Don’t Forget Me, the debut outing from The Moon Pirates, is an intriguing premise. A “new breed of puzzle game” that combines adventure game puzzles with keyword-driven exploration of people’s memories, it’s a unique take on cyberpunk and complex moral thought experiment on individuality and freedom—if one that feels a little incomplete, without ever reaching its true potential.
The game opens when Fran wakes up on the doorstep of a memory clinic with no recollection of anything but her name. Taken in by the kindly Bernard and with nowhere else to go, she soon finds her place working as his assistant, helping clients who come in wanting to archive their own memories. The only catch? Memory copying is illegal, in a world where every citizen is implanted with a chip that means they can never forget anything—an unusual, if effective, way of ensuring the world won’t be doomed to repeat the mistakes of its wartorn past.
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But as you’d probably expect, the government has much bigger plans for memory manipulation, with the sinister-sounding “Project Hivemind”. Fran and Bernard find themselves caught up in a covert resistance movement, and dragged into the timeless moral quandary: is it worth sacrificing freedom and individuality for collective peace and prosperity?
It’s a question that’s been asked time and again, across all sorts of mediums and genres, but Don’t Forget Me is one of the more unique approaches to it. Despite the very good-versus-evil, underdog-versus-oppresive regime setup, Don’t Forget Me‘s villains make a compelling case: if, through memory manipulation, you could ensure world peace, happiness, and an end to hatred and discrimination, with nobody ever knowing about the “freedom” they were losing in this process and their blissful ignorance ensured, isn’t that worth pursuing?
I’m not saying the villain is right, and that this plan isn’t without some serious flaws and risks, and that it’s not a huge impediment to true freedom. But Don’t Forget Me stands out in the way it asks these questions, in the way it poses these dilemmas for people to ponder—a philosophical question that often gets reduced to a simple, black-and-white ideological discussion instead comes with depth and unique perspectives. It goes beyond just the line between tug of war between freedom and peace to ask if one can really even coexist without the other: is freedom without peace and happiness really “freedom” at all? Is peace without freedom really peace?)
Unfortunately, this thought experiment comes in the space of a game that runs its course in a couple of hours, give or take, and never gets the chance to truly delve into the nuance it needs. Plot points jump rapid-fire from one to the next, major revelations are dropped and then moved on from almost instantaneously, and there’s little room to breath and really ponder the questions that Don’t Forget Me is asking. Characterisation suffers, with nobody other than Bernard getting even the slightest hint of character development—not even Fran, despite her role as the player character and the catalyst for everything that unfolds, and all the amnesiac mystery that surrounds her.
I have no objection to short, concise games—I love them, frankly—but Don’t Forget Me loses something in its abruptness. It feels incomplete, like it had a lot more it wanted to say but had to leave the bulk of that on the cutting room floor. This is most apparent in the ending: I love an ambiguous ending that dares to leave some lose threads, but Don’t Forget Me goes beyond that, feeling instead like you got two thirds of the way through a film then skipped ahead to the credits.
Similarly, the brevity of the experience never lets the interesting puzzle design live up to its full potential. The basic idea behind it is this: each time a client comes into the clinic, you need to use keyword searches to navigate their memories to find particular ones. A correct keyword comes with a description of that memory, containing clues to the next ones in the chain; by tracing these clues and linking these memory “bubbles”, you’ll find a route to the critical one that lets you move the story forward.
These puzzles necessitate paying close attention to the details of what people are saying, and to the discoveries you make in some little adventure game-esque exploration moments. If you don’t, it’s easy to find yourself stuck in a dead end, just typing random words because you’ve missed the clue to that crucial first keyword that can get each memory dive moving. But so long as you’re paying attention, Don’t Forget Me never gets too opaque or vague—each memory leads sensibly into the next, with clues waiting to be found in the descriptions that unfold with each new bubble.
It’s an intriguing system, especially as memory paths start branching, sometimes leading to dead ends, sometimes taking you on different journeys to the same conclusion. But like I said, it never really lives up to its full potential: the game ends just as the puzzles start to get more complex, the memory routes more weblike, the clues more hidden. I’m left wanting to see so much more of what this fascinating puzzle design can do.
That’s the running theme through Don’t Forget Me: fantastic ideas that never get taken to their fullest. It’s a cyberpunk story that dives deep into the timeless question about whether freedom is worth sacrificing for peace and happiness, about whether freedom without peace is truly peace at all, and vice versa. A puzzle system built around navigating people’s memories using keywords turns the storytelling itself into part of the game in a fascinating way. But the full potential of gets lost in the brevity and abruptness of the experience; Don’t Forget Me is a compelling game full of unique ideas, but one that feels a little incomplete.
Title: Don’t Forget Me
Developer: The Moon Pirates
Publisher: The Moon Pirates
Platforms: PC via Steam (reviewed)
Release date: 21 April 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.