Bright Memory: Infinite is the jazz fusion of games, it’s an unexpected mishmash of clashing concepts that seems to be improvising its every step. Most should remember that its debut trailer from Microsoft’s Series X showcase closed out its hyper-stylised sword and gunplay with a freaking sports car careening into frame like Knight Rider. Bright Memory, considered to be the first episode prelude to Infinite that exited early access in March and has been optimised for the Series X launch, carries that same spirit its utterly insane successor looks to deliver, albeit without most of the trimmings.
Almost torn from an ancient Dead or Alive crypt of controversy, our heroine Shelia—which walks a line far too close to a certain bogan Australianism—is a scantily-clad daughter of a military marriage who lost her parents at the age of six. Despite the obvious extremes the gameplay leaps to, the game’s story is by far its most confusing feature. It’s clearly some high-concept sci-fi that appears to involve keeping a nefarious paramilitary from retrieving a powerful artefact that can reanimate the dead—the problem is the story and much of the in-game text with it is so poorly translated from the developer’s native Chinese that it’s murky at best. That said, what it does appear to incorporate from China’s rich mythology is neat, including stone lions and actual soaring dragons—which are seen on this occasion and thankfully not fought.
This single chapter of Bright Memory, which can be blown through in under an hour, is one that’s served by repeated replays for multiple reasons: there are achievements for three playthroughs, there are more upgrades than you can enjoy in a single run and, if I’m not mistaken, the difficulty spikes the more you play as the successive efforts throw more and more enemies at you. So despite it being a bit short, there’s a reasonable amount of replay value for an extremely cheap peek-ahead at some of the things Infinite will bring to the table.
Bright Memory’s promise to deliver just about every gameplay mechanic to ever exist and jam it into a single game is a crazy one, but I must admit the result is utterly fascinating. The gunplay, a staple for several first-person action games, is rock solid, as is the wild hack and slash swordplay it marries it with. Both work in tandem with Shelia’s wrist device which grants the player supernatural abilities, it’s an insane ballet of chaos that feels patently confident in its skin. I particularly love the game’s inclusion of a Devil May Cry-like style counter that climbs and ranks your performance in the field, even if it is a little too easy to tick it up to SSS and keep it there during the bullet-sponge boss battles. A small gripe I had, in the beginning, is how slow the protagonist’s turn sensitivity is defaulted to. Clearly, this is easy to adjust, but the idea of her handling like a tank rather than an agile killing machine is baffling.
There’s a limited upgrade system that focuses on a small sampling you’ll likely be able to play around with when Infinite launches. By the end of your third run, you’ll have more than enough XP to have experimented with all of the game’s upgrades, both offensive and defensive, and the fact that all of these systems overlap and work in concert with the already busy combat is a miracle. I was a bit disappointed that stealth didn’t find its way into the game’s ‘potpourri’ approach to game development, especially given Shelia is seen to utilise active camouflage in a few of the game’s brief scenes. Crystals, the only currency in-game, will drop after each kill—or remain suspended in mid-air if the creature happens to be airborne—and, although they also seem to serve as ammo replenishments in the thick of the action, they can be spent inside the game’s rather cumbersome menu.
I presume the menu’s slow-moving, awkward cursor is largely a by-product of the game’s primarily PC-based development, but it definitely doesn’t speak to the sharp, crisp action the game builds its name on. Used both to navigate the starting menu, the game’s many settings, and upgrades interface, it’s a painful task that I don’t feel has any place in a console release.
Although it doesn’t have the rare, jaw-dropping visual fidelity of Infinite, Bright Memory is hardly a slouch. The character models are a little rough around the edges and the animation isn’t quite there, but as one of the few optimised games with ray tracing that I’ve sampled on the console so far, Bright Memory is, more often than not, a very pretty game. There are moments that the surface reflections seem off, like your gun’s ammo display mirroring strangely in surfaces, while others, depending on your angle, don’t appear to reflect at all. It’s easy to forgive these minor sins when it’s remembered that Bright Memory is the work of one man.
The game’s audio design is a similarly mixed bag, the thumping effects of every combat metric are a fleeting highlight, while the voice acting and ambient warblings are rather poor across the board. There’s a persistent crackle that lurks in the low end of the game’s soundscape. I get the low rumble fad and experimenting with bombastic bass, but it misses the mark here.
Bright Memory succeeds in delivering a fascinating blend of genres and I do hope we’re in for a lot more of it when Infinite lands next year.
Bright Memory is an utterly fascinating Swiss Army knife of a game that, despite its several ideas clashing in glorious cacophony, forces you to overlook the imperfections and other side effects of lone wolf development. It’s an utterly confusing, but equally compelling, sub-hour whirlwind through a Chinese cultured fever dream that writes a few checks that I pray Infinite can cash when it releases next year.