Bright Memory is a very impressive achievement from one-man dev FYQD Studio, and is a great sign for things in the future. As it stands though, it has far too many issues and is far too short to offer an experience worth the price of entry. If you are anything like me, you will open it up to test out your shiny new Xbox Series X and finish it in the same time it took to install.
I think seeing this as a game might be a little generous; it’s more like a short demo to prepare you for Bright Memory: Infinite at a later date. It prepares more for gameplay than its story – which is lacklustre at its best moments and incomprehensible at its worst. You take the role of a super-agent named Sheila who must infiltrate some sci-fi organization before getting caught up in a feud with her nemesis/the main villain called Carter. He alludes to some shady dealings and what his tech could do, like a classic Bond villain or something to that effect, but it never gets any more interesting than that. Something goes off on a nearby computer screen (it is not translated so it’s left up to your imagination) and you are suddenly transported to some forested ruins far away. You must make your way through it by any means possible.
You get your first real taste of Bright Memory’s gameplay here as you are attacked by a pack of wild beasts. You have an EMP blast that knocks enemies into the air, a short time dodge, the use of a sword and a few more skills that have not been made apparent yet. Bright Memory has a huge focus on combos, occasionally feeling quite like a Devil May Cry game. At the top right of the screen is a score count and combo meter that climbs upwards, all the way to an SSS rank. However, the gunplay feels a bit stiff in Bright Memory with mediocre handling and some annoyingly long ADS times, and it slows down combos far more than it should. Your blade, EMP and sword, on the other hand, feel great and smooth. When you activate the blade, you have a few seconds to hit as many times with it as you can. These include standard attacks, a ranged attack and a single-use AOE. Dodging away from an enemy only to dodge right back, blade in hand, is a very satisfying experience.
This is something that Bright Memory somewhat struggles with: parts feel great, snappy and interesting, yet other moments fall flat. The animations and cutscenes come across as particularly stiff in contrast to some surprisingly nice combo mechanics. Oftentimes, a cutscene will simply show Sheila with a dead expression on her eyes turning around in surprise, only to be followed by even more rounds of enemies. The story mostly feels like a hindrance here as it doesn’t seem to care about it very much. As an opener to a bigger game at a later date, it could have done much more with a small chunk of the gameplay and lots of story to leave us wanting more. Bright Memory doesn’t really do this.
This being said, there is a great deal of charm to Bright Memory as a project. Behind its flashy graphics (and some unfortunate screen tear) lies a single person building something they care about. The influences on Bright Memory are incredibly clear: besides the aforementioned DMC comparison, this has an equal liking of Crysis, Titanfall, and even Dark Souls. I know mentioning Dark Souls in a gaming review is like gaming journalist BINGO but the comparison is warranted here. Right after a neat bonfire reference, you fight a boss that feels almost ripped straight out of Dark Souls. With a huge health bar and a mean lunge, the Lost Forest Lord offers a departure from the formula that I’d like to see FYQD take more. It has you fight a sword-bearing badass in a forest with nothing but your wits – and a small army worth of weapons. It focuses on that fun factor and, although it feels quite random, it’s so enjoyable it doesn’t really matter.
It seems from the small hour-long demo that Bright Memory actually tries a lot of things. This would be hard enough for a large team but really shows the strain on the one-man team of FQYD. It doesn’t fully invest in its story, feeling rather shallow, its gunplay is disappointingly slow with mediocre handling, and the cutscenes are noticeably worse than the rest of the game. These things add up, unfortunately, to make an experience that feels wasted. Bright Memory has a good thing going for it but may have overpromised. The gameplay can be very solid and the visuals are great when they aren’t tearing, but in all this feels like the start of something greater and not an experience in itself.
Bright Memory is a bad bite of a great meal – you can smell something that you might like, you might even get a little of the taste but, before you know it, it’s fallen off the spoon and onto your new carpet. That meal is still coming and it’ll probably be great, but now you’re just a little more sceptical.