Initial thoughts on Remember Me

I think I’m about half way through Dontnod Entertainment’s depressing Neo-Parisian future-revolution simulation Remember Me, and though it wise to jot down my impressions before I forget them all entirely. Har har har. The following words, then, will obviously touch upon aspects of the game that you won’t be familiar with if you haven’t played it yet. That includes the story.

I - The overarching concept - wherein memories have been digitised, commoditised and are widely abused - is a beautifully pessimistic take on the glaringly obvious problems of future tech. Much like the Jesse Armstrong penned The Entire History of You entry into the Black Mirror anthology, the game presents a pretty plausible future in which a seemingly helpful and benign technology could cause harm and misery. Initially developed as a way of sharing information held in memories, this technology has snowballed into a society-crippling/controlling monster. Junkies addicted to happy memories beg and steal for one more taste of the - literal and figurative - high life. We see them huddled in shacks living out their fantasies through the remembered actions of others. I’ve been surprised at the lack of allusion to sexual gratification though; surely a decimated society confined to undercity slums would be, at least in part, made up of quivering, perpetually-wanking wrecks?

II - That sci-fi division of classes is beginning to really grate on me. I understand that capitalism will likely bring about society’s ultimate downfall and that it already heavily segregates people based on their material wealth. Really though, is the only conceivable conclusion of this the forced division of classes we see in most modern sci-fi games? The imagery of the gleaming future-city towering above - and indeed built upon - the decaying rubble of the past certainly is compelling and imagination-poking, but it is also criminally overused.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution pulled it off pretty well because there was logic displayed throughout its environments. That disused petrol station across the road from the fifty storey skyscraper makes sense because cities are thrown together and land is reappropriated like that today, and likely will be in the future. Similarly, when it presented an undercity it did so convincingly with concrete supports, metal things and - most shockingly - actual buildings supporting the superstructure of the city above. Syndicate did it poorly, pitching its slums as being exclusively created out of corrugated sheet metal and milk bottle crates. Apparently the sheer volume of these two vitally important building blocks, not to mention their intricate arrangement, allowed them to support the weight of an entire city without needing to worry about proper physics or the ‘dreaded building regulations’. It was an example of egregious style over sense.
Most other games, including the once I’m mainly talking about, fall somewhere in between these two examples. Therefore, while Remember Me does have a lot of corrugation on display most of it subscribes to the shit-on-shit school of urban planning; wherein dilapidated neighbourhoods are walled off and patched up, while the posh bits are built and extended out responsibly, and never the twain shall meet.

III - These locations, though, really don’t feel like proper places for the most part. Early in the going the player character, Nilin, climbs out of a tunnel and is presented with the fractured skyline of Neo-Paris. This rather stunning vista contrasts the old (read: Eiffel Tower) with the new, futuristic skyscrapers creating a lovely juxtaposition and sense of wibbly-wobbly, buildy-wildly-ness. Sadly this continues throughout the playable levels as well, making much of the game world feel unbelievable. This is especially prevalent throughout the sections in ‘the slums’ which, much like my earlier description of Syndicate, are completely disjointed and senseless, except when viewed as videogame environments. They feature all the requisite hallmarks of contemporary action games; namely ledges, pipes, balconies and windowsills, but often conspicuously lack things normal people would use to get around, like escalators, paths or elevated walkways. This isn’t a massive criticism; I would just have liked to see the same level of care given to the design of environments as was bestowed upon the wider world and its lovely realisation.

IV - Those environments, I must add, will likely become pretty familiar as you journey deeper into the game. At the minute the story is jumping between slums, affluent districts and a prison facility and I’ve been lucky enough to see all of them at least twice so far. I wouldn’t like to speculate the ‘for whys’ of this repetition, suffice to say I’m pretty sure reusing textures and assets is a lot cheaper than handcrafting things from scratch. If you get my drift.

V - As I said earlier, the reality and world of Remember Me both sit really well, I’m just not sure about the story the game is trying to tell and more so, the way it is presented. Nilin is cast as an errorist, fighting against the oppression foisted on Neo-Paris by the Sensen memory devices everyone uses and their parent company, Memorize (Incorporated). Memories are used like smack, the Sensen - it is alluded to - drives people insane, class segregation is rife and no one is happy.
However much the game wants me to think of Memorize as a terrible entity wholly responsible for these ills, I simply don’t buy it. Many of the problems facing Neo-Paris are socioeconomic and have almost no connection to the ‘evil’ corporation. People are poor and turn to happy memories to escape, thus becoming addicted and falling between the cracks of society. There exists heavy class division and upward mobility is difficult. These are issues we have to wrestle with today and our numerous solutions or appeasements have little to do with invoking violent uprising against a single misguided or morally-questionable business establishment. To cast a lone corporate entity as the tenuously believable ‘perpetrator of society’s ills’ is short-sighted and lazy in this particular instance and sells the world and its possibilities short. Again, just because DE: HR pulled it off doesn’t mean it will work in every context.

VI - Before I forget; errorist, it just doesn’t make sense. The suffix ist is used to denote a practitioner of something or a personal subscription to a doctrine or way of life. A terrorist creates terror, a capitalist values the ideals of capitalism, a botanist studies plants, therefore an errorist, and think now, makes errors? I understand that it sounds like a cool, futuristic name for a freedom movement but really, you’ve undermined any credibility they may have held by making their name contradict their entire fucking purpose. They are attempting to do the right thing but they are, wrong? BAFFLED. Yes, it could be argued that the moniker was given to them by the government or ruling elite, but that doesn’t explain away every errorist in the game seeming pretty happy referring to themselves as one at every possible opportunity. “Yep, the name essentially undermines our very credo, but try and ignore that and enjoy how cool it makes you feel.” If anything it just makes them all seem like students ‘doing it for a larf’.

VII - The rest of my impressions of the story are a bit hit and miss, so I’m going to just bullet them out for posterity.
- Errorist leader Edge seems to be a shady bugger who likes being in control. I fully expect Nilin to break away from him, allowing him to adopt the role of antagonist which I’m sure he’ll be okay at.
- I really, really like the overwrought inter-chapter monologues from Nilin. They make the rest of the narrative beats seem thrown together and anaemic in comparison. They are so wordy and dramatic and - beautifully absurd. I love them.
- Last night I found out one of the bad guys was my - sorry Nilin’s - mother, which I actually didn’t see coming. I really should have though, because they are the only two characters thus far in the game to have British accents.

I think that’s about it for now. On the whole I’m having a fairly entertaining time actually playing the game, though it isn’t really engaging me on a particularly deep level. I’ll hopefully check back into this when I’ve finished and complete my findings, though I’m really building towards talking about the game with relation to the August/September Blogs of the Round Table at Critical Distance dot com. It’s all helpful though.