Bright Memory Review: A Demo in Launch Title Clothing
** DISCLAIMER: Code provided by FYQD Personal Studio**
During the first glimpse of next-generation games via Xbox this year, we all saw an interesting trailer for Bright Memory Infinite; a fast-paced action game that looked beautiful and seemed to have it all let alone that it was developed by one person. Lo and behold, there was an episode one that Bright Memory is an extension of, and it first was shown off via early access on steam in 2019. Along with the Series S and X this year, Bright Memory made its console debut. Many people including myself didn’t know what exactly to expect.
Being labeled Episode One “only in game” sets the expectation if you look close enough. When looking at the store page and the game card you will have no idea that Bright Memory is a glorified tech demo that feels like an alpha build. Don’t get me wrong, the game is very impressive as made by one person, but to be given the spotlight by Xbox and to be one of the first games on Game Pass to get that “Optimized for Series S|X” label should require extra work as well as proper labeling. Episode one will be a part of the final Bright Memory Infinite and I can see that there is promise, there are just currently a lot of flaws. This review could easily be a discussion about how Xbox needs to refine its palate when it comes to showcasing next-gen exclusive indie games but I’ll save that discussion for another day.
Bright Memory puts you in the shoes of Shelia, an agent of the Science Research Organization (SRO), to stop the enemy organization from obtaining a powerful artifact that can reanimate the dead. If you press me further on the story, that’s all I can really say. With what is present, the story is a very garbled mess that feels non-linear. For instance, the game starts off in a research base that Shelia broke in to. Upon reaching a terminal, she is teleported to a beautiful floating land mass at the north pole. There is very little explanation as to what’s going on and all I felt while playing was that all that drove the game forward was the very linear pathways. Story played very little in the grand scheme of the game. While the game does only have a 30 minute play time, it still feels like certain segments could have been cut out for the sake of just telling us what the heck is going on along with some backstory about who is who.
Bright Memory loves to play homage to other very popular games with its mechanics. Most of all, the gameplay really feels like it hopes to be as fast paced as Doom first and foremost. To break down the mechanics, your primary source of damage is one of the three guns that you have throughout the game; an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun. Each can be switched at any time but the options are cycled through. There is limited ammo but there is little to no way of knowing that you picked up more as you’re playing except by switching to that gun. I ended up using the assault rifle the most, and only really using the shotgun when the AR ran out of ammo. The pistol I only used during the intro sequence when I explicitly had to use it. Other than that, it felt like a pea shooter compared to everything else. The aim feels OK at best, but it doesn’t feel as fluid as many other games on the market. Recoil feels very sporadic. At one moment, I had shot after shot on an enemy’s head while other times it felt all over the place with missed shot after missed shot. This would be ok if body shots meant anything, but honestly, the only way to keep up with the wave after wave of enemies is to land headshots. Body shots feel like they do nothing and even headshots require at least ten hits to take something down. Thankfully there is a plethora of ammunition you have available, however during certain boss fights, you can run out very quickly and immediately notice the wall that you hit. Doom has mastered the weapon switching to a capital T, and again this feels like it’s trying so hard to be as fast paced as Doom without having those nuances down pat.
Other abilities include the power blast enemies with an air punch, freeze enemies in place by stopping time, a sword that turns the game into a hack-and-slash for about 10 seconds, throwing enemies in the air, grappling to them, electrocution, a bubble for a quick reprieve, and tossing enemies in the air with what’s akin to a ground pound. There are a lot of options and most of those abilities are just thrown at you right after the first 2 minute intro sequence with little to no explanation as to what they can do. The only ones that have an actual tutorial are the air blast, sword, and grappling hook. Even then, they are introduced outside of combat. When you fight enemies, they are relentless. Again, this is very akin to Doom. When you have enemies that just will not stop attacking you unless they are dead, you hope that all your mechanics match that pace so you can stay in the action. This is the biggest failure of Bright Memory. Every single ability has a charge-up, a long action, and then an even longer cooldown with little to no indication that they are active again. When you NEED to focus on where your enemies are and trying to clear waves, the last thing you should do is look at the bottom left corner to see what exactly you can do to save yourself. Death can happen quickly, and when even your dash has a cooldown and doesn’t always work, you need indicators for what your other abilities can be used.
Finally, there is a tad bit of exploration. The environments are beautiful and there are moments when you get to just take in the sights. The only encouragement is that every nook and cranny has collectibles. Even here, this falls very short. Collectibles give little extra backstory and worldbuilding. You also can’t even look at the collectibles you have gotten! The only way to revisit collectibles is to just start a whole new playthrough. Bright Memory does have New Game + in the form of a second and third playthrough. You do have an opportunity to pick up collectibles you miss during this time, but that’s the only real benefit of replaying the game beyond two achievements that are tied to additional playthroughs. There is no hidden ending to explain more, there’s no new extra boss or area, nothing. These extra New Game + playthroughs only feel like they’re present for speedrunning and to get your score higher.
Oh yeah, there’s also a score system that feels like it has been ripped directly from Devil May Cry. As you continue to do more and more damage, you get an active rating from C to SSS. This would be an interesting addition to encourage staying in the combat and be more active if the grade was always visible. I saw my grade and score maybe 3 times in my playthrough. But I was even only aware of it when I got an achievement for maintaining a SSS ranking for 30 seconds. I had no idea I even was maintaining a SSS ranking or even that there was a SSS ranking until that achievement popped. It felt like the scoring and grade was set to a timer that was visible for the first 5-10 seconds of the fight and then just went away. This could have easily just been a glitch but I experienced it during all 3 of my playthroughs. You even get a rating at the end of the game that judges overall how well you did. How would you know how well you were doing when the score is mostly hidden?
I mentioned above that this game loves to pay homage to other popular games like Doom and Devil May Cry. These are tied strictly to the mechanics. There is just a blatant ripoff though about half way through. At one point you can interact with a sword in a fire and… get a message saying “Bonfire Lit”. There’s been many different Easter eggs referring to the Japanese series Demon Souls and Dark Souls, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that feels like it was copied and pasted into the game. Then after interacting with the bonfire, you get teleported to an open battlefield to fight a person in full armor. Naturally, that knight carried a huge sword and was honestly the hardest of the two bosses in the game. This whole sequence only feels like it was added because the developer, FYQD, really likes Demon Souls and Dark Souls, without figuring out how to fit it in the game properly. This is such a weird sequence that stands out like a sore thumb. It was OK, but it really needs to find a better spot than just to be teleported to the arena.
The biggest issue I found though was with unlocking abilities. As you kill enemies, you can touch red puddles on the ground to get experience. With that, you can unlock abilities and passives. There are few options but at least there are options. Unlocking stuff is pretty cool and expands the combat just a little more, but that only applies if your unlocks stay unlocked. I found that some of my abilities just… went away between sequences with no warning. Even when unlocking abilities there is no warning that some are temporary. It made my efforts feel almost wasted. What’s worse, I relied on my unlocked abilities a lot and when they just vanished, I floundered, died, and had to spend time investigating. The experience was still taken away but the ability was grayed out. This is simply unacceptable.
Bright Memory promises so much, but shows off so little in what can be described as a glorified demo. Homages to many great games out there that master their craft fall very short from their idols. Combat is an odd mix of fast and sluggish that has no middle ground between each that is very jarring to experience. The story is a non-factor even though it tries to be a driving force. You can find the fun in Bright Memory, but you must be ready to adapt to all the missteps along the way. At this point, Bright Memory’s only purpose at launch is to be a quick 1000 Gamerscore.