Games that take inspiration from ‘90s design cues have been bubbling under the surface for a few years now. Perhaps not as popular as those playing on nostalgia for 8-bit visuals and chiptunes, but the aesthetic and popular culture inspirations are leading modern devs to create something engrossing for the modern player. The Moon Pirates have taken their cue from classic adventure games when developing Don’t Forget Me – a small, contemplative adventure game.
You play as Fran, an amnesiac who is found in the doorway of the “Copyist” Bernard. Bernard runs a small illegal Copyist store that citizens of The City come to when they want their memories backed up. A little Johnny Mnemonic in that every citizen has a chip embedded in their brains – no relation to a certain virus I assure you. However, unlike in Johnny Mnemonic, this chip ensures you can never forget, rather than destroying old memories to make way for new data.
This chip was developed during the “Meaningless War” – a world conflagration that almost destroyed humanity – and was directly responsible for ending the war. How is not elaborated on, but it brought the world together in peace. Of course, not all the world’s citizens are happy with having a government-mandated chip in their heads. As a result, The Forgotten have arisen, an organisation dedicated to destroying the chips
Fran and Bernard are recruited into The Forgotten after helping one of its leaders remember a sensitive memory – one that the fate of humanity hinges on. Using the Copyist’s tech, Bernard and Fran can navigate through a client’s memories, unlocking buried secrets and events that the client themselves have reinterpreted to make them the heroes of their own stories. The story – while dealing with a “save humanity” cliché – rather focuses on individual stories to steer the game, providing the player with a sense of choice and an opportunity to roleplay.
One of the clients you work with is a grieving mother who just wants to forget her pain by erasing the memory of her child in its entirety. When confronted by the secrets that the client is hiding from herself, you are faced with the choice of granting her wish or of keeping her memories intact so that she can get the help she needs. Part of that choice is deciding on whether she can walk out, or reporting her to the authorities so that she can get the help.
The striking thing about the narrative is less the moral choices that you are faced with, and more the personal tragedy of the story that you are confronted with. You have the chance to affect a person’s life by imposing your moral and ethical code on them. If you pay attention, the game may just force you to look at your own sense of what is right and wrong and, hopefully, begin to question the basis by which you may make a decision when confronted with something that is greyer than we would like.
The game has you interacting with the world and its stories by solving puzzles in two distinct ways. The first puzzle mechanic is a simple word association game and serves as the initial way a Copyist delves into a client’s mind. The puzzle mechanic is a homage to the adventure games of yore, as well as the earlier Interactive Fiction games that served as their progenitor (and still proves popular for amateur game devs the world over).
The mechanic can be frustrating, as you must carefully read all the text of each conversation regarding each client to home in on the correct keyword. The goal of the puzzle is to unlock each memory bubble and follow it to the next one, slowly progressing to the far right of the screen.
The source of frustration – as in those old adventure games – is figuring out exactly the right words to use. It’s certainly not as difficult as those older games as there are more synonyms that are accepted. The words used are clearly more limited and obvious once you figure out an important term. It was frustrating to just get started, only to find myself having to restart the short chapter just so that I can fully grasp what was said during the introduction with each client. Luckily, you don’t have to type out phrases or sentences to advance, just the right keyword.
Once you progress far enough in the story, the memory bubble mechanic is abandoned in favour of a virtual environment that Fran can walk around and interact with. This is a homage to point-and-click adventures, as you now search for anything of interest. This makes it much easier to solve the puzzle and progress.
On a meta level, it is as if the developers are taking players through the history of adventure games. This simpler game mechanic relies on your observation skills to identify key objects in the environment. It never devolves into the old pixel-hunting routine, but it does require you to be thorough.
As this is a game inspired by adventure games of old, do not expect voice acting. You will have to retrain your gaming brain to read plenty of text. This is not a case of CRPG-style walls of text, but more along the lines of a JRPG, with each character having a script made up of short sentences. As with those games, you can skip dialogues by pressing the spacebar repeatedly, but this will result in you missing the key bits of information necessary to solve the puzzles.
The artstyle is very much in the vein of the VGA versions of Space Quest, Police Quest, and other Sierra Online and LucasArts games. The characters are relatively indistinct compared to the lavish artwork we see in some pixel-art games, but that does not mean they are indistinguishable from each other. Fran may not be immediately recognisable as a woman but she is clearly not the same as Bernard, who’s beard gives his gender away. The style is distinctive and fits this Jazz Cyberpunk adventure perfectly. Neon colours and bright lights bely the seediness of the shop and the world at large.
The standout feature of the game is the soundtrack. The freestyle jazz music manages to both heighten your sense of confusion and attack the status quo. In fact, the way the jazz plays in a disjointed fashion is keeping to the theme of trying to disrupt the quest for an orderly machinelike world, by destroying the chips and thwarting the government’s ultimate endgame scheme. It is this audio design that pushes it ahead of any of its indie peers.
The one criticism I have of the game is that it is both very short and very linear. You go from important client to important client, all of them key to the story. I feel adding a few red herring clients into the mix would have added to the enjoyment of the game as well as the length. As it stands, the first run through the game – when you’re unlikely to unlock every memory bubble in the text puzzles – will take you between 2 and 3 hours. This makes the game more a vignette than a full experience and feels more like a demo than anything else. Hopefully, future patches will add more content.
Despite the short length and some frustrating text puzzles, Don’t Forget Me is an intriguing and captivating game and one that is certainly worth a spin. Especially if you are burnt out on the bombast and length of the average “AAA” blockbuster. This shorter experience does not leave you feeling short changed, but instead wishing there is not more on offer.
Don't Forget Me (PC) ReviewDon't Forget Me (PC) Review
Soundtrack10/10 The Best
Graphics8/10 Very Good
Ease of Play8/10 Very Good
- Amazing soundtrack
- Intriguing moral conundrums
- Fun puzzles that rarely frustrate
- Presents no easy answers
- Too short