One week you've got people saying that the failure of Capcom's sci-fi brawler Remember Me to set the charts on fire means non-sequels are doomed, then this week you've got survival horror The Last of Us (review of that incoming very soon) getting everyone excited. Who can ever truly know the games industry, eh? One thing's for sure - poor old Remember Me will never pass into legend, despite trying hard to do bold things.
The most immediately appealing aspect of it is its theme - futuristic France, a place where robot servants totter down the boulevards while their rich masters get high on bought and sold memories. But while the wealthy are merrily reliving strangers' happiest/sexiest times, the underclass live in squalor, the worst cases having had their own memories ripped away, leaving them in a zombie-like state. The fusion of Parisian art nouveau, Blade Runner-style epic neon and dystopian urban decay makes for a particularly eye-catching blockbuster, even if it is perhaps too reliant on sci-fi tropes - 'Neo-Paris' indeed.
In the middle of all this is 'Memory Hunter' Nilin, searching for her own lost identity and take down the sinister corporations behind the monstrous class divide. She has the ability to enter, via technological wizardry, others' memories and alter them to suit her own devices - for instance, convincing an enemy assassin that their paymasters killed their lover, so come day the day Nilin is spared the knife.
An occasional minigame has Nilin literally winding and rewinding through memories, looking for 'glitches' which enable her to alter the apparent series of events. It's smart, sinister and lavish stuff that probably could/should have been expanded to its own game, but in fact it's just a rare distraction from repeatedly punching people.
Yes, whatever Big Ideas of identity and privacy Remember Me might be toying with, and whatever extraordinary abilities Nilin might have, ultimately the game's a third-person beat 'em up, wherein you run through enclosed areas and deck everyone in sight. As with the setting, it aims high in this regard, introducing the concept of player-programmable combo attacks whose effect can be tailored to personal preference or changed situation. A more skilled player might want to opt for pure damage, while someone who's not quite so adept at dodging and timing might want to set their combos to replenish their health every time one's activated.
Sounds great in theory, but in practice the game restricts itself to a handful of combos with a handful of effects against a handful of enemy types, so it's no long before it feels repetitive, even a grind. You're just doing the same thing over and over with no clear sense of reward except slow progress towards minor unlocks. It tries to interrupt the relentless punching with Uncharted-style wall-climbing and some simple puzzles, but these elements feel too routine, too much like playing for time.
On top of that is the disappointment of being in this amazing-looking Neo-Parisian setting, then finding you're just ushered along a tiny, A-B fraction of it. Meanwhile, the initially compelling plot, and particularly the questions it poses about the ethics of memory alteration, doesn't take too long to descend into anything-goes pseudo-science/mysticism that so much populist sci-fi seems to rely on lately.
It's hard not to like Remember Me even if it's not able to take its ideas terribly far. It is a game that's trying to be different, both as a setting and as a brawler and, rare amongst games of its profile, it avoids a lot of commercially-minded cynicism. For some reason it ends up hamstrung in every regard - from the slow trickle of uninspired sci-fi stereotypes to distractingly cheesy dialogue to a depressing mid-game slump into tedious tunnels, Remember Me just can't seem to avoid becoming ordinariness.