A few months after the original Xbox launched in the US, the gaming press was sent into a frenzy by the vehicular smash ‘n crasher Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions. Developed by a little-known Japanese studio, it took advantage of the Xbox’s then unrivalled power with all manner of fancy effects, such as impressive explosions and distance blurring. But while an excellent graphical showcase, the core gameplay left a lot to be desired, resulting in a deluge of mediocre reviews.
Bright Memory is the Xbox Series’ very own Wreckless. It comes from a small unheard-of Chinese studio (FYQD) and is the first system exclusive, being a conversion of a high-end PC release from earlier this year. Thanks to the Unreal Engine this first-person shooter packs a visual punch, showcasing exemplary effects, and it also sports some creative enemy design influenced by Chinese folklore.
It doesn’t feel very satisfying to play, however, lacking the genre mastery and polish we’ve come to expect over the years. Neither is it a long experience, lasting around 45 mins, albeit designed with replay value in mind. It’s a prelude of sorts to the upcoming Bright Memory: Infinite – the full-on, bigger budget, sequel which wowed gamers during Microsoft’s E3-replacement conference.
The price does at least accommodate the runtime, launching at just under £7. That gives you entry to a cinematic – in a sort of straight-to-DVD kinda way – slice of action, comprising of a brief intro sequence that leads into a surprisingly early puzzle section, a couple of boss battles and some fussy platform jumping. There’s a comedy moment too, which we won’t spoil.
The plot is typical sci-fi shlock involving glowing portals, ancient artefacts, and a scientific research team that knows too much. You play as Shelia, an agent armed with a trio of weapons, a razor-sharp sword, and some high-tech gadgetry unwieldy mapped to the d-pad.
This leads us to the first problem – using gadgets, and even the sword itself, doesn’t feel especially natural. Potential is here for Bulletstorm-style shenanigans, suspending enemies in the air with a slow-mo attack before hacking them to bits, but it lacks fluidity and results in a lot of fumbling. The left button is eventually used for three different attacks, no less, making selection tricky when in a pinch.
Additionally, the menus use the analogue stick as a cursor, making them awkward to navigate. The upgrade menu the most unfriendly of all, requiring more button presses than necessary. Signs of a quick conversion are elsewhere, including screen tearing, some visual/sound glitches and the occasional scrappy texture.
We appreciate that Bright Memory is mostly the work of just one man, and while this can forgive the odd glitch, it doesn’t excuse some of the other shortcomings. Odd design choices make the feeling of ‘glorified tech demo’ really hard to shake – there’s no incentive to swap between firearms, turning feels sluggish, and the cramped environments work against the core mechanic of boost dodging heavy-hitting attacks. Most deaths felt like they could have been avoided with smoother controls.
Unsurprisingly given its length, the adventure ends abruptly – after repurposing the puzzle room for the final battle. There is reason to return as your performance is rated, adding an arcade-like slant. On our second run, we managed to get the playtime down to around 30 mins, gained a higher score, and unlocked skills that eluded us initially. These include a forcefield and a lightning attack, both of which come in handy during the tricky boss battles. Bright Memory isn’t exactly a cakewalk. In something this short, a challenge is most welcome.
This is clearly meant to serve as a taster of what’s to come, and it’s easy to see potential in a shooter that’s just as stylish as it is nonsensical, throwing purposely campy voice acting and far-fetched mythology into the mix. But rather than make us eager for more, it instead brought on trepidation. Under the visual sheen lies a game that forgets the fundamentals.
We sincerely hope Chinese developers are being taught more than Unreal Engine mastery – a game needs structure, balance, and some well-grounded mechanics too, all of which are absent here.
Bright Memory is out now on Xbox Series X/S.