Remember Me: Mind Control & Bounty Hunters

I actually wrote this article before the Wolfenstein II posts – it’s a big exercise, writing several articles across the whole game, and I wanted to set aside a good chunk of time to do it properly. In the meantime, there’s a bunch of little bitsy posts that just kept coming. I was originally saving them all up to post at the end, but I actually think that an unmitigated rush of Wolfenstein isn’t the best approach. I went back and re-ordered the queue so it’s three weeks on with Wolfenstein, and one week off. This is our off week. So today we’re looking at Remember Me, a game I have extremely mixed feelings about. It’s really good but also the worst – I don’t think I’d recommend playing it, but it’s really interesting to think about.

Okay so here’s what you need to know. Remember Me is a game from Dontnod Entertainment, a French game company that made Life is Strange and the recent Vampyr, which I’m still pretty keen to play, note to self. Remember Me was the first project by Dontnod, and apparently it didn’t sell well particularly well, and apparently people thought the combat was boring – which it is. Also – ah fuck’s sake, all my general comments are just the same as the Wikipedia entry. The soundtrack is great, the story has some legitimate emotional beats (which never fucking happens in video games, so yay), but the combat is awful and bad. And awful. We’re focusing today on the Memory Remixes, but I have a side note that I want to make about the combat.

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So the combat is a beat-em-up, and I kinda have this thing with beat-em-ups now where the Arkham games just did it all better. In Arkham, it’s left click to attack, and right click to counter, and any game that does it differently just kinda frustrates me. In Remember Me, for instance, left click is punch and right click is kick, and you just have to jump out the way if someone swings at you – but jumping out the way means you generally lose your combo, so either you move and lose the combo, or you take the punch and lose health (and also your combo as well). The whole way through, I just wanted to be playing Arkham City instead. I missed having a counter button.

That’s the griping finished – let’s talk about the remix stuff. So obviously the game is about memory. One of the big things is that you get to steal people’s memories, but also – and this is the interesting part – you get to change them. Early in the game you’re attacked by a bounty hunter, because there’s a bounty on your head or something. Instead of directly fighting her, you jump straight into her brain and start editing a particular memory. Presumably she’s on pause while you’re doing this, or it all happens super quickly or something – like a time dilation. Either way, you go into her memory and find out she’s coming to get you because her husband has a serious illness and she needs the money to pay his bills. So you decide to change a memory. You go to the last time she saw her husband in the hospital, just before she came after you, and your goal is to make her think her husband actually died during that visit. You’re editing the memory to change her motivation: if she thinks her husband is dead, she doesn’t need the money, and if she thinks some government program or lackey is responsible for killing her husband, she might even help the protagonist fight the government. That’s a super fucking interesting premise.

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In gameplay terms, you start off by watching the memory through. It’s just a little section, and it plays out like a cutscene. When you reach the end of the segment, you can rewind it to the beginning and start changing things. For instance you can unlock the husband’s restraints, and release his anesthetic mask, so he wakes up and becomes dangerous (he’s also a crazy person). The doctor then kills the patient to save his own life. So by changing details in the memory, you prompt the character to develop a new set of events based on this alternate arrangement of the details. Once the process is complete, the bounty hunter is convinced that the doctor (who works for the government) killed her husband. She stops attacking the protagonist and goes ‘hey I’m actually here to help you take down the government’. Again, super interesting premise. Let’s spell out a couple narrative details that might have been really intriguing following on from that.

Firstly, the husband is actually still alive, and his treatment still needs to be paid for. But the bounty hunter thinks he’s dead, so she’s not going to pay – so what happens to him? Further, what happens when the hospital sends the bounty hunter an email asking her to complete the payments for her husband’s successful operation? What happens if her husband is actually cured and picks up the phone to call her? The premise of altering memory is super interesting specifically because it clashes with the actual reality. Handling those clashes is a great bit of drama for a story to deal with. What kind of work does the resistance have to do to maintain this fake memory? What’s the emotional toll on the resistance members as they repeatedly lie to this woman, day after day? Would they start to doubt their own memories? Would they wonder if everyone was secretly lying to them too? And how long has the memory-change process been going on for anyway? How many layers of lies? Are the heroes really heroes in any meaningful sense? Can any agenda justify editing a person’s identity like that? None of these questions are really dealt with by the game. The bounty hunter gives the protagonist a lift once or twice and we never see her again. Great premise, missed opportunity. Real shame.

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