What's Wrong With Remember Me

What if you could shell out a couple bucks and forget your most painful memory? Better yet what if you could replace your memories with better ones and remix your life in your mind's eye to have unraveled exactly as you've always dreamed? Remember Me sets you in a world where this kind of power is a reality. But of course, as with all great power, there is a dark side.

You play as Nilin, an Errorist with the ability to not only erase the memories of others but remix them at will. The game begins with Nilin in a facility full of obnoxiously stereotypical scientists and meathead guards where she is being prepared to have her memory completely wiped out. Just as she's about to be strapped to the chair for a good old fashioned brain-scramble, a mysterious voice pipes into her thoughts and helps her escape. Then from towering high rises where robotic servants tend to the every need of Paris' elite, to the underworld slum where freedom fighters battle mutated human experiments gone wrong, Nilin parkours and punches her way through waves of robots of privately contracted corporate police all in the name of uncovering the truth. 

This is all well and good. The good intentions gone bad dystopian future is a easy backdrop to pit good versus evil - the righteous fighting to overcome the powerful. And this isn't what bothers me about Remember Me.

As you dig further into Nilin's past you come to find that her family is directly responsible for the technology that makes this whole world possible - her genius father, the creator. Great, we all love overly dramatic stakes. But what kills the plot for me is the actual reason why he decided to build these machines in the first place. It was a simple car crash. A car crash where Milin's mother runs a red light, gets t-boned, crushes her leg and blames Milin because she was being a distracting 7 year old in the back seat who wanted her birthday present given to her early.

Now I understand not every parent is going to win an award for how they relate to their children but the stakes of Milin's mother's life-long resentment seem so comically low that it's borderline retarded. It's not like her mother was an olympic hopeful, or that Nilin had a younger brother who put in a lifelong coma because of the accident. No, her mother comes to hate her only daughter because she has to wear a cast for a few months.

And Nilin's mother wasn't even permanently disabled. When you meet her later in the game, in her gigantic office as the CEO of Memorize (her husband's Orwellian mind control company) she is walking perfectly fine as she bitterly exposits how she's going to make them all pay...  who ever they are. At this point I stopped caring and just kept playing to see if it could possibly become any more melodramatic.

So now that I've basically ruined the story of the game for you should you even bother playing it?  

What works in Remember Me is the combat. It's fun and simple combo button mashing with the twist that you unlock new skill points called Pressens. Pressens do damage, regain health, lower the cool down time for a handful of abilities that you acquire along the way, and link combos to increase their point values. And these can all be mixed around depending on your fighting style and what kind of enemies you're up against. One of my favorites was a finishing move where you basically overload your victim's brain in an explosion of bright white 0's and 1's turning them into a heavily armored paper weight. 

The set pieces are beautiful and meticulously detailed giving you a real sense of emersion within the game world. The downside to this is that very little is interactive, so while Neo-Paris is gorgeous, she's also basically hands off.  I would have loved to have been able to speak with the courteous and diligent servant bots milling about, sample some of the "cheap proteins" on sale in the slum's open market, and who can count all the missed opportunities in the robo-whore house.

Overall I enjoyed the basic premise of Remember Me. What are we if not a collection of a lifetime of memories? How would the world react to being able to freely manipulate the past in such an immediate and visceral way. Would you want to be able to upload your memories to a public network, share them with your friends? Would this lead us to a more compassionate and understanding society? Or would it, as it did in Neo-Paris, lead to a epidemic of memory replacement addiction, sewer mutants, and unexplained psychic powers? Either way, teenagers would undoubtedly find a way to ruin it.


Spelunky and the Art of Damsel Foo

About 3 hours into playing Spelunky, a 2D platformer that puts you in the shoes of an adventurer on the hunt for the Ultimate Treasure through constantly randomized mines, I still haven't made it to the check point after the fourth stage of the first level. This is a game where you're going to die. Often. Normally with a game like this I'd put the controller down and move on to something else. Demon Souls, for instance, waxed me in under and hour - I don't think I've ever returned a GameFly envelope so fast. But here I sit, insisting on collecting just one more hunk of gold on my quest for buried riches.

Spelunky's random level creation keeps it feeling fresh and there's something addictive about the brutality. You feel like your little pith-helmated avatar is actually in danger. And he is. Giant spiders, walking skeletons, even tiny purple bats have a taste for your blood and your only constant companion is a flimsy leather whip, that only effective if time it's strike perfectly. Which I often do not.

As far as gameplay, I can't find anything to complain about. The controls are perfect and if you miss a jump or fall off a ledge, it's your fault, not the game's. But there's one thing that bothers me and it follows a common thread that's been saturating the entirety of digital entertainment media lately. It's the damsel in distress. 

If you play enough video games you start to notice certain tropes that rear their head again and again across ever genre. Many of them are hard to avoid given the mechanics the drive game narratives forward. Fetch quests, puzzles, character stat progression, boss fights, most of these are as old as the genre itself. Take for example, Super Mario Bros. It's one of the best selling and most recognizable gaming franchises of all time, and what's the basic story? You're a guy fighting through levels of baddies to save a princess who should have installed a more effective castle security system decades ago.

The point of Spelunky isn't to save a hapless woman though. It's an option. In each level she spawns randomly and it's you're choice to save her on not, and whichever you choose as no effect on the outcome aside from marking a check in the "damsels" column at the end of the level. On it's own this would be fine, I suppose. In the world of Spelunky, you just accept that a series of mute blondes have wandered aimlessly into ever deeper sections of this incredibly hostile system of mines. Just as you accept that a shop keeper would set up his wares 100s of meters below the surface of the Earth on the off chance that someone would occasionally happen upon it.

What bothered me was how you deal with her once you decide to "save" her. By pressing down and X you grab her and she's instantly knocked out cold. As she lays limp in your arms a pair of bright yellow lemons swirl around her head, as a sort of glasgow coma scale. Two lemons equals a 1/1/1 for anyone who's counting.  She remains this way unless you drop her, at which time she comes to and starts frantically running around with a distressed look on her face. I bet it's because she's glad someone as gentle and caring as you finally came to her rescue.

This isn't the best part though. Not only do you carry her around like a sack of rape potatoes, you can actually use her as a throwable weapon to kill enemies and set off traps. My hero (cried no woman in this game ever)!  Luckily for you though, as soon as you find the level exit she pops back to her feet and scurries though the door. In the following screen she's waiting for you happily to give you a big smooch before run past to the entrance to the next stage where the circle of violence continues.

Make of it what you will. Overall the came is incredibly fun, but if you're the type of person that looks for underlying messages in your entertainment, I doubt you'll find this a positive one. 

Stephen Score: 4/5

As a platformer, Spelunky is flawless. I just couldn't get past the creeper mechanic of how the damsel is utilized.