Nothing to Remember is hardly memorable
Searching (2018) with John Cho and Debra Messing was one of the best movies of the year due to one interesting aspect — the entire movie was filmed through the lens of a screen. Viewers never saw the characters as they might be normally filmed, with the camera man standing off to the side or right in front of their faces. Instead, everything was done through the interface of a computer screen, text messages, TV footage, or video calls. In the film industry, it seems it was more of a cool one-off instead of spawning something new; in video games, that’d be the kind of thing that would signal the birth of an entire genre.
Luckily, there is a video game counterpart to Searching that actually does exist; usually falling under the “found phone” or “text-based” genres, games like Simulacra, A Normal Lost Phone, and Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins all utilize a type of screen communication mechanic and received high marks from fans and reviewers alike. 2020 saw another addition to the genre in Nothing to Remember, releasing on mobile platforms that year, followed by a PC release a year later. How does this newcomer fare against others in this burgeoning genre?
Nothing to Remember has players taking on the roles of both physician Jeremy Knight and police officer Sarah Carter, represented by dark mode and light mode, respectively. Knight’s portions are rather cryptic, as he seems to be texting his taunting captor and unsure of where he is or what he’s done; Carter’s, on the other hand, are quite involved, as she’s working to piece together multiple mysteries that appear to be interconnected into one big headache. Of course, players aren’t actually typing and texting away; instead, gameplay looks more like a visual novel, clicking the next segment of text and occasionally being asked to choose between two options.
Players will spend the bulk of their time playing as Carter, who has landed herself in a pretty serious predicament. She’s been accused of breaking into the precinct’s database (?) and now the FBI wants to investigate. Forced out of her department, she’s approached by her new partner with a proposition: he wants a promotion, she wants to clear her name, so why don’t they work together to find the true perpetrator? With few options available, Carter agrees, and the pair begin sifting through leads to see what they can uncover.
On occasion, players will need to choose a response that can convey an emotional outburst or a rational headspace. The sentiment is usually the same, but the tone is noted. Distinct tonal responses in text messaging is a really cool idea, but I don’t think it mattered enough for me to really care about the choices I made. On an even rarer occasion, a critical choice will appear, which is said to have a direct effect on which of the four endings you get. Your partner asking if there are cameras present in an area he’s supposed to sneak into will have an impact down the road depending on if you answer him truthfully or tell him they’re only decoration. Choose wisely.
In addition to chatting with her work partner, Carter will take messages from other people in her life, like her mother, father, significant other, boss, and others. Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to keep track of who is who (I thought her significant other and her partner were the same person for far too long), and since nothing has a datestamp, it’s near impossible to go back into old texts and refresh your memory on what happened exactly when. I get that the black and white color palette was a stylistic and, admittedly, cool choice, but color differences in the profile photos would have helped differentiate the bland characters from each other. In the very least, being able to understand exactly when conversations were happening would have been nice.
While on the topic of aesthetics, I know the screenshots I’ve been using are full images, but the truth is Nothing to Remember is completely in windowed mode, meaning it doesn’t have the cool, blurred file backgrounds that you’ve been seeing. For me, it popped up in front of my YouTube videos and regular emails, really killing the immersion factor. Had an actual computer background popped up behind the windowed mode, I think it would have really helped set the stage for me to feel like I’m Sarah Carter; instead, I just felt like myself trying desperately to understand why I’m investigating like three cases at once.
As for the writing, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. Characters made a lot of references to previously discussed people and conversations and purposefully left out a lot of names, which is a really bad idea considering players don’t always play a game in one sitting. And while it was a really cool idea to submit things like videos and have a GPS tracker indicating movement off-screen, none of it was interactive or had any need for player input. I felt like I was being presented with one of the rare moments where I was going to take a more active role in gameplay, but instead I just sat on my actual phone and waited for things to play out before reluctantly clicking through the story yet again.
Additionally, the text itself, even on the fastest setting, is excruciatingly slow, and clicking out of the game to do something on a second monitor pauses the game entirely. Most visual novels allow you to click through to see the text in its entirety before skipping to the next line, but Nothing to Remember forces you to read what you’re about to type once, then read it again as it’s slowly typed onscreen, then makes you sit and wait while your conversational partner slowly types what they’re about to say… it’s honestly part of the reason why it took me so long to play this game — everything just went so slowly that I’d quit out of boredom, then come back later and completely forget what I was investigating. How can story with murder, kidnapping, suicide, the FBI, and identity theft be so boring?
I think one of the coolest facets of the game that, if it worked, would have been fun to explore was the instagram feature. I loved the idea of getting to know each character better, so I never missed an opportunity to click on their avatar, then click on their instagram. Unfortunately, Nothing to Remember didn’t like that and crashed every single time, completely exiting out of the game. The one thing that would have really helped otherwise blah characters feel real was completely inaccessible, which just kind of sums up my experience with this game — Nothing to Remember is a little too well-named, as it was honestly a completely forgettable title.
Nothing to Remember had a solid vision and the bones of something great, but nothing really came together to make a memorable experience. The immersion factor wasn’t there, the story moves along entirely too slowly, and there’s little focus in anything that would have helped keep players invested. Nothing to Remember genuinely looks good, but its well-designed façade hides an unnecessarily convoluted method of storytelling devoid of any handholds that would allow players to get a good grasp on anything. What a shame, considering this genre is still relatively unexplored, that an otherwise promising entry is such a forgettable letdown.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Mobile, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Guts United; Developer: Guts United; Players: 1; Released: July 21, 2021; MSRP: $8.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Nothing to Remember provided by the publisher.