Dystopias are where bold ideas meet imperfect reality, and humans forget to be human. BioShock’s Rapture is the twisted remains of Andrew Ryan’s Randist ideals, for example, and City 17 is the result of Dr Breen’s misjudged appeasement policy towards hostile alien overlords. Likewise, Dontnod’s pulpy sci-fi debut pictures a world where memory is digital and easily managed via a brain-implant technology called Sensen. The dark flip side is that happy recollections have become a commodity, and dealing with political dissidents is as easy as rounding them up and pressing Delete.
You experience this future from the perspective of Nilin, a resident of 2084’s Neo-Paris and activist ‘memory hunter’, whose own past is stripped from her in the game’s opening seconds. Soon after, a mysterious comrade named Edge helps her bust out of La Bastille, and from there you reluctantly join the Errorist cause against big bad Memorize, the sinister corporation behind Sensen.
Dontnod hasn’t constructed the vividly detailed cityscape of Neo-Paris just so it can turn its lens flare setting to ‘JJ Abrams’ and throw in humanoid robots, even though it does both. Rather, it follows in the footsteps of the best sci-fi stories and uses far-flung tech to reflect on the human condition. Nilin herself is the locus of and voice for much of the game’s big questions about what really makes us who we are, and whether the ends justify the means. It wouldn’t work if she wasn’t a rounded character, but she’s a powerhouse of a protagonist, instantly likable and remaining self-aware throughout. She’s a beguiling mix of strength and sensitivity, sarcasm and fire, external certainty and internal conflict, despite a few cheesy lines and missteps. It’s a shame the rest of the cast isn’t nearly as strong.
Her quest for the lost fragments of her mind drives a beautiful, highly linear and incredibly filmic thirdperson adventure-brawler. Traversal instantly recalls Uncharted, asking you to scramble along handily telegraphed precarious ledges and leap from pipe to pillar as you clamber about the ramshackle Slum 404 and gleaming Second Empire arches of the St Michel district alike. But Nilin’s Sensen and a growing menagerie of requisitioned environmental powers – including a Metroid-esque arm cannon – provide excuses to layer fresh puzzles on top of this familiar core, and occasionally force you to make stretching mental connections of your own.
Nilin’s no Nathan Drake analogue in combat, either. Instead of cocking a rifle when she meets resistance from either the oddly sympathetic mutant Leapers or burly Sabre Force private policemen, she’s a lithe close combatant who relies on fluid dodges and swift, precise strikes. She only has four combo strings, but each move within them can be assigned Pressens, with various effects. Red Pressens are all about raw power, yellow ones regenerate health, purple ones shorten the cooldown on special moves and blue ones greatly multiply the effect of the Pressen before them. For extra nuance, the later you place a hit in a combo, the better it performs, and you need to time each new hit to coincide with the previous one landing or risk breaking Nilin’s flow.
While tapping out four combos sounds like it might get repetitive fast, there’s enough else going on that we didn’t want for extra strings till the final third of the game. Complementing the basic moves is a wheel of five special powers, AKA S-Pressens, from invisibility to area-control Sensen overloads. You can also use your arm cannon to bust riot shields and drop clambering Leapers, and overload Sabre Force troopers’ minds in cinematic finishers if you can stun them with power Pressen hits.
You use all these powers on a well-pitched progression of enemies, some of which will gently encourage rejigging your Pressen allocation to cope. But there is a flaw in the system: the rate at which you unlock new Pressens is too slow to fill all your combos till the game’s twilight hours. You can hasten it through skilful play and by finding secrets in the world, but even so you’ll have to rely on shorter sequences for too long, a limit you feel when the basic move pool is already on the shallow side.
Much like the hodgepodge skyline of Neo-Paris, Remember Me sandwiches an extra pillar into its packed structure: memory remixes. Deployed at infrequent intervals, these sections take you to an abstract mental plane to tinker with your subject’s recollection of an event. You rewind time by rolling back the left stick; hold it still near a glitching object to influence both your target and the situation. Effectively, then, you scrub about a timeline seeking switches, but these short sections are designed in such a manner that they make for a palate-cleansing way to absorb a bit more exposition.
Like any game built around the cinematic adventure template, Remember Me is ultimately dependent on its story. Schlocky and silly in places, but potent and reflective in others, Nilin’s tale has bags of heart to play off against its flamboyant bosses and existential quandaries, all grounded by a charismatic female star. While the world building isn’t on a par with the best – hampered by a civilian population as robotic as its metal cohorts – a rich backstory and architectural detail make Neo-Paris a place worth visiting. It is, in other words, exactly the kind of tale you’d happily watch play out on any screen – silver or plasma.
Remember Me is released on June 4 in the US and June 7 in the EU on 360, PC and PS3. PS3 version tested.