There's a lot to take in before you start fabricating flashbacks. Remember Me's protagonist, Nilin, first takes a disquieting, drowsy walk through the bowels of a sterile prison, which keeps its occupants under thumb by inflicting amnesia. She escapes, returning to eloquence and to a futuristic Paris in which the affluent's memories are softened, shared and monopolized by a sprawling corporation. As a former "memory hunter" – the game's sci-fi lexicon only gets clumsier from there – Nilin gets back in the brain-hacking business alongside Edge, an enigmatic leader looking to shake the status quo.
What you do and what the game is about align briefly whenever Nilin is within arm's reach of a few important characters. Instead of punching experience points out of them, as she does with almost everyone else, she remixes their memories to instill an insidious change in their outlook and personality. A crucial event in your target's life plays out like recorded video footage, except you scrub back and forth at will, looking for opportunities to prod components of the scene and alter the outcome. It's a Rube Goldberg plot where seemingly innocuous changes and connections can ruin a man, warping a recollected argument with his wife into a regrettable murder. Nilin's power is a fascinating subject to explore in play, and perhaps someday someone will make the game that does so in full.
The truth, if one chooses to remember it, is that these scenes are rare tics in a listless and mediocre action game. Remember Me is richer in appearance than execution, its Parisian playground commandeered by talented artists. The architecture is stunning, yes, but the construction is weak. What little illusion of exploration or agency there is feels instantly undermined by boring, simplistic climbing and what is obviously a hemmed-in approximation of an urban landscape.
The melee combat in Remember Me is criminal, and not because it's the dominant form of interaction. Nilin's animations are stilted and poorly portrayed through a camera that never knows when to back off, and fighting is so mired in canned input that it never once feels exciting or fluid. What a twist: the "Me" in Remember Me is a combo string.
Remember Me's sluggish feints at interactivity squander the goodwill earned by its premise, which sometimes overcomes clunky writing and laughable acting just long enough to indulge those looking for allegories in their science fiction. A never-ending collation of societal memories, threatening to devolve into a shared outlet for the misery of the times? Oh, well, that's gotta be Twitter, right? You kind of get to kill Twitter in this.
As you can see, Remember Me inspires excuses and an attempt to polish up the parts that are capable of shining, even after making a case for mediocrity. The anxiety over homogeneous AAA games is only growing, making us latch on to the odd ones that dial down the shooting and make way for smart heroines. If only that alone was enough to deliver excellence, and not just the kind of game that ought to be remembered for trying.
This review is based on the PC version of Remember Me, provided by Capcom. Joystiq also tested a pre-retail Xbox 360 version.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.