When making a game based on something as devastating and as historically important as The Great War, it’s understandably tough to strike it correctly. In the midst of so much media being focused on futuristic wars and current real-world crisis, 11-11 Memories Retold caught my attention from the get-go. In a nutshell, Memories Retold is a touching, tasteful take on the stories of two individual men; both of whom trek very different walks of life, yet are burdened by the severity of the war. The end result makes for a compelling narrative.
It’s 1916; two years until peace is sought. Players follow in the footsteps of Canadian born Harry and a German man known as Kurt. Harry serves as a photographer, a chap that has the hots for a young lady and wishes for nothing more than to be a hero and get his girl. Whilst working in his shop, an army Major enters in search of a photographer to join him in France. Harry is offered a uniform, and chance to realize his dream to serve as a hero for his country. Kurt, however, works in a Zeppelin factory, whereas his son is engaged in the war.
Learning that his son’s regiment has gone missing, Kurt decides to join the front-line in search of his missing son. This premise largely sets the foundation for what lies ahead, offering up one of the most engaging stories that any given game of its kind can provide; when taking the source material into account. Memories Retold is split into three parts, with each segment focused on the aforementioned leads. Which you play as first is up to you, but there are indeed moments within that has you playing as both of them, in unity.
What makes Memories Retold particularly entertaining is that it places much of its focus on both its storytelling and its exploration, rather than that of picking up guns and blasting whatever sits in your path. Each character has their own unique backstory, with each clearly not wanting to be a part of the conflict. Though, their passions and their families has brought them together and over the proverbial, daunting lines. Safe to say, the game will take you on a journey like no other, voiced excellently by Elijah Wood and Sebastian Koch.
The game is played out in third-person perspective, in which you’ll guide your character through and around each level to fulfill mission requirements. Being that this is a story-rich game, you can expect plenty of dialogue and interaction, as well as some light puzzle elements thrown in for good measure and to draw-out the pacing. What steals the show here is how each character is portrayed throughout, on top of their personas in general. Several times was I in total, constant awe of the game’s core mechanics in this regard.
The gameplay feeds well into this, too. Harry, in the deep as a war photographer, quickly becomes acquainted with what war really encompasses; loss and sadness. It’s your job to capture these moments when playing as him; with you being free to take sixteen daily pictures during play. Despite photography being classed as a luxury hobby back then, the split between the novelty of the hobby and Harry’s growing confusion and anger is very well captured. This only deepens Harry’s character, lending the game a solid, rounded arc.
The same can be said about Kurt. Naturally, and as any good father would, Kurt sets off to seek out his missing son. Working in a Zeppelin factory means that Kurt has a good set of skills as far as being a mechanic is concerned; using these very skills to enroll. Kurt’s story alone is packed with emotion, tension and desperation, making for an equally as compelling affair from start to finish. Nevertheless, all of these story elements go together when both Kurt’s and Harry’s paths entwine, presenting one hell of a large swirling bulk of emotion.
The most touching aspects of the game comes from the fact that neither character truly understands a word that the other is saying; one Canadian and one German. Though, through kind and helpful acts, a bond begins to form as they struggle to survive the turmoil. Memories Retold highlights that although a raging war was looming, not everyone wanted violence. Regardless as to race and creed, this time was a time of struggling, something that the game, with special credit to the voice cast, captures magnificently with great respect.
The crux of play sees you moving through each decently sized level as you achieve your goals. To be expected, there’s additional collectibles that you can nab throughout. Memories Retold does things a little differently here, in the sense that these collectibles are actually served as information snippets and posters from the war – found via several floating notes. In fact, when playing as Harry, you can also get hidden photographs that adds to the game’s theme and structure. There’s no shortage of material to soak up here, that’s for damn sure.
However you come into this, Memories Retold is both engaging and compelling; driven by a deep yet simplistic gameplay mechanic that sits well with the game’s length and identity. That said, it’s the visual design that holds up the most. Memories Retold sports a wonderful oil painting-like presentation, with heaps of vibrancy and character from the onset. I credit the developer, along with the assistance from Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame) for crafting such a fitting, traditional aesthetic. It suits the journey sensationally.
There were several moments in which I was taken aback by the game’s beauty, yet smacked back to reality seconds later by the bleak material. This constant tug-of-war on the player’s perception is well struck, and is only heightened by the individual stories within. This all goes hand in glove with the game’s beautiful orchestral music, which has been composed at the famous Abby Road Studios, with the London philharmonic orchestra. Make no mistake about it, Memories Retold is not just a game that you play, it’s a rare game that you feel.
What makes this game particularly entertaining is how it manages to withdraw a wide range of emotions from the player, via delivering an overarching story through the lens of two individual characters with distinct motivations and outlooks. The end result make for a stunning, fascinating tale that never quite loses grip throughout. 11-11 Memories Retold isn’t just a game that you play, it’s a game that you feel.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.