Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Good & Bad of Remember Me

This blog post will contain spoilers for Remember Me.

Remember Me has been available to download for free on PlayStation Plus for a while and, as luck would have it, I had a code for a free month-long trial of Plus that had to be used before 2014. I was interested in downloading the game partly because I think it would give me something to write about on this blog. It's a series that has been at the centre of a controversy about female protagonists, after all, so it seems like a game I should write about. I barely knew anything about it, so what if it was a game as misandric as Heavenly Sword? Or at the very least, what if the sites reporting on the lower marketing budget for games starring female protagonists were only giving half the story and there were other reasons behind the lower budget for the game?

The only thing I found out was how undeserving Remember Me was to be involved in such a controversy; it's actually a very good game and it's disappointing that the lower marketing budget articles overshadowed it to an extent. The main thing I took away from it -- and the big reason why I couldn't title this blog "The Sexism of Remember Me", like I tend to when I examine games for sexism -- is because it gets a lot more right than it does wrong. I sincerely hope that more games starring female protagonists take their cues from Remember Me.

In a lot of ways, Remember Me borrows from a lot of other popular series. The combat is straight out of the Batman: Arkham series (albeit with more user-friendly controls and a cool combo-construction system), navigating around the city is exactly like Uncharted and the ending is kind of predictable and anticlimactic too. There are even quick-time events, although thankfully they were very rare. One for each boss fight. The same goes for the main character, Nilin. In my opinion, she was only marginally better than the majority of generic, quippy action heroes we see starring in every other game these days. She was at her best when she showed some real emotions rather than typical one-liners, which didn't seem as prevalent as they are with some other modern protagonists.

It's not like the game handles any of these things badly. The combat's pretty good. The climbing is pretty good. The story's pretty good. Although she isn't exceptional, Nilin is a bit more likeable than some other protagonists I could mention. So it does it well but doesn't leap to any new heights on any of those fronts.

However, maybe the fact that Remember Me doesn't try to reinvent the wheel is part of the reason it works so well. It might not be breaking any new ground but from a gender issues standpoint, it sends the message of "yes, we have a female protagonist. No, it's not a big deal", because it offers as entertaining an experience as the other games next ot it on the shelf.

It does a good job of removing the issue of gender in several ways; there are evil male characters and evil female ones. Sympathetic men and sympathetic women. The only time Nilin's gender is referenced is when she receives a few sleazy comments from a guy in the slums at the start of the game. Thankfully, that's just a one-off occurrence. Nilin is never thought of as any more or less capable because she's a woman and the game's enemies don't treat her differently than they would any other terrorist (or "Errorist", as memory-hunters like Nilin are referred to in the game).

If I have one criticism of the game, it's that it falls back into the old pattern of having all-male generic enemies but a mix of male and female Errorists (in the short prison-break scene we see them in, that is). I may be wrong about that; it's possible that some of the Leapers -- mutated humans with deformed faces, kind of like the Splicers from Bioshock -- were female but it was difficult to tell. If pushed for an answer, I'd say the Leapers were all male too.

There were some named female villains in the game. Three of them, in fact. However, because Nilin is able to alter memories, she is able to enter the memories of two of the women and change significant events in their life in such a way to convince them to become good. It's a trend that none of the people Nilin does this to are full-blown villains. Instead, they're misunderstood and sympathetic individuals (to an extent) who we're led to believe are villains before entering their memories. Nilin alters the memories of two men and two women but, when she's done, there are still plenty of male villains but only one female one. Thankfully, the number of sympathetic characters is more evenly split between the sexes.

Other than that, there isn't much to say about gender issues in Remember Me, which is actually a good thing; no news is good news, isn't it? If anything, it's just a shame that this was the game at the centre of the marketing budget controversy and not something less deserving of success. Although, in spite of poor sales -- only 300,000 worldwide according to VG Chartz -- maybe it's similar to Dragon's Crown; perhaps the controversy helped the game's sales, in spite of how low they are.

One thing I wish had happened following Remember Me's release is I wish I had seen discussion about the game outside of boards and threads specifically devoted to it. I'd have liked to have seen it mention in gaming articles too, particularly ones about good female characters. I've probably heard the phrase, "there are hardly any good female protagonists" twenty times more than I have, "Nilin from Remember Me is a pretty good female protagonist" since Remember Me's release.

I have some other thoughts on the game, since this blog will be pretty short otherwise; the real areas where it excels are the music and the environments. If I take anything away from Remember Me, it's going to be how unbelievable the environment artists made the city of Neo-Paris look. Honest-to-God, it is astounding. It's the kind of futuristic sci-fi environment I've always wanted to see in a game but never did until now. I loved the little details added to make it seem like a "real" futuristic world, with advertisements for toys, books, television shows and the evil Memorize corporation making Neo-Paris feel like a place with a history. The only other game I can think of that used fictionial brands to build its world so effectively is The World Ends With You on Nintendo DS.

I'll be interested in seeing if anyone else has played Remember Me and what they thought of it. I'm very pleased I tried it out and I'd recommend it to other people. Hopefully I'll be able to get around to playing Tomb Raider and Mirror's Edge too, to cross those two off the list of games praised for their female protagonists that I still need to experience.

I've been attempting to bring this up in a couple of blogs now, including one that I have half-written (so it may come up again in the future) but if you haven't already done so, go over to Vicsor's Opinion and read his blog post entitled "A Diverse Cast of Characters". It delves into the Remember Me marketing budget controversy -- which now seems to have been removed from Penny-Arcade for some reason, which is why I didn't link to it here -- the actual sales figures and what it's like to be on "the side of the fence" that wants more varied protagonists but disagrees with the arguments made by the more critical and dogmatic supporters of female protagonists.

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