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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  1. You've beaten me to it. I was also collecting my thoughts on it for a post. :D

    Glad you liked it, I also thought it was great, a lot better than the reviews made it out to be at least. It's amazing how they managed to turn a fairly standard rebellion-against-the-empire story into a far more personal and relatable experience towards the end of it. That remix in the final episode was almost painful to complete given the objective.

    As for Tomb Raider, I'm sure you'll find a lot of issues with gender representation in the story there like I did (not to spoil too much, but it's not exactly male friendly). Although that game insults me even more by actively going out of its way to alienate actual Tomb Raider fans.

    1. Glad you liked it too. I'm looking forward to seeing your blog post about it. :) You're right about that final remix. All of the remixes made me uncomfortable, actually, but that one in particular. I'm glad Nilin came clean about what had happened afterwards.

      I'd heard some negative feedback about the way men are portrayed in Tomb Raider so I'm interested in playing it for myself and finding out. I wonder if it's a trait of Rhianna Pratchett's writing or if it's just an unfortunate coincidence.

    2. Not sure, but I think Rhianna Pratchett REALLY isn't the right person to hire for established franchises. She clearly went into it with the mindset of fixing the franchise, even though it didn't need fixing at all. The only thing wrong with the previous Tomb Raider trilogy was that they were a bit rushed and could have used a few more bug fixes. Now it's just a rebranding of the Tomb Raider franchise for non-Tomb Raider fans (and more specifically the social justice crowd).

      In a lot of ways, Nilin is now a better Lara Croft than the new Lara Croft.

  2. Remember me is a good game but most my complaint are the gameplay I think which can be improved. The ability to customize the combo would be more interesting if you can customize the order you pushed the buttons and the length of the combo even if the two first are obligatory in order the system recognizes which combo you are doing it would be great if the game allowed. Adding short-cut to use Nilin's ability would be wonderful too

    The camera was awful during battle with sudden zoom. The ability to locked an enemy would be very helpful. And the ability to zap the cinematic when you replay some chapter when you search some boost would be nice.

    In overall the game is not bad. Nilin's design and the universe of the game are splendid but the experience is affected by technical issue like the long loading time, the camera and a gameplay perfectible.

    Other point, about Dragon's crown according to Atlus the game'sales is estimated to 800000 including digital copy. Both PS3 and PSVita ranked at the first and second place of the downloaded game in the japanese PSN. Each version was the most downloaded game on their respective console. The game won an awards in Asia. In west the game is maybe criticized for the design of their female protagonists but it's widely acclaimed in its home country. I won't be surprise if a PS4 released is done in a near future.

    PS: English is not my main language.

    1. Thanks for the information. I had no idea that Dragon's Crown had sold that many. I looked it up on VG Chartz a while ago but that site doesn't take digital sales into account. Hopefully Atlus will begin to develop a sequel.

      I agree with the camera issues in Remember Me. It didn't bother me a lot but enough to be noticeable; sometimes it was too rigid while exploring, when I wanted to look around at the detailed environments. During combat, it would sometimes be awkward if an enemy was off the bottom of the screen. I know they added an "!" indicator when off-screen enemies were attacking but it sometimes didn't feel like enough.

  3. I hated Remember Me purely on the same grounds as I hated Tomb Raider: because of 'modern' hand-holding, signposting and shallow gameplay. The main characters themselves aren't badly written and I definitely enjoy seeing more female protagonists. Keep'em coming!

    Now one thing is still sorely missing: female enemies -- in a context where they'd make sense of course.

    I wasn't aware there had been a controversy on the marketing budget, but I guess it explains why this game didn't get more visibility.

    1. Well, you're right about the hand-holding. Except for Remember Me, the only games I played over Christmas were Japanese RPGs, partly due to the fact that they avoid giving the player idiot-proof directions every step of the way. Having said that, I think as modern Western hand-holding games go, Remember Me is better than a lot of other games out there that received more publicity and praise and except for the quick-time events, didn't oversature the game with "press X to jump" instructions.

  4. The Penny Arcade Report was discontinued entirely, which explains the broken link. Cached versions of the page also aren't working for me, though, which is odd.

  5. Will we get a look at Long Live The Queen in terms of gender at some point? It seems interesting to me in that regard (and also otherwise).

    1. Hmm, I hadn't heard of Long Live The Queen before now. I've just watched a trailer and it looks quite interesting, with the player's choices having different consequences. I'm not sure how much it could have to do with gender issues but I can check it out if you like.

    2. I'm not sure what it can add in that regard either, I just thought about it and it seemed like a good example how to do things right for the most part. There are few real villains and both female and male characters can oppose you, depending on your actions.

    3. Well I've played through Long Live The Queen a few times now and it's pretty good. You're right, it's a good example of how to do things right. Gender isn't considered an issue, Elodie can take on various job roles, she loves both her mother and father (and is incredibly affected if he dies), people of both sexes can be villainous, etc.

      There's not much more I can say about it but I'm happy that there are writers who actually manage to portray both sexes fairly.

  6. The logic games are very useful and very beneficial regarding to the youth growth and also for the educational point of playing the dress up games is wondering you.

  7. Hi, I stumbled across your blog. I'm a female gamer and while I don't always agree with your views on sexism and depictions of game characters, I want to commend you for writing about your opinions in a respectful way. It's hard to deny that men are often depicted as scumbags or easily expendable. It's clear that you are supportive of games with female protagonists that don't fall back on having men always be the villains. I personally enjoy Remember Me and like Nilin as an example of a female protagonist. Games shouldn't turn most men into villains just to help a female protagonist stand out.

    I suppose the issue of sexism in games is a complicated one and people see it from different perspectives. Many feminists and myself notice ways in which female characters are trivialized, whereas you instead see men portrayed negatively.

    I wish we could instead support the common ground of having a diverse cast of men and women who are complex and well-written, instead of being separated over which gender has it worse. (I'd love to see more female villains and anti-heroes).

    1. Hi. Sorry it's taken me a few days to reply. I began writing responses to your comment a couple of times but kept getting sidetracked.

      I have to thank you for such a kind and respectful comment. Only a few days before you left a comment here, I read a criticism of men's rights activists who remain respectful on Reddit (although thankfully, people seemed to disagree with the commenter). It's not an exaggeration to say that reading your reasonable comment brightened my day after that. It's particularly pleasing to know that you're a fellow Remember Me fan!

      I feel as if supporting the common ground is an excellent goal to have. I'd like it if it could be as simple as everyone pursuing that same goal but, as you said, everyone has different perspectives on the issue. Still, your perspective is one of the more pleasant ones I've seen and I have to thank you again for expressing it so cordially.