The new consoles are launching with fewer next-gen only games than any previous generation. On the one hand, this means most of the games you can play on day one on PS5 and Xbox Series X are greats like Assassin’s Creed and Spider-Man. On the other hand, the meh launch games of old usually looked nice, even if they weren’t much fun. So I was happy to find Bright Memory, an Xbox Series X console exclusive launch game that scratches that mediocre but pretty itch.
Bright Memory came out on PC in March, but on consoles, it’s only on the Xbox. It’s not the same game as Bright Memory Infinite, which opened the Microsoft Xbox Series X gameplay event back in May. Infinite is a sequel to Bright Memory and is coming out next year. Bright Memory is made by a single person, and even if it looks like a remade Xbox 360 game, for a solo creation, it’s pretty impressive. It’s visually striking, most of the time, with lots of shiny surfaces, intricately detailed weapons and environments, and lots of particles.
This is usually the part where I give you the story setup. Dear readers, I can’t even begin to tell you what the hell is going on in Bright Memory. Ostensibly, the game is about a character with super abilities in a world full of dangerous monsters. But playing this game felt like someone was randomly skipping cutscenes without me knowing. Characters make references to things the game hasn’t introduced. I have no idea who is who or why anyone is doing anything. But, a good shooter doesn’t need a good story. It just needs targets and combat.
Bright Memory’s combat is both fun and frustrating. The good: The sword attacks. You can activate a light blade and for a few moments shoot out laser slashes at enemies, or slam your sword into the ground with style and force, sending enemies back. The sword has to recharge between uses, and during its cooldown you are stuck using the guns. The guns in Bright Memory look and feel good, but they’re mostly weak. Many enemies take a whole clip of your assault rifle to kill, while others take two clips. This turns many combat encounters into tedious firefights. Thankfully, the game is always giving you ammo, so you never need to worry about running out.
One early encounter set me against a dozen enemies in an open area. They opened fire and destroyed my health in seconds. Luckily, this is an Xbox Series X, so only three seconds later I was back in the game. Fighting back against these bastards was tricky; in addition to weak guns, the combat controls are finicky. Auto-aim doesn’t seem to work, and the sensitivity feels like it was ported straight from the PC version, with little to no aim acceleration. (In fact, the entire game seems to be a direct PC port, with settings like the ability to change texture quality that you usually only see in PC games.) I eventually was able to fight my way through this moment and others using the game’s EMP ability, which is an energy wave ability that can also put out fires and make people float in the air. It’s not quite how an EMP works, but it’s a useful move for handling deadly bullet sponges.
My opinion of Bright Memory changed when I got to the first big boss fight. It’s against a giant knight in mostly generic medieval armor, and it takes place in a big open field that’s wet and soggy, like everything else in Bright Memory. (I get it; reflections are cool looking.) The scene looked like something from a Dark Souls game, and my bullets were even more ineffective than usual. I relied on my sword, dodging and weaving away from the boss while my attacks recharged. It was simple, but it was a welcomed change from the previous action sequences. It was a reminder that there’s a solid game here, it’s just buried under some disappointing design choices and lens flare.
Bright Memory is $8, which, combined with its Xbox Series X-exclusive console status, makes it a little easier to recommend. For those looking for something to play after forking over $500+ for a new console, it might be a good diversion until your next paycheck. It’s kind of mediocre, but it reminds me of the pretty launch games we used to get back when consoles like the PS3 and original Xbox launched, the ones we played because there wasn’t much else. Bright Memory also has a direct connection with the very first Xbox Series X game we officially saw from Microsoft. The trailer for Bright Memory Infinite already makes that game seem like an improvement with wall running and slicker-looking combat. Maybe this so-so but pretty budget shooter is the predecessor of a hit next-gen Xbox game? If not, the sword is still a lot of fun to use.