Finite yet fun
In the last 10 years or so we’ve seen a rise of “solo developer” cottage industries. Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone made a living (and then some) out of Stardew Valley. Mike Bithell became a megaphone for the indie industry off of Thomas Was Alone and his other subsequent projects.
There are so many similar stories, spanning just about every platform known to man: now it’s Zeng “FYQD” Xiancheng’s turn to be in the spotlight with Bright Memory.
Bright Memory (PC, Xbox Series X/S [reviewed on an X])
Developer: FYWD Personal Studio
Publisher: AGM Playism
Released: January 12, 2019 (Early Access PC) / November 10, 2020 (Xbox)
So I’ll start with a quick overview here, as the development timeline of this game is sort of confusing.
This is Bright Memory: a roughly 45-minute-long prologue to the longer, fully-featured Bright Memory Infinite, which isn’t out yet. The prologue was released earlier this year on PC, but this week, it’s slated for release on Xbox consoles as a sort of next-gen-launch exclusive. Note that it’s technically 9PM pacific, so it’s not quite time for “next-gen” to be “current gen” yet! I have a few more hours to relish in that nomenclature before I have to put next-gen in quotes from here on out.
So where were we? Oh yeah, Bright Memory. It kind of came out of nowhere and it managed to ensnare players with its stylish presentation and adherence to wacky first-person-shooter action. It is wacky, mind. There’s a vague story afoot right now, involving an agent named Sheila, the “Supernatural Science Research Organization” (haha), and some history with a mysterious villain named Carter (no relation). This thing gets started quick, as Sheila raids a sci-fi facility and then finds herself in a fantastical Tomb Raider-esque jungle zone battling demons in minutes.
I absolutely love how weird it is. One minute you’re fending off military personnel and the next you’re fighting a bull demon thing and his skeleton warrior retinue. Or platforming in first-person. Or…anything can happen! The English voice cast has a delightful camp PS1 or Dreamcast-era feel to it and the pacing is a lot like those old-school light gun arcade shooters. You’re constantly shuffled from place to place with some exposition, but Bright Memory keeps it light.
Action-wise, it clearly uses action games like Devil May Cry as a reference point, all the way down to the “SSS” rating for performing well in combat. This is an FPS at heart, complete with a pistol, rifle, and shotgun loadout; but you also have a light blade, EMP pulse capabilities, fast reflexes, super sprints, and time-stopping powers. There’s lots of moves, actually, some of which are enacted by double or triple button presses.
It all reminds me of some of those old-school hardcore action combos: ones that allowed you to chain moves and account for cooldowns. Bright Memory is short, but it doesn’t wait long to make you feel powerful. That said, getting a few things like the “XP upgrade” in a short prologue release isn’t the best feeling, and the menus could use a lot of design work. Speaking of brevity, after around 30-45 minutes, the story just kind of…ends, and you can replay the first chapter again like an arcade game. That’s it.
On Series X, I experienced load times of around 10 seconds, even between deaths. I know what you’re thinking: that’s good! But it’s not as fast as other next-gen games I’ve played across both consoles. “Optimized” might be a bit of a stretch, especially in regards to consistency with its visuals, but it works.
Bright Memory has the potential to be great once Infinite arrives, but for now, it gets a very light recommendation with some provisos. It’s not technically impressive even as a Series X launch title, but Bright Memory is worth pursuing either way if you grew up on classic action romps.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]