Bright Memory: Infinite is a conceptually fascinating, technologically impressive game: an intense sci-fi FPS with a hefty dose of Chinese mythology, playing out across some truly gorgeous sets based on real-world locations. But for all that promise, it also feels incomplete, like a prototype for something much more grandiose—a very fun,very polished prototype, without a doubt, but one that still feels like it’s missing some crucial pieces.
Let’s start with the good: Bright Memory looks great and plays even better. It’s a slick first-person shooter that puts a lot of emphasis on mobility and highly energetic gunplay. Telekinetic powers and a powerful sword balance out the standard array of FPS weaponry—pistol, automatic rifle, shotgun, and sniper rifle—creating a fluid dynamic between melee, short-range, and long-range combat. The interplay between those different tools, while not especially complex, means that using everything you have is airways going to be more effective (and fun), and with a supercharged dash as your main defensive tool and relatively sparse cover, keeping moving is crucial for survival. It almost feels like a first-person Vanquish—not quite as refined or layered, but with a similar sort of energy.
And all the better when these chaotic, balletic fights are set against the beautiful Chinese backdrop. Temples, mountains, villages, crop fields, and city streets make for an enchanting field of play, drawing on the story’s sci-fi framing and folkloric influence to give each location a mystical atmosphere that blends past and future, magic and technology, the ordinary and the legendary. It almost seems at odds with how action-packed the rest of the game is, but the environmental design is the kind that forces you to stop and take a moment to just let it all sink in. It’s worth taking a moment to do just that in been the firefights, because there are so many little details that’d you’d otherwise miss. The sheer graphical achievement in bringing these locations to life doesn’t hurt, either.
Against that sort of backdrop, a story about mercenaries, evil corporations, and an mythical, ancient power brought to life should be a surefire hit—but this is where Bright Memory: Infinite starts to fall over. It’s clumsily written and disjointed in its narrative flow, moving at such a rapid pace from one high-octane set-piece to the next that those little details about how and why things are happening kind of just get forgotten. Seemingly important characters come and go with little fanfare or impact, and plot beats just drop out of the sky (sometimes literally). A generous read would call it surreal, or a throwback to the kinds of quick-fire stories you’d find in arcade games like The House of the Dead. Really, though, it just feels like there are pieces missing—like trying to speed-watch a film by skipping any scene that doesn’t have explosions.
That might also be because, all told, a full playthrough runs about two hours. Anyone who knows me (or reads Shindig regularly) will know that I am absolutely an advocate of short games. I’ll pick a concise, focused two-hour experience over an ambling, bloated 10-hour one (let alone 50 hours) every time, even at the same price. But Bright Memory: Infinite isn’t concise and focused; it just feels incomplete.
That’s not just in terms of constrained storytelling, either. Even the game and set design that I was gushing about just a few paragraphs ago suffers, simply because there’s not enough time for the game’s best ideas to develop properly. The encounters that you do fight are fantastic, but they barely scratch the surface of the potential in the game’s combat systems (while also posing a rather erratic difficulty curve). The thematic underpinning and mythical backdrop are more than a little intriguing, but feel like a build-up for a grand second act that never happens. There are foundations for something remarkable here, but foundations alone aren’t enough to carry it all the way through.
Also—and I know this is a superficial complaint—the character models are ugly. I don’t mean the character design; Shelia is gorgeous in her artwork, and the mythical enemies in particular stand out in their unique aesthetic presence. But in an otherwise extremely technically proficient, visually impressive game, the character models look cheap, animate awkwardly, and generally just look a few degrees less polished than everything else. It’s not a dealbreaker—you spend most of your time in first-person view anyway—but it is jarring, especially with the way Infinite‘s bonus costumes try to play up Sheila’s sex appeal.
Despite its shortcomings, I have enjoyed my time with Bright Memory: Infinite for what it is. It’s a slick first-person shooter that’s overflowing with energy and that blends gunplay, melee, and psychic abilities in exciting ways, set against a stunning Chinese mythological backdrop. It just feels like it should be so much more: there’s a foundation here for something great, if it only it was more refined and given the space to fully explore that potential.