Amnesia is one of the most resilient plot devices in video games, from early classics like “Deja Vu” to this year’s “BioShock Infinite.” It’s so common that, by now, forgetful game protagonists may outnumber their counterparts on daytime soap operas.
At first glance, Nilin, the heroine of “Remember Me” (Capcom, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $59.99), appears to fit that mold. But Nilin is special: She may suffer from huge memory gaps, but she can also cause them in other people.
It’s 2084 in “Neo-Paris.” A corporation called Memorize has figured out how to digitize human consciousness and hack your brain. Still beating yourself up over that awful prom night? Memorize can remove the memory entirely, or edit it so you weren’t such a clod. It can even extract a more positive memory from someone else’s brain and let you relive it.
Naturally, the corporation’s access to nearly everyone’s brain has its drawbacks. Political dissent is easily quashed, and the slums are filled with “leapers,” memory addicts whose brains have short-circuited.
When “Remember Me” begins, Nilin is getting her brains scrambled by thugs in the Bastille. She doesn’t recall how she got there, but once she escapes, an anarchist named Edge reminds her of her mission: to destroy Memorize.
Nilin is a martial-arts wunderkind, and as she regains her memories she learns more effective attacks against Neo-Paris’ leapers and corporate henchmen. There’s an overcomplicated “Combo Lab” where she can build sequences of moves that increase her attack power or restore some of her health. More useful are “S-Pressens,” which give her short-lived superpowers like invisibility or the control of any robots in the area.
But Nilin’s most intriguing skill is memory remixing. She can jack into other people’s minds and alter the substance of their most traumatic recollections. That may involve something seemingly innocuous, like opening a handbag, or more obviously dangerous, like sliding off a pistol’s safety catch. The effect of Nilin’s tinkering is to change the other characters’ motivations so they’re more sympathetic to her cause.
It’s heady stuff. Unfortunately, “Remember Me” features just four remix sequences. They all show up at key points in the narrative — the last is particularly daring — but I would have loved more opportunities to mess with people’s minds.
I was also disappointed that “Remember Me” didn’t allow me to explore more of its setting. The developer, a new French studio named Dontnod Entertainment, has created a vision of late 21st-century Paris that vividly combines desperate poverty with futuristic architecture and technology. You’re completely restricted, however, by a linear narrative path, so many of Neo-Paris’ mysteries go unanswered.
Still, the story is a doozy. While it draws on science fiction films like “Blade Runner,” ”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Inception,” it feels original, especially for this medium. And the climax, involving the identity of the elusive Edge, took me completely by surprise.
If you find the melee combat in “Remember Me” tedious, there’s no shame in switching the difficulty to the easiest setting and going along for the ride. It’s a thought-provoking journey you won’t easily forget. Three stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lkesten