Bright Memory Review — I Wish I Could Forget
Bright Memory is a profoundly bland experience riddled with hints that the game was never meant to be played anywhere but PC.
Don’t let the title confuse you; Bright Memory isn’t the game we saw at Microsoft’s first showcase for Xbox Series X games. Sure, it’s the same franchise and developer, yes, the gameplay looks comparable, and the names are absolutely confusing, but there wasn’t a single moment of gameplay in Bright Memory‘s stunted hour-ish runtime that came remotely close to being as dynamic or cool as the trailer for its sequel, Bright Memory: Infinite, that we saw in May.
Between bad controls, a messy user experience, shallow and uninteresting gameplay, uninteresting level design and writing and cutscenes that fall flat on their faces, Bright Memory is anything but awesome. Considering the game’s been in early access and hit its final build a while ago, it should be a lot better.
From the onset, one thing was painfully clear; the game was not ready to be played on a console. Starting the game on my Xbox Series S seemed pretty standard at first until I got to the title screen, which was the first warning of things to come. For some reason, while laid out like any normal menu in any console game, Bright Memory’s menus (yes, all of them) use a cursor instead of the standard highlighting for whatever option is selected, but that’s not that out of the ordinary for a lot of games these days. What took it from just kind of slow to infuriating was that there was no indication that there was a cursor. I was on that title screen for a few minutes trying to start the game, but the cursor just wouldn’t show up on the screen. Every menu was like that. This feeling that Bright Memory was a PC game haphazardly thrown onto the Xbox with no discernible level of quality assurance or care never left my mind throughout my entire playthrough.
The game opens with an extremely cryptic cutscene that presumes a level of familiarity with the game, its world, and its story that just isn’t there. I even encountered what can only be described as the ghost of scan lines dancing down my monitor and TV (yes, I tried multiple displays), mocking the already underwhelming cutscenes and undermining the experience more and more as my time with the game went on.
The cutscenes didn’t have much to brag about before the technical issues either – one moment you’re fighting a bunch of futuristic military guys and the next you’re being teleported to generic ruins where you fight enemies that look like knockoff Dark Souls enemies. In fact, there are multiple parts of the game that feel like they’re borrowing from FromSoftware’s style, but not in the form of deep, interesting, and challenging gameplay — it’s just random. Most of the enemies in the game that aren’t generic, futuristic military dudes are generic FromSoft characters. At one point, there’s a bonfire that seemingly does nothing, but when you interact with it, it shows the “Bonfire Lit” screen from Dark Souls.
Small, confusing, and pointless elements like this are all over Bright Memory. They make it feel like it was made without anyone to ground the project in reality or make sure that an actual final product was being made. There are a few collectibles throughout the levels that do seemingly nothing, the only puzzle in the game is uninteresting and boring; I could go on. None of this would really matter if the gameplay was good, but that’s asking a bit much.
Put simply, Bright Memory might’ve been worked really well as a tech demo at the beginning of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 generation, especially since the shooting mechanics aren’t bad, they just feel exactly like what you’d expect from something on the Xbox 360 or PS3. The game provides you with three weapons, all of which feel decent to shoot, but because most of the enemies are bullet sponges, it doesn’t matter. To make matters worse, the reload animations for all three guns take far too long for how hard it is to kill enemies.
What makes simple elements like shooting and moving even less enjoyable, however, are the settings. When you aim down the barrel of your gun, you have to click the aim button again to stop looking. Again, in a vacuum, that’s not a big deal at all – games like Valorant and CS:GO feature a comparable setup. The problem here is that there is an option to change that in the game’s settings, but changing it in the settings doesn’t change it in the game. There are three different things that this happens for and it makes playing the game feel stuttery and slow because they never worked the way I wanted them to.
Outside of the three guns (a pistol, assault rifle, and a shotgun), you also have a few other combat abilities that could potentially provide interesting layers to the combat if they were given time to be fleshed out in any meaningful way. Your sword acts as another ranged weapon, which shoots beams that slice through enemies much more easily than your bullets. The reason the sword can’t be used entirely instead of the gun, however, is that it’s on a cooldown. This actually feels relatively unique compared to a lot of the game’s fairly uninventive mechanics.
The protagonist is also outfitted with a teleport and a dodge, which allow for some mildly amusing movement during combat, but more often than not, most players are going to find themselves just getting used to the movement in Bright Memory around the time that they’re rolling credits. Otherwise, among the few claustrophobic arenas in the game, only one is really big enough to let the player actually enjoy any of the options afforded to them. That said, there are very brief moments that feature light platforming that actually felt pretty good.
Overall, there was so much inherently wrong with my experience with Bright Memory that could have been easily fixed or improved with more time in the oven. From unsatisfying, shallow combat to limiting and dull level design, there are a million little things wrong with the game that end up weighing it down, resulting in something I can’t recommend in good conscience unless someone’s looking to revisit a bygone era of first-person shooters. That said, there is undoubtedly some potential in this franchise buried somewhere deep beneath all the annoying minutia that made the game unenjoyable at worst and boring at best. I’m still going to keep my eye out for its sequel, especially since its debut trailer was incredible, but I’d be lying if I said I was optimistic.