So I’m getting ready for Mass Effect: Andromeda to be released, and I’m playing through the trilogy. I’m currently working through the original game, and although I’m enjoying the adventure immensely, I’m noticing how repetitive some of the environments are. This is puzzling, because I played the Mass Effect games after I played through the Dragon Age series, and after I saw how fans bristled at the reused caves and environments in Dragon Age 2. I checked around the trusty interwebs, but I haven’t seen any complaints about the very repetitious visuals in Mass Effect.
I admit that I was a little disappointed with Dragon Age II, much more than I have been with Mass Effect. This made me start thinking about why some games are overshadowed by mechanics, and others are not.
After writing about the failings of Spec Ops: The Line, it seems that the strength and presentation of the story is key regarding how players receive the game. This started me thinking about Dragon Age II and Remember Me, and how both games had solid stories, overall decent gameplay concepts, but fell short when it came to both player and critical reception.
Who Are You?
For those of you who may not know (or have forgotten… yuk yuk yuk), Remember Me is a cyberpunk action-adventure game released by Dontnod Entertainment in 2013. The main story takes place in Neo-Paris in the year 2084, conveniently one hundred years after George Orwell’s 1984 takes place, so you can guess from the reference what type of world Neo-Paris is. In 2084, memories are commodities that have been digitized and are stored by a company called Memorize. In this world, a person may upload their memories, particularly their bad ones, and so live a life of bliss. Nilin, our mixed-race, female protagonist, is a memory hunter working for the Errorists, a group fighting against Memorize to return people’s memories.
This dystopian world in which the people who control the memories control the population, splitting it into the haves and have-nots, presents a compelling story that blatantly smacks us with the idea that our memories make us who we are. What, the story asks, are we if we give up our memories? Who are we if we can access other people’s memories and live their lives vicariously? And what happens if our memories can be modified while they are still inside our minds?
The story is intriguing and enjoyable to uncover. Neo-Paris is a fantastic representation of a dystopian world where only some control technology, but technology rules all, including our own minds.
Neo-Paris is a beautifully and lovingly-crafted city, which seems to throw into sharp contrast the ugliness underneath, represented by attacking creatures called Leapers – humans who have become so addicted to experiencing other people’s memories that they have lost their humanity.
Nilin, our sarcastic, badass memory hunter, fights her way into the core of Memorize, with the intent to free the memories stored there so the people may have control over themselves and their humanity again.
“…I Will Change the World.”
Remember Me has an intriguing story. It contained puzzles and action sequences as you would expect, but the most innovating mechanic was memory remixing. During remixing, Nilin would enter another person’s mind and alter aspects of a particular memory in order to influence the person’s behavior. This mechanic alone is worth checking the game out, because not only was it fascinating to see how small alterations to events can have a butterfly effect on a memory and, indeed, on a person, but the idea of an individual having the ability to change someone’s memories in the physical world was terrifying.
Even Nilin switches between questioning the ethics of her actions and being forced to defend herself (spectacularly) against “the establishment” that is trying to maintain control. It was a hard sell, having the protagonist question her own actions before beating up another almost endless string of baddies, but it worked in the context of this game. So not only was this a fantastic and well-executed section of the game, it could also be made relevant in the physical – and technological – world.
Through manipulating the memories, we were also asked to question what it is that truly makes us who we are. In Remember Me, the player experiences the simple, yet beautifully complex answer: our memories.
This story was well conceived and presented very thought-provoking moments, but the game received mixed reviews and lacks the audience it could have had.
And understandably so, since I found myself looking forward to cutscenes because they were the most interesting and engaging part of the game. When a cutscene is the reason you’re playing a game, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
It all sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the critique most often given of the game is of its repetitive gameplay and what some called its overly-clever presentation. I never found the presentation to be overly clever, although the twist at the end was fairly predictable. Either way, both of these failings detracted from the story. Wave after wave of Leapers and other baddies assaulted Nilin, and while she was able to defend herself with a myriad of abilities, fighting hordes of the same enemies over and over again do not make for interesting gameplay.
Here, the game tried to utilize a different sort of combat mechanic. Button-mashing actually hindered your fighting ability; instead, players could create and execute long strings of attacks that would not only inflict damage on the baddies, but could also restore health and reduce cool-down time. The only catch was that you had to execute the buttons in a steady, rhythmic fashion.
If a long string of abilities (called “pressens”) were interrupted by an attack, Nilin could flip over the enemy and continue the pattern, so a great amount of strategy was needed to execute your pressens and regain health. This does not even begin to mention the great amount of memory needed to remember long strings of button combinations and the great amount of focus to remember them when under heavy attack and also occasionally having to interrupt your pattern to dodge. I had a fair amount of impressive pressen combinations, but wound up only using about four of them, each with between three and five buttons because that was all I could remember. That’s already up to twenty different button presses I had to remember, in sequence, so poor Nilin didn’t die.
My faulty memory aside, this great, innovating fighting style was eclipsed by the same enemies being thrown at you, wave after wave, to the point of distraction from the story. The memory manipulations – by far the most interesting gameplay mechanic and very central to the theme of the game – were few and far between (although beautifully executed when they were used). Some of the later bosses were fantastically creative and challenging, but the slog to get there was a high and very boring price of admission. As a fan of dystopian stories, I love the idea of Remember Me, and it presents some innovative ways of playing, but the presentation of the story in the midst of repetitive and tedious combat sequences detracted from the experience.
It’s so unfortunate that such a fantastic story that was obviously well-conceived could be so overshadowed by uninteresting gameplay. While Remember Me definitely had some awesome moments – and some great one-liners from the characters – a majority of the game itself was forgettable.
What do you think? Have I been overly critical? Am I asking too much of a game to have a good story, innovative controls, and interesting – or at least varied – gameplay, too?
I’m still going to go through Dragon Age II, so tune in again to break down the second game in the Dragon Age series and see what went well, what didn’t, and explore whether it deserves the hate that it gets. In the interim, look forward to posts about playable characters, game heroes, and why video games make us happy (I’ve finally gotten all my sources together!).
Until then, thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
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