Neo-Paris 2084 is a society built on tragedies. Like our own, it turns a blind eye to suffering in the present while sanitizing its history of any uncomfortable truths. Unlike our own, science has perfected a way for individuals to delete or alter their memories or to take as their own the memories of strangers. Memory has been commodified; turning them into entertainments to be bought and sold or salves to soothe mental anguish.
This technology of memory manipulation is called the Sensation Engine (Sensen), and was invented by a man called Charles Cartier-Wells. A technocrat; he believed he could eradicate human mental suffering through the erasure of painful memories, but instead, the spread of his technology imposed a false consciousness on individuals and society, exacerbating the injustices, inequalities and oppression of 21st century Capitalism.
In defiance, a resistance movement formed, consisting of freedom fighters dubbed Errorists, of which Nilin is a leading figure. The game begins with her captured, in the Bastille, halfway through having her memory, and personality, completely wiped.
A person who fights for freedom may be compelled onwards by the longing for a just and peaceful society. In pursuit of their goal they employ violence. This is not a contradiction. The violence of the ruling class is employed to make violence a permanent state of being. The violence of the revolutionary: to eradicate it from our futures.
As their genre of violence, Dontnod, the development team, chose the brawler. Remember Me is not merely a good brawler, it is one of the best. Here is why it works.
What the brawler has over the FPS is human contact. The fist meets the face. When one human being shoots another they are separated by distance. That distance is also emotional. A gunslinger is stoic. A kung-fu fighter is expressive.
Every kick and punch Nilin lands she accompanies with a grunt or a cry. In those sounds we hear, and experience with her, her struggle. As she connects with her enemies, we connect with her.
The player shares Nilin’s exaltation at every victory even more because each fight is novel and challenging. Our triumph is therefore heartfelt. The challenge of Remember Me’s fighting has a puzzle like quality on top of the usual test of reactions inherent in a good brawler. Nilin’s enemies have a variety of qualities that complement each other in different ways depending on their combination. Some enemies are invisible and untouchable except in bright light, some reflect damage, some are invincible while their allies are alive, others fly, teleport, or climb walls. The robots use projectiles or area of effect damage.
To help her solve the puzzle of a combat situation Nilin has a variety of cyber-based abilities as well as the pressen combo system. Nilin’s powers, which work with a cooldown system, include a ranged attack, a robot hack, the ability to become invisible, a mass stun-attack, an area effect bomb and a fury combo that breaks through blocks. The pressen combo system allows a player to customise the qualities of Nilin’s attacks: dealing extra damage, regenerating her health, or reducing cooldown time.
All of this is to say, that the combat is deep and challenging. I played Remember Me on hard and barely a fight passed by without me dying several times, learning from my failures and succeeding only when a new and effective strategy had been found. Victory then is as much a cathartic triumph for us as it is for Nilin.
The heart of Memorize has a cathedral like quality and Nilin’s journey into it is at least a secular, if not spiritual awakening. The music that plays during her final approach is called ‘Rise To The Light’. This evocation of religion is no aesthetic accident. It is a reflection of the religious qualities inherent in Memorize’s product: the Sensation Engine.
Let’s remind ourselves fully, what Marx said of religion:
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
The sentence I have emboldened is the goal that drives Nilin forward. Memory manipulation, she recognises, is an opiate that dulls pain but hides the nature of reality from everyone. Reluctantly, she uses memory manipulation as a weapon to bring about its destruction.
The memory reconstruction moments are incredibly well crafted, by both the voice actors and the game designers. They are a showcase of how video games, when cleverly designed, can give a story experience superior to the passive media of books and film. These sections immerse us into the emotions and experiences of the characters. We learn how objects, people, and chance can wildly influence a moment in a person’s life, therefore changing them as a person. These are not just memories we explore. They are reasons. Reasons the characters live how they live. And reasons why the society exists as it does.
We are left to reflect on our own being. What are we if this or that memory can have such drastic effects on our personality? If one memory, through design or disease, is altered or erased, resulting in a drastic change of everything we have been since? Can we ever be free from the tyranny of memory?
The game, I think, actually answers that question.
Neo-Paris is a society drowned in alienation. There, human existence consists of two things: shopping and Sensen. Those not indulging in these two past-times are either Prisoners or Errorists. Shopping, Sensen and prisons all alienate people: that is, separate people from the community; from the natural world; from each other and from themselves.
Memories are a barricade to hold back time. We fortify this barricade with photos, portraits, and in Neo-Paris, with Sensen technology. The characters in Remember Me are afraid of the future, as are most of us. After all, it holds uncertainty, ageing and death.
The main characters achieve a kind of freedom, only when they forget about their memories, and recognise their loved-ones in the present. A free society does not fear death any more than it fears birth (our society, of course, is as terrified of too many births as it is of too many deaths). A just society can afford to forget, and does so without coercion, and with the slowness of nature. Old memories wither, to be replaced by buds of new life.
Remember Me is a masterpiece. There is more beauty in the last hour alone than almost any other game can achieve through its duration. We are moved by awe-inspiring visuals and soul-raising music, all swirling around a human drama: a glowing crucible of emotion; of suffering and salvation.
Compare Remember Me to Bioshock Infinite. The first is a game, the second, a marketing event. Infinite is a pulp adventure strutting in the emperor’s cloak of pseudo-intellectualism. Humans in it are slaves to concepts. Concepts long since exhausted by hundreds of sci-fi paperbacks; and episodes of Star Trek and the Twilight Zone.
Remember Me ends with a single death. Bioshock Infinite, with only a single survivor: and she, a cartoon princess. In Remember Me the science-fiction, like its violence, is a means to and end, not the end itself. Remember Me ends by teaching us something of the common experience; the human condition. It uses fantasy science to explore real world concerns. It warns us of the dangers of bad science and even worse consumerism. It shows also that as long as human society is divided by class there will always be injustice and illusion.