The last time that a new IP with a highly customisable combat system debuted late in the console cycle, it didn’t go all that well. Yes, God Hand is fondly remembered to this day, but it launched when press and punters alike were distracted by new hardware. Overlooked as much by critics as by its prospective market, the studio that made it closed its doors soon after. Jean-Maxime Moris, co-founder of Paris-based dev Dontnod and Remember Me’s creative director, acknowledges the similarities.
“Of course God Hand was on the combat designer’s desk,” he says. “It’s one of the most underrated games on the PS2, so let’s hope it’s not the same for us. I’d rather have good articles when the game comes out than have them five years later, that’s for sure!”
Remember Me’s target market is, however, quite different from the one at which Clover Studio’s swansong brawler was pitched. This is an action-adventure aimed at a broad audience, with fists and feet in place of the genre-standard pistol, rifle and shotgun, and the intimidatingly long move list of your typical melee combat game whittled down to just four combo strings, every single move of which can be defined by you. “Instead of learning 200 combos with 200 different timings, you only have four combos that are like the four weapons you’d be carrying in a regular action-adventure,” Moris explains. “But you’re going to be able to customise those weapons all the time.”
When Nilin, Remember Me’s mixed-race female protagonist, levels up, she unlocks Pressens, which modify the effect of the moves to which they’re assigned. There are four types in all, though during the course of our demo we’re only introduced to two: red Power Pressens provide various damage boosts, while yellow Regen ones replenish health. Combat is slow, yet not in a sluggish way; input timings are lenient, but once you press a button you’re committed to that move. Unlike other melee-based action games, there’s no way of cancelling an attack once it’s begun and the enemies hit hard. You’ve got a dodge, but it has precious little invincibility.
Self-control, it seems, is key; this is to the likes of God Of War what burst fire is to spray and pray. “What we’re trying to teach the player – and it’s not easy, because it’s true that many people tend to button mash – is that you can take your time.”
He’s right: you soon start to make sure an attack connects and that you’re safe to follow it up before you commit to a new one. Fighting game players call this approach ‘hit confirming’, and it’s a key component to advanced play. That, though, is about the only evidence of the love of Street Fighter held by several members of the team; there’s depth here, but it’s strategic, not technical, in nature.
Even at this early stage, we find ourselves torn between adding a Power or Regen Pressen to our most frequently used combo. By the time all four combos and 24 Pressens – plus the S-Pressen special moves introduced late in our demo – are unlocked, players could spend as much time in the pause menu tinkering with setups as using them.
Remember Me’s world is vividly realised, and Paris is a surprisingly good fit for a cyberpunk overhaul. Like Binary Domain’s 2080 vision of Tokyo, the Neo-Paris of 2084 is split into three tiers: the poverty-stricken slums at the bottom, the rich up high and the middle class in between. But while Yakuza Studio’s shooter could feasibly have been set in any futuristic city on the planet, Dontnod seeks to maintain a consistent sense of place by surrounding the action with familiar Parisian sights, some more subtly than others. Famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur dot the horizon, while old Parisian architecture has been built over with new. The game’s first fight is set in the bowels of Nation station, a lamppost Metro sign that once stood at street level the only discernible object in a pile of rubble.
“[Paris] is where we live. We love this city,” Moris says. “And if we want to go out to shoot some pictures to get reference material, everything is readily available just across the street.” The result is striking to our eyes, but will it play as well overseas? “It’s one of the most touristy cities in the world – it’s almost like a brand. I think it definitely has appeal, which maybe cannot be said of the French people! Movies like Ratatouille and Inception have shown that it’s not a drawback.”
What we see of Neo-Paris and the angle from which we see it are both tightly controlled, especially out of combat, with Nilin clambering from rooftop to rooftop out of sight of the guards below. Camera angles artfully frame the critical path, and there are objective markers to light the way in the few moments where you might be in doubt. The endearingly named Edge, who helps Nilin escape the Orwellian memory-wiping facility where the game kicks off, is also a constant source of disembodied advice. The game’s perhaps a little too keen to hold your hand, then, and Moris admits that’s by design.
“Remember Me is a linear experience – I’m not going to stand here and lie to you,” he says. “It’s a conscious creative choice that we made to keep as much control as possible of events and the emotions that players go through from a narrative perspective. Granted, [open-world games are] something that some quadruple-A [studios] can manage, but not everyone can shift the same team sizes as Rockstar or Ubisoft. It’s really a creative choice, reinforced by constraints, but to me it’s not a problem, because the main focus of the game is telling Nilin’s story.”
Such candour is refreshing, and so is the sight of a new IP so late in the console cycle that’s set in Paris and has a female hero at its heart. That said, one man’s refreshing is another man’s risky, so it’s as easy to see why Sony dropped Remember Me in 2011, having signed it in 2010, as it is to understand why Capcom picked it up. While we suspect the publisher’s flair for action games was a contributing factor, Moris speaks only of the respect Capcom had for Dontnod’s vision: that it didn’t insist on Nilin being restyled as “a white male with big muscles and titanium armour”. And little wonder: the last time Capcom put out a new late-gen IP with a muscular male protagonist and a create-a-combo system, it didn’t work out so well.