To be an artist is to be constantly open to the world. Pablo Picasso, the internationally renowned founder of the cubist movement, understood that. He lived his life as a painter, designer, ceramicist, printmaker, and sculptor. The man’s been heralded as one of the greatest creative minds of the century. He’s an artistic icon, and yet he’s (allegedly) quoted for the famous line that asserts “good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Coming from a place of such inspiration, a line like that might sound drastically antithetical. Yet in the 21st-century world of Banksy, memes, and The Hood Internet, the line takes on newfound meaning. If there’s no such thing as originality, then perhaps the brightest creative minds of our time will be remix artists.
Leading into the production of Remember Me, it seems DONTNOD Entertainment has chosen a similar mindset of artistic reinterpretation. The game they’ve created is gushing with innovation and fresh perspectives, but it builds it all upon a foundation of trite, stolen play mechanics. It constructs an inspired world on par with this generation’s greatest, but fails to explore the themes that the setting and conflicts so boldly provoke. As a pristine new IP, this is a game that’s absolutely brimming with potential—some squandered, some still intact.
Welcome to Neo-Paris. The year is 2084. Memories have been digitized, and in a rush of suspended disbelief, it appears they can now be bought, sold, traded, and stolen. Privacy has been labeled a tradition of the past, and some faceless corporation controls everything. It’s textbook cyberpunk, and the near-flawless setting can only reinforce that.
Environmental art has always been a ferocious hybrid of a beast, but it’s one that rookie studio DONTNOD tames with consummate ease. Put succinctly, Neo-Paris stands as one of the title’s loftiest accomplishments. Remember Me is immersive, overly so, with incredible graphical fidelity and inhuman attention to detail. The levels themselves have been rendered so magnificently that you’ll have trouble running through them without stopping to observe each futuristic nook and cranny.
As you progress, you’ll unlock sketches, paintings, and 3D models offering a glimpse at the team’s inspirational artistic process. While moving through the world is fun, and animations are crisp, memory hunter Nilin never manages to promote the same intense curiosity that the environments themselves so effortlessly produce. Literally, you’ll feel as if the original concept drawings have been simply extruded to construct the title’s 3D levels.
As a piece of interactive entertainment, Remember Me’s remarkable setting will surely help to distinguish it from the genre heavyweights of the past years. Deplorably, the title does little to sturdy itself beyond this initial flourish. This is an action game, not a painting, and thus the mechanics themselves are meant to provide the keystone experience. So here’s the elephant in the room: The vast majority of Remember Me’s gameplay systems have been stolen from the industry’s vault of modern masterpieces.
Considering the action that the title portends, DONTNOD hasn’t tried very hard to make their latest work distinctive. Perhaps referring to the game’s grounding mechanics as ‘stolen’ is a bit harsh. What DONTNOD has actually managed is something closer to recycling: You’ll spot the ledge-hugging of Uncharted, the dodge-combat of Batman, the parkour-acrobatics of Mirror’s Edge, and the sci-fi inspirations of Total Recall. Missions are intensely focused, ala Assassin’s Creed, on reaching a specific target. It flows flawlessly, and at first inspection, there’s absolutely nothing deserving of critique. All the same, it amounts to nothing more than a Girl Talk mash-up of generational staples.
Let’s take a step back. The year is 2013, and current gen consoles are careening headfirst into retirement. BioShock perfected Rapture in 2007, Assassin’s Creed II mastered acrobatic movement in 2009. The same year saw Honor Among Thieves refine the linear, level-based action game, while Batman: Arkham Asylum brought combo-based melee fighting to the modern apex. This is all a very circuitous way of saying that Remember Me wears its roots around the neck like a piece of fancy jewelry. As Picasso reminds us, “great artists steal.” Nonetheless, even the most sticky-palmed artisans bring their own personal style to the table.
So what makes Remember Me more than a cyberpunk Assassin’s Creed spin-off? As far as gameplay’s concerned, the studio has introduced a slew of newfangled mechanics to freshen up their stale, underlying formula.
If you’ve ever wanted to remix memories, design your own combos, or take part in a digital Easter egg hunt, you’re in luck. Remember Me allows you the opportunity to do all of the above, although it’s unclear if you’ll actually want to. Speaking broadly, these additions feel like Mario Party gimmicks rather than structural building blocks. Memory remixing, for example, is a garden-fresh mechanic that forces players to recreate a scene in order to achieve a specific outcome of events. In theory, it’s a welcome addition of challenging logic-based puzzles. In theory, you’d be upset that this gameplay is included only a handful of times over the course of the game’s ten hours. In practice, however, it becomes a frustrating exercise in trial-and-error. In practice, it’s a poorly designed mess of thoughtless interaction.
The title’s other mechanics fare just as poorly. They’re underutilized and shallow, ultimately begging the question of why they were included in the first place. Here’s the short version: The game’s combo lab barely alters gameplay, memory remixing is frustrating and mindless, environmental puzzles lack challenge, combat power-ups grow stale quickly, and searching for hidden collectibles feels flat out old-fashioned. On the other hand, urban-alpinism, hand-to-hand combat, and parkour feel like flawless additions. All in all, it’s disappointing that the work’s strongest mechanics are the ones that other titles have already perfected. They’ve been rehashed, but without purpose—the classic copy-and-paste.
As if those blemishes weren’t ugly enough, Remember Me suffers from another overarching structural problem: it’s stiflingly linear. Replay value is completely absent as the experience isn’t capable of deviating from the established path. There’s a poignant lack of control. Events feel mechanically scripted – as if Nilin’s been demoted to the backseat. Part of that feeling comes as a result of the hyper linearity, but it’s also caused by repetitive level design and lackluster pacing. If anything, DONTNOD Entertainment needs to leave the cinematography to the film industry and focus on crafting a stronger, more engaging player experience. Despite the aspirations of the designers, this is a game, not a cutscene.
On the topic of disc-based cinema, Remember Me is easily worth a rental, if only to take in the sights and sounds of Neo-Paris. When it comes to world-building, contemporaneous works like BioShock Infinite and Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum are the only relevant comparisons. To that end, the assessment is simple: Does DONTNOD’s cyberpunk France live up to the legacies of Gotham and Columbia? A thousand times yes.
The focal, cinematic sound design does as well. The combat music, for example, feels exceptionally well-versed as an upbeat complement to the core conflict. It doesn’t capture atmospheric nuance in the same way that an Austin Wintory score might’ve, but it stands as one of the game’s most well-versed accoutrements. That being said, it’s the only other element on par with the aforementioned classics.
When Picasso avowed that “great artists steal,” he didn’t mean it literally. He lived in a time before tumblr and Pinterest, a time when works weren’t literally stolen and rehashed in the ways they are today. His comparison was one of replication and internalization, the difference between imitation and assimilation. To be an artist is to be constantly open to the world, to react to changing aesthetics and the themes of modernity. DONTNOD’s Remember Me isn’t nearly that conscious. It’s not so much a remix as it is a lazy recycling, a promising story told through an aging lens. Beyond the impeccable setting, the title leaves too much to be desired—it’s missing the innovative mechanics and gripping stories that predecessors like Arkham Asylum and Uncharted first delineated. Remember Me comes depressingly close to the pedestal of generational masterpiece, but it ultimately fails to inspire anything more than a potent sense of déjà vu. If that’s not poetic, I don’t know what is.
A breathtaking setting, fantastic art direction, and the inclusion of some overly appropriate, exceptionally well-versed sound design.
Stolen core mechanics, underdeveloped gameplay systems, flat characters, and a forgettable narrative experience.
Boston-based writer, artist, designer, critic, loser & storyteller. Focused on the intersection of games, culture, narrative, and art. KillerStrokes on XBL, Steam, PSN. @Wherbit on Twitter. http://willpowerarts.com/