Bright Memory’s trailer first caught my attention when the game’s sci-fi soldier main character, Shelia, force-pushed a wolf monster into the air, energy-lassoed her way up alongside it, sliced it to ribbons with a sword, froze it in a time bubble, and then sliced it to more ribbons—because at that point, why not?
Good news: the whole game is like that. Bad news: the whole game, currently in early access on Steam, doesn’t have much meat on its mangy wolf bones yet, and it may not for quite some time.
Bright Memory, a mash-up of over-the-top Bulletstorm-like first-person shooting and Devil-May-Cry-style action, is being made primarily by just one developer, Zeng “FYQD” Xiancheng, “in his spare time,” according to the game’s Steam page. And while it’s not quite on the audiovisual level of modern triple-A shooters, it sometimes comes close, with a flair for both dramatic setpieces and old-fashioned monster-mashing boss battles.
There’s just enough silly, poorly-translated B-movie story here to justify Shelia being transported from the sleek halls of futuristic corporate espionage to a land of mythical creatures, skeleton soldiers, wolf monsters, and also regular wolves who are just mean for some reason. The current version of the game comprises only its first episode, and the hour-long experience mostly funnels you between encounters that are meant to show you the ropes.
That’s probably for the best, because there’s a lot to juggle. You can, of course, shoot enemies, but bullets are, at best, a means by which to eventually annoy them to death. The real meat of the game comes in the form of combos that involve your gun, your sword, and other powers that can, for example, send enemies sky-high and leave them ripe for air juggling.
I spent my first 10 minutes or so coming to grips with the cadence of sword swings and the timing of Shelia’s force-push-like EMP blast, but then I was able to get more creative. Bright Memory likes to throw decently-sized hordes of baddies at you, so going airborne is a good substitute for crowd control in a pinch. Plus, after making sashimi out of a skybound enemy for a few seconds, it’s both satisfying and strategically advisable to punctuate the moment with a downward plunging slash that sends other nearby enemies careening backward. Bright Memory also scores your hacking, slashing, and shooting with a Devil-May-Cry-like combo letter grade system, so variety is your best friend—you won’t get as high a grade if you just spam one move, even if it is effective.
Success in combat yields XP, which you can spend on everything from stat boosts like increased defense to new abilities like the aforementioned time-stopping power. However, Bright Memory’s first episode was over long before I could unlock all of them.
Levels are generally quite linear, with little room for exploration. They largely serve to funnel you into more open combat arenas so that monsters can pour forth from their monster spigots and do their thing. These areas are competently designed, though sometimes at odds with Bright Memory’s dodge-heavy, free-flowing combat. Nearly every combat scenario I ended up in contained at least one obstacle that annoyed more than it challenged, whether that meant an instant-death pit that I backed into while darting around enemies in a cave, statues jutting from a ruin’s walls that my character kept getting stuck on when I tried to dodge a boss’ lumbering blows, or a forest fire that, as somebody who lives in California, I can say was uncharacteristically localized to a specific area of the map, and wouldn’t go out no matter how many times I smothered its embers with my burning body.
There are puzzles sprinkled throughout as well, but they’re about as perfunctory as they come. In one, I matched runes on the ground with symbols on a wall. In another, I platformed around an area and—at canned, pre-specified points—used my energy lasso to swing over gaps that were too long for me to leap. These puzzles exist. I solved them. I’ll forget about them in a week.
Fortunately, Bright Memory seems pretty aware that combat is its centerpiece, and I’m interested to see what future episodes bring. The first episode ends with a sudden boss battle against a god—this game escalates quickly—that’s big on flash, but light on clever mechanics. Now that all the tutorial stuff is out of the way, though, I’m hoping episode two will remedy that and then some. And add even bigger wolves.