Remember Me preview: c-c-combo breaker

By Andrew Yoon, May 06, 2013 11:30am PDT

It's not difficult to see why Capcom picked up Dontnod Entertainment's Remember Me. It's a stylish brawler, with an interesting combo-building mechanic set in a fascinating futuristic world. The game takes full advantage of its memory-based narrative, offering interesting ways of interacting with people's memories. Yet, in spite of all the incredible things Remember Me does, it fails to execute on the fundamental gameplay mechanics. In short, it may look like a Capcom game--but it certainly doesn't play like one.

The future dreamt up by Dontnod is intriguing. People are able to store, share, and relive memories--and like a drug, many become dependent on the technology. The game begins with Nilin waking up from a memory-wiping operation, where an evil corporation has attempted to extract her memories. Now stricken with amnesia, she is intercepted by a group know as the "Errorists," that are trying to free people from the monolithic rule of memory technology.

Remember Me is visually arresting, thanks to its inspired art style and clean look. You'll want to explore the environment, just to appreciate the world Dontnod has created. Unfortunately, like many aspects of the game, there isn't much depth offered by straying off the beaten path. NPCs won't acknowledge you, and there's little reason to explore the environment--other than to find the arbitrarily hidden collectible or two.

It doesn't take long for Nilin to "remember" her ability to fight. Oddly, this doesn't happen as part of some sort of revelation. Instead of offering a narrative-based reason for her sudden recollection of combat abilities, a menu pops up on screen. It's an incredibly disjointed way of introducing combat. You'll spend a lot of time in the "Combo Lab," where you will build Nilin's first two combos.

Being able to build your own combos is an interesting gimmick, but its implementation in Remember Me is likely not what you expect it would be. You're not really creating new combos; instead, you're simply assigning different attributes to a combo. For example, you can focus entirely on "X-button" combos, which will deal the most damage. You can add "Y-button" skills to certain combos, letting you recover health. Along the way, you'll collect more buttons--they are a finite resource, apparently. Instead of representing a player's combat style, the "Combo Lab" is really best for min-max'ers, who want to find the most potent combinations of buttons.

Jumping into the Combo Lab every time you want to adjust your combat abilities is clunky and jarring. Given that the game is otherwise very clean, it feels quite abrupt having to jump into a convoluted menu screen before battle. However, a more significant downfall is that the combat is, quite frankly, not fun. It's stiff and boring--a far cry from Capcom's recently-released DmC: Devil May Cry. Although it tries to emulate it in many ways, combat in Remember Me feels like a poor man's Batman: Arkham City.

Not only does the combat fall short, so does the platforming. The "grab glowing ledges" mechanic is a tired trope now, but it's made even worse by the HUD that literally tells you where to go.

It's a bit disappointing to see a novel concept like the combo lab wasted on a combat system that isn't particularly satisfying. However, Remember Me does one thing incredibly well, and it's something I wish there were more of. "Memory remixing" is a power unique to Nilin. She can not only see people's memories, but she can hack them, altering them for her own bidding.

In the first "remix" sequence, Nilin must somehow convince a bounty hunter that she is not her target, but her ally. To do so, she finds a memory of her lover undergoing a memory operation. The costly procedure would be paid by the bounty on Nilin, but you can change this memory: instead of having the operation go well, you can have it go disastrously wrong--convincing the bounty hunter to seek revenge.

Before you remix a memory, you'll watch it in its entirety. Then, using the analog sticks, you can rewind, pause, and fast-forward through the memory as if it were a digital video tape. You'll find objects to interact with, each having some sort of butterfly effect on the memory. It's fascinating to see how a single change can affect an entire scene. One time, we accidentally killed the bounty hunter in her own memory--obviously, that would create some sort of memorial paradox.

Memory remixing is unlike anything I've ever seen in a game. It's also incredibly satisfying when you find the right combination of items to use. I'd love to see an entire game centered around this remixing ability--a highly cinematic Ghost Trick, of sorts. Unfortunately, according to Capcom, the entire game only features four of these spectacular sequences.

After playing the first few levels of the game, I found myself not wanting to go on. Memory remixing is great fun--but do I really want to trod through the game's rather mindless combat in order to get to the next remix sequence? Not really. Perhaps the final game offers some surprising, must-play twists in its latter half. However, my first look at Remember Me has me wishing the game were less of a brawler, and more of the intelligent, memory-remixing game it seemed destined to be.

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