11-11: Memories Retold Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
11-11: Memories Retold is a beautiful and poignant piece of art to commemorate the First World War – but it sometimes stabs itself in the foot with its high goals.
The First World War isn’t remembered in culture as much as it should be. Of course, it was rather overshadowed by its successor, and Britons pin plastic poppies to themselves for a day every year, but contemporary pieces of art that pay tribute to the war are few and far between. That’s where 11-11: Memories Retold comes in.
11-11: Memories Retold is a tale clearly told with an even dosage of love and talent, and its various artistic choices are innovative and unique. It’s clearly a fitting tribute to the First World War. However it’s not a perfect game – there are a few virtuosic errors that come with the new territory the developers tread.
The game tells the story of two men, one Canadian and one German, who have a fateful meeting at the height of the war. To say more would be to spoil some of the intriguing and surprising locations and themes the story explores, but suffice to say the story is more all-encompassing and prophetic than a simple tale of two people.
There are some choices presented along the story, and for the most part the impact of them remains unseen. Of course they likely have some bearing on the story, but the culmination of your actions remains unclear – like choices in Mass Effect rather than Skyrim. The ending is powerful enough to make you re-consider your actions and how your choices throughout could have swayed them; it’s never totally clear what actions caused what re-actions. This works well to reduce the veneer of a “game” and the simple choices games normally present.
Gameplay-wise, 11-11: Memories Retold stands on shaky ground – it’s never boring per se, but it’s rather simplistic. Some levels present you with basic adventure-style challenges, where you must explore an area and solve simple puzzles , but most involve simply walking through the areas or talking to people to proceed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the art, world and music all work so well to grab you in, but the game is engaging because of these elements and the story rather than because of the gameplay itself.
I’ve already written on the artistic, musical and narrative components of 11-11: Memories Retold, and so to spend paragraphs gushing about the beautiful music, transcendental artwork or evocative story would be redundant – just read that. All of these elements are as beautiful and intriguing in-game as my preview suggests. One of the unique selling points of the game is its art style, which mimics impressionist paintings down to the brushstrokes, lighting and perspective – except it’s playable. Surprisingly, the unique art style never gets tiring, as it’s tame enough not to inhibit gameplay or obscure objects and characters in the levels. It doesn’t take too long at all to tune completely into the painting.
Of course there’s a down-side to the fantastic art that constitutes the game – it’s very short. It took me around six hours to complete, and this time included hunting for as many collectibles and talking to as many NPCs as possible. With such a high production value it’d be unfair to expect a Red Dead Redemption 2-length epic, but at times the story feels a little too quick as a result.
The artistic engine also a little too much pressure on the console at times – there were frequent framerate drops , with some cut scenes stuttery enough that important information was missed. These jittery cut scenes were the exception rather than the rule, however – for the most part the game runs fine.
While most war games – most games in general perhaps – are about shooting countless enemies with the most realistic graphics possible, 11-11: Memories Retold is a bold game. Developers DigixArt and Aardman made a war game that’s about life; a modern game with graphics inspired by centuries-old art. How many developers can say they’ve wholeheartedly thrown ‘gaming trends’ and ‘what sells’ to the wind, and make a game that’s entirely culturally important and aesthetically unique?
It’s a shame that the technical limitations of such an impressive feat of artistic vision hold it back, because for the most part 11-11: Memories Retold is an emotional and stunning adventure.