Dontnod Entertainment’s sci-fi action adventure Remember Me is proof that there’s something for everyone. It’s the exact opposite of God of War: an incredibly linear game with a heavy emphasis on storytelling above all else, with gameplay built to accommodate the narrative beats rather than stand on its own. I have to resist the urge every few months to go for another run through it. Though many jokes were made about the game’s title at release, I’ve found it unforgettable for all these years, so I had to wonder… why?
For one, it achieves what Naughty Dog regularly aims for — saying something meaningful while sweeping you away on a personally crafted journey that’s beautifully awe-inspiring. The key difference is Remember Me isn’t ashamed of the fact that it’s a video game. This is a surprisingly rare thing among more cinematically inclined AAA games. You’ll hear a lot of bluster about how they’re applying filmic techniques or doing things like feigning their game as one long camera shot, but Remember Me opts to borrow from cinema more humbly.
For instance, the camera has a key role to play, often guided by the game as much as by the player. It verges on classic fixed-camera-angle games like Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil in the best way possible, keeping the most important information in focus. Much of Remember Me’s world is communicated visually, speaking volumes and letting dialogue focus on the character-driven plot. The music wafts perfectly in step with the visuals, instilling you with awe, dismay, wonder, and horror at just the right moments.
The writing of course contributes to the overall effect as well. The lead heroine Nilin’s journey of rediscovery post-amnesia is both a brilliant way to introduce the world to players and allow her to have unconscious skills to account for her capabilities mid-gameplay — whether that’s remixing people’s memories, parkouring around dilapidated buildings, or brawling with fascist police in the streets of Neo-Paris.
What’s more, Nilin is breathtakingly normal in how she responds to the chaos around her. Though some of her attempts at one-liners are snort-worthy, such as Yahtzee’s cited “This Little Red Riding Hood has a basketful of kickass,” it makes sense when you consider she’s just a young dorky nerd who was thrust into a conflict with no clear end in sight.
The game crucially structures its narrative around rediscovery and rebirth, as not only is Nilin a different person now, but she can offer a fresh start for others who’ve lost their way. Just as often, she unleashes her fury like hellfire, scorning the wickedest of their memories so that they might not harm another. Though mechanically separate, the memory remixes and brawling sections are thematically two sides of the same coin.
There’s plenty of challenge to Remember Me, from navigating the faster platforming sections to the more intense brawls; they even slipped in several achievements for fully kicking the tires on the memory remix puzzles. Many of the boss fights and harder enemy types demand you be more thoughtful with what Pressen combo modifiers and special abilities you wield, presenting themselves as another kind of puzzle. The world is one giant enigma for you to piece apart, bit by bit, on your way to saving everyone in the city.
Dontnod aimed to make both halves of its design work in concert like a beautiful duet. The presentation even takes into account things like your HUD, offering in-universe explanations for navigational aids and health bars. We’re seeing this world through Nilin’s augmented eyes, embodying her present persona as she reassembles herself from ashes.
This goal to unify the metatext with the main text culminates in a moment where the game winkingly gives you a flashback to a memory remix puzzle that was featured in an E3 build. It smartly positions the story as if that demo was events happening in real time in the past. That’s a level of narrative design that still blows me away. Or how they slip in the characters from the game’s intro in-universe advertisement into the background of the third chapter, revealing them all to be lying about the benefits of Memorize’s Sensen technology in their lives. That attention to detail is brilliant, with little surprises like these littered throughout the game.
I will grant that the point-and-drag puzzle bits in the late game are more of a literal drag than they should be, and your main ally Edge is a bit too edgy. But they’re acceptable trade-offs. Despite all the struggles Dontnod went through to create Remember Me, it achieved a distinctly original experience. Had it focused on any one particular element, it might have appealed to certain genre expectations, whether as a puzzle-platformer or a more traditional action game. Yet when you make that shift, you lose several of the game’s best moments.
Without the parkour, you lose the sections with Bad Request, the Bastille-stealthing-about bits, and the gorgeously evocative in-engine establishing shots. Without the memory-rewriting moments, you miss out on some of the most poignant character development for Nilin and those around her. Without the brawling, cathartic bouts of triumph can’t be experienced. Together, they form Remember Me, a title as much about recollection as it is about remembering how things once were, as well as trying desperately to get back to those more idyllic times. It’s about how we can lose focus and our memories can deceive us.
That’s Remember Me in a nutshell. You have to take it as a whole to get the most out of it — something that can be said for Dontnod’s games in general. If you can spare the time and money, then it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a AAA game from the (figuratively speaking) PlayStation 2 era — willing to all-in on a wild concept, no matter how weird things get. In an industry full of all-too-familiar wannabes, this individuality is as laudable as Remember Me’s central ideas. It’s not for everyone, but for those desiring something fresh under the gaming sun, you could do far worse than Dontnod’s ambitious first title.
And another thing — Capcom, you aren’t using the IP, so just sell it back to Dontnod. They still want to make a sequel, dangit!