” takes place in the year 2084, in and under the streets of Neo Paris. Ravaged by an unspecified war, the city is divided into walled sectors for the very rich, surrounded by teeming slums of poverty.
The apparent absence of a middle class is the first of several sci-fi notions in the game that are clearly inspired by 1980s cyberpunk literature. The economy of this brave new world is driven by the mega corporation Memorize, which has found a way to digitize, scan and trade people’s memories. As a result, Memorize has established an oppressive surveillance state. In another nod to cyberpunk tropes, governments and corporations are essentially indistinguishable.
Players take the role of Nilin, a resistance fighter and “memory hunter” who has the ability to access others’ memories and even alter them. As the game begins, Nilin has been locked up in the rebuilt La Bastille prison, where her own memory has been wiped.
The game is structured around Nilin’s quest to regain her own memories and bring down the evil Memorize corporatocracy. To this end, she must infiltrate various city sectors and retrieve the memories of her enemies. Among the bad guys Nilin faces down: unmanned drones; hulking battle ’bots; paramilitary city cops; fellow memory hunters and feral, subterranean Leapers – former citizens whose brains have been fried by downloading too many memories.
This is delicious stuff if you’re a sci-fi geek, and the imaginative story elements are the game’s biggest strength. The designers have woven the narrative themes into gameplay mechanics as well. Among the puzzle portions of the game are segments in which Nilin must enter the memory of an opponent and alter small details to achieve a specific outcome.
Nilin can also retrieve holographic “memory stashes” left by other members of the resistance, which indicate puzzle solutions and power-ups items. These inventive gameplay options are where the risk-taking pays off. The designers aren’t afraid to try for new solutions to old game design problems.
The character of Nilin herself is a kind of risk. It’s a maxim in the industry that games with female protagonists don’t sell as well as those with male leads. And the designers here don’t sexy up Nilin, either. She’s a tough, punked-out street fighter.
The rest of the game consists of fairly standard combat and platforming sequences, with a tiny splash of exploration. It’s here that some of the game’s other risks fall flat.
The hand-to-hand combat in “Remember Me” is based on a novel but very confusing system of customized combo attacks. The idea is that, as Nilin proceeds in the game, she starts remembering her old martial arts techniques. These fighting moves are called Pressens, and they can be sequenced into hundreds of different combinations.
Some Pressens do extra damage, some provide healing, and some power yet another system of moves called S-Pressens. Each class of combat moves is fueled by a different resource, which you earn by defeating enemies and performing various combo attacks.
It’s too much complexity for too little payoff. The brawling combat sequences are often tedious and repetitive, and the game could really use some ranged or stealth combat options. I was reminded of the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indy decides to skip the fight with the swordsman and just shoot him instead.
I also wish the designers had opened up the environment a little. The visuals of futuristic Neo Paris are gorgeous and compelling. Towering 2,000-story skyscrapers loom over ruined cathedrals. Down below, the ruins of the Metro tunnels are littered with biotech trash and spare android parts. But “Remember Me” takes the roller coaster approach: You can only go where the linear and guided levels lead.
Still, “Remember Me” has kept me up late for many a night, enjoying all the grimy cyberpunk images and intrigue. If you like your games heavy on narrative and ambience, “Remember Me” is a story you won’t soon forget.
New This Week: The adorable sim “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” (3DS); the free-to-play fighting game “Tekken Revolution” (PS3); and the hugely hyped apocalyptic action shooter “The Last of Us” (PS3).