Remember Me blends the familiar and the futuristic. The upcoming action game from French developer Dontnod Entertainment and publisher Capcom takes place in Paris, but this isn't the Paris that you know — the game is set several decades in the future in 2084. It's a dystopian, cyberpunk-style vision of the future, complete with neon lights, dingy slums, and rainy nights. But it's also rooted in reality, which is part of the reason the team at Dontnod decided to set the game in their hometown, after originally considering both America and Asia as possibilities. "We decided Paris was a great, original option that would allow us to go crazy, blending traditional and sci-fi architecture," says creative director Jean-Max Moris.
The game puts players in the role of Nilin, a “memory hunter” who must traverse the Parisian streets in order to rediscover her own amnesiac past. It's a third-person adventure that appears to blend elements of similar games like Assassin’s Creed or the more recent Batman titles, letting you climb walls and engage in combo-based combat (you can get an early feel of how the game plays from our friends at Polygon). When it came to building the world the game is set in, Dontnod formed a team of eight "narrative creators" — including studio co-founder and noted French sci-fi author Alain Damasio — to not only flesh out the game's backstory, but also determine more fundamental things, like the kind of food people will eat in the city 70 years from now. The art team then took that information and used it as a reference for the world building. Of course they also did their own research, which involved, among other things, heading outside the office and taking thousands of pictures of Parisian architecture.
"Every single place and prop in the game is rooted in 2013 Paris."
"Everything we designed, we rooted in contemporary life so that the player could relate to it," says Moris. "And then we extrapolated and unleashed the crazy stuff." So amongst the flashing high tech gizmos, flying vehicles, and towering skyscrapers, you'll be able to spot familiar landmarks like the Eiffel tower or the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. Remember Me's version of Paris is a more cosmopolitan take on the city — residents mainly speak English, for instance — but it's all based on the modern day. "On top of our well-known landmarks and contemporary, Haussmannian architecture, you will be able to walk past our bakeries, cafés and fashion shops," Moris explains. "Every single place and prop in the game is rooted in 2013 Paris."
One of the things that helps set the game apart from other cyberpunk adventures visually is that, unlike the dark, gritty worlds of Blade Runner or Cyberpunk 2077, Remember Me isn't afraid to show its lighter side. There are missions set on bright, sunny days, and this variety was key to helping make the world feel more realistic. "It was very important to us to have variety in the places, times of the day, and weather types that we offer," says art director Aleksi Briclot. "The player will never experience the same level mood twice in the game. Although we do tick the 'dark and rainy' box in one of our levels, there is much more to discover in Remember Me.”
Of course, a lot has changed in between the present day and Remember Me's vision of the future, but the specifics are something the team at Dontnod aren't revealing just yet — however, the allusion to 1984 is no accident. Remember Me takes place in a similarly oppressive society, but one that faces even greater challenges due to new technologies. As Moris explains:
1984 depicted a very vertical, authoritarian society; the kind of society that has now pretty much become extinct in Western Europe and North America. But we believe a new insidious, horizontal form of control has emerged. Since the revolution of instant content sharing, people have been uploading more and more of their personal data onto social networks. What is being done with all that data, most people don’t care to know, because the ‘cool’ benefits outweigh the perceived threat to individual freedoms. In Remember Me, the last barriers of intimacy have been brought down, and people are now uploading their raw memories directly onto the network.
These elements have influenced the gameplay, which in turn influences the structure of the city. You may be able to recognize certain landmarks, but this Paris isn't laid out exactly the way Parisians know it today. Things have changed somewhat in service of making the game experience better. "Level design in particular has guided the configuration of the city quarters the player will explore," says Moris, "as well as the vistas we open for him to look at." We won't know just how well the game will play until it launches later this year, but based on early trailers and artwork, the neo-Paris that the team at Dontnod has created will at least be an interesting place to explore. They certainly have high aspirations — the team once compared the city to Akira's vision of neo-Tokyo.
"The reference was just a fanboy’s message of love to Katsuhiro Otomo’s work," says Moris, "in my opinion, the best graphic novel ever written. An astounding attention to detail that can only inspire those who build fiction universes."
Remember Me is coming to the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in May.