Remember Me could mark the greatest commitment to solo gaming since Dishonored when it's released in May. Patrick Garratt played the first two levels in Paris last week. New video and images included.
Remember Me is unashamedly single-player and level-based, and has a coherency I haven't seen since Dishonored.
Remember Me is sodden with theme. It's set in 2084, making a futuristic nod to 1984 and taking a shrewd guess at society's general direction. The rich-poor divide is central, as is state control. We have neural implants, revolutionary idealism, wealthy conservatism, robotics, and, of course, memory management. Remember Me starts in Paris's Bastille, highlighting the significance of developer Dontnod's penchant for significance.
Actually, it's Neo-Paris. You can tell because you're taken on a set-piece tour of all the city's major landmarks in their future state. I played the first full mission and part of the second stage, and I saw the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Sacré Cœur, all battered and trivialized by human advancement, lit by dripping slums and soaring strings. The setting's like some carless combination of C'était un Rendezvous and Brink.
The game introduces you to Nilin before you get to all that. She's a beautiful young woman. A man named Edge busts her out of the Bastille and guides her as she emerges from a coffin in Paris's catacombs and begins to reconstruct her stripped memory. Edge's aim is to "punish" the city's rich and start a revolution.
Aside from the narrative themes - which are lovingly incorporated - Remember Me stands out for Nilin's fluidity of movement, its combat, and the concept of "memory remixing". As you can see in the video below, the player is allowed to move through the environment with grace. Everyone in 2084 wears a Sensen implant, which, among other things, shows you where to go. Your path in Remember Me is lit by orange arrows, and progress never feels confusing as a result. Advancement is linear and instantly achievable. The camera drops out to a detached point when it needs to, but remains over Nilin's shoulder during general movement on the ground. The first main goal is to reach a chap called Headache Tommy in his slum bar, the Leaking Brain.
Combat is more obtuse, but ultimately rewarding. You create customizable combos by stringing together lines of "pressens," button prompts you unlock as you level-up. By landing combos successfully you score extra damage, regenerate health or speed-up cool-downs. When it all comes together it works well. After struggling with the concept in the earlier sections, I was soon coping with waves of armoured men.
Enemies start as weak zombie-types in sewers before Nilin works her way up to security guards. Guns don't exist in Neo-Paris. States don't need firearms when they can control memory.
It's the memory alteration concept which truly sets Remember Me apart. Memories are for sale. You can remember whatever you like, for a price. The cost isn't just financial, unfortunately: excessive memory fiddling leads to addiction, a need to forget everything bad in life. Those with the power can alter memories as they see fit. Nilin is one of a select group capable of remixing the memories of others, leading to distinct sequences in which she alters personal pasts for profit.
Bounty hunter Olga Sedova attacks Nilin early in the game. Seconds before death, Nilin accesses Olga's Sensen implant and alters one of her memories. This takes the form of a sequence in a hospital room where you need to move backwards and forwards through time to shift the position of objects and force a doctor to kill Olga's husband. You swap chemicals for injection, remove restraints, and so on. I was told there are several other such instances in the game, and they grow longer and more complex as the story unfolds. Eventually, Olga believes her husband was murdered and becomes an ally of the revolution.
The memory concept provides a sharp edge over other box-ticking third-person story games. When combined with the Orwellian themes, the combat, Nilin's movement system and the general commitment to solidity and place, Remember Me is revealed as an unashamedly single-player, level-based game with a coherency I haven't seen since Dishonored. The greatest problem is likely to be longevity. I asked how long it takes to play through, and the creative director said he wasn't "allowed" to tell me. There's no multiplayer. There are three levels of difficulty and endless variations to combat combinations, so it's clear effort's been made to ensure there's a reason to return. That said, don't be surprised when reviewers throw up play-time as an issue.
A bad thing? Maybe. But the same was said of Dishonored, and Arkane's debut was one of the most talked-about releases of 2012. I have no idea if Remember Me will sell well. From a creative standpoint it's largely irrelevant. What is important is the aptness of the title: you're unlikely to forget this polished effort when it releases in May.
Remember Me releases for PC, 360 and PS3 in May.