And herein lies the moral dilemma: how justified are the means in achieving what you want? By altering someone's memories, you can drive a man to suicide. Are your hands clean, even if you didn't pull the actual trigger?
Our first short hands-on session with Capcom's newest title, announced at last year's Gamescom, is enough to make us doubt our morals and actions, which is purely a good thing.
The story of Remember Me is an intriguing reflection on today's trends and the evaporation of privacy. Following someone's status entries is so passÚ, but sharing memories with one another? Well, that's a different matter.
A giant corporation, Memoreyes, has licenced a cybernetic implant allowing two Memoreyes clients to transfer memories, thus allowing experience of the memory itself. This helpful implant also allows users to pass on knowledge - like work security guides and school lessons. So why not get an implant? It makes your life so much easier, and it's totally worth it. And Memoreyes? Well, you can trust them, they're the good guys! Right?
Not everyone thinks so. A partisan movement called the Errorists have taken up arms in order to expose the corruption within Memoreyes and their sinister plans. In effect, the Errorists believe that since all memory transfers go through Memoreyes data banks, they're making copies for themselves, which means they're amassing information and knowledge. And knowledge is power. And who wouldn't want to tap into unlimited power?
The main character, Nilin, is an Errorist, even though she doesn't remember it when the game starts. A slim and athletic woman, she has had her memory wiped completely clean.
When she awakens in the dank dungeons of Bastille, Nilin is afraid, alone, and completely lost. So, she escapes in the sewer system, ending up in the hands of pitiful mutants, with no idea who has done this to her, and why the world famous bounty hunter Olga Sedova is chasing her. Eventually Nilin is dragged back into the fight against Memoreyes, who are willing to protect their secrets with heavy shock troops and assault helicopters.
The combat in Remember Me is non-lethal, as Nilin relies on a good ol' fashioned one-two instead of gunning everyone in sight. The skirmishes run all over the place with somersaults, leaps and gymnastic dodges, with the occasional punch combo thrown in the mix. The impression was much like Rocksteady's Batman games - a nicely flowing battle that looks effortless.
In fact, creator Dontnod doesn't lift just combat from other games. It also taps into parkour acrobatics and wall climbing. As so many pieces of the overall game experience are all too familiar from other games, the player might feel the main gameplay to be a bit disappointing, even trite.
Dontnod counters this fear by stating that with such a small team as theirs, trying to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of it would be unwise. We had to agree - what the gameplay loses in innovation, it gains in ease of control. Immediately upon picking up the controller we knew what button did what, how Nilin behaves, and how to navigate the multi-storied slums.
Dontnod has added something to the mix, though: the Combo Lab. It allows players to create their own fight combos from various elements. If the player likes to have one move that heals Nilin while the four other punches deal damage to the enemy, that's fine. If they want to add a link to the combo to another combo, thus creating a huge nine-move combo that's devastating but very difficult to pull off, that's fine, too.
We didn't get to fiddle around with Combo Lab all that much, since the testing session was at an early part of the game and most moves were locked down, but what we saw intrigued. The opportunities it can provide to the players in customizing their combos to fit their specific fighting preferences look really promising.
As for Nilin herself, we found her to be more interesting than your average action game hero. The whole amnesiac thing is a worn cliche, yes, but if they pull it off like we think they will, it's going to be one hell of a ride.
Nilin's desperation and confusion was conveyed to the player rather satisfactorily, and as she is an amnesiac, you are drawn to see who she really is, because you project some of your own personality in her, making her plight more tangible.
As Nilin is the hero, she is, of course, special. She can do memory hacks on the fly, which is something that nobody else can pull off. Memory hacks are a big portion of Remember Me's theme, but also a pivotal mechanic of the gaming experience. As Nilin is a very good infiltrator thanks to her parkour skills, she is tasked in reaching important targets that normally would be completely out of reach, and hacking their memories for the greater good.
The play test session introduced this mechanic by memory-hacking Olga Sedova. As she ambushed Nilin, our hero instinctively grabbed Olga's head and punched the hacks in. The game switched from third person perspective to a cinematic camera angle, where we watch Olga's memories unfold like a movie.
I saw a scene where Olga was in a Memoreyes hospital, giving her beloved husband, David, a memory transfusion, so that his memory degradation illness could be treated. In the original memories the transfusion goes without a hitch. All is well. Enter Nilin. We rewind the memory back and forth a bit to locate the glitches that indicate we can manipulate this portion of the memory. We replaced the medicine the dear doctor administered to David with a toxin, loosened David's restraints, and let the memory play out.
As the toxin entered David's system, he went berserk, ripping his hand free from restraints and grabbing the good doctor from the throat. The poor man was forced to activate lethal countermeasures , killing him while Olga watched, screaming and helpless, from the other side of the window.
The result was that Olga was now traumatized for life. She had seen the light of her life go out in the hands of Memoreyes, so instead of pummeling Nilin and taking her in, Olga offered her help in taking Memoreyes down. It is interesting to see how this uneasy truce develops once Olga learns that David is, indeed, live and well in the good care of Memoreyes.
The scene makes for uneasy viewing. We'd just raped someone else's mind, a term shared by both the producer Jean Maxime Moris and the lead writer Stephane Beauverger. Both know that this is, quite literally, mind rape, and Nilin is the perpetrator. Once they learned that this scene had given us pause, to digest our actions, they were enthused, as that's the response they want.
Both are tired of the prevalence of violence in the games, and both want the player to stop and think about the justifications for their actions. They realize that Remember Me is wading neck deep in the very murky waters of moral ambiguousness, but they don't shy away from it.
Despite the positives, there's doubts as well. The voice acting was mediocre, and I wasn't too thrilled about the way the levels were designed, so that you could advance in one direction and one direction only. We wouldn't pay much heed to railroading in any other game, but considering that Nilin is an acrobat who can climb walls like nobody's business, limiting her reach is particularly ludicrous.
We were also concerned about the prevalence of combat in the game. They're impossible to avoid, which means that stealthing is not an option, even for an obvious talent like Nilin. On the other hand, Dontnod has several months (six come the preview event that we attended) to polish the product out, so we remain optimistic.
Even with some reservations, Remember Me is easily one of the games we're looking forward to. The futuristic surroundings and the feel of Neo Paris is wonderful, managing to be both decrepit and romantic, beautiful and forlorn at the same time, just like Paris of today. The advanced reality signs hovering in Nilin's view, displaying safety instructions and advertisements were especially neat. Even as just a sci-fi setting, the game piques the interest, but a story line that toys with morality and justification of one's actions is irresistible. We sincerely hope that Dontnod's firstborn is just the beginning of a superb new franchise.