Bright Memory Xbox Series X review – never a dull moment

GameCentral plays the one Xbox Series X launch title that isn’t on other consoles and discovers one of the oddest games of the year.

The launch line-up of games for the Xbox Series X/S is, as you may have already heard, not very good. There were never any plans for any next gen exclusive titles but after the delay of Halo Infinite the sole first party game also disappeared from the schedules. Some decent games did come out for the launch, including Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Yakuza: Like A Dragon, but they’re both multiformat and cross-gen. Bright Memory though is not currently available on any other console… a fact they’re probably very grateful for.

As far as we understand – and this is all quite confusing – Bright Memory is the work of a single person, working in his spare time, and originally released on Steam early last year as a sort of tech demo and prelude to a full game. As a result, Bright Memory earned itself some minor notoriety for its use of Unreal Engine 4 and various high-end effects you wouldn’t normally except from what is basically just a fan game.

How things went from there to it becoming an Xbox Series X/S launch title we do not know but what could easily have ended up as one more reason to point and laugh at Microsoft’s embarrassing launch line-up is actually a heart-warming tale of one man’s perseverance in the face of all common sense. Previously, we’ve always said that there’s no such thing as a game that’s so bad it’s good, but this proves us wrong.

We’d love to tell you what Bright Memory is all about but we have to say we have no idea. The game’s Chinese, and translation has obviously been a problem, but it starts in medias res with no explanation of who you are or what you’re doing. Not that that really matters though as the various plot twists and scene changes are so jarring that we don’t think anything would’ve made sense. The voiceovers and rawk music soundtrack are like something out of a bad 90s Japanese arcade game but, like many things in the game, we have to admit we liked it that way.

As far as we can discern you’re working for some sort of government agency that’s trying to stop generic bad guys from stealing a grail like artefact that can raise the dead, and which is located in a floating land mass above the Arctic, that is in turn filled with monsters from Chinese mythology and zombie knights from Dark Souls. And when we say Dark Souls we mean Dark Souls, as not only are there bonfires to checkpoint your progress but the words ‘Bonfire Lit’ appear on screen exactly like From’s games – even though this is a first person shooter.

The plot is not even the half of it though as the first thing you notice is just what a disaster area the game is on a technical level, with screen tearing, slowdown, and object pop-in that would shame an Xbox 360. The controls are absolutely horrendous, as it takes what feels like minutes just to turn around and yet there’s no way to alter the sensitivity of the X-axis alone – so either you have the turning circle of an oil tanker or aiming up and down is so hyper sensitive it’s impossible to shoot anything.

It’s at this point we realised that the whole thing had been ported to the Xbox Series X without any consideration for what that means in terms of interface or controls. So, for example, the menu system is all cursor controlled and talks about changing the mouse sensitivity and key bindings. We then realised that the controls are so bad because the left stick is trying to emulate the WASD keyboard controls of a PC-based shooter. Which is the first point at which laughed out loud at the game. The second was when we noticed that aiming down sights just zooms in the whole screen, including the HUD at the top.

The odd thing is though that the gunplay is actually all right. We’ve certainly had less fun using a machinegun in a first person shooter (the shotgun’s a bit of a wet squib), although there is the problem that it’s impossible to tell when there are enemies nearby unless you turn up the FOV (field of view) so high it’s almost like a fisheye lens effect. Which is yet more evidence that this was ported to the Xbox Series X with no regard whatsoever for the difference between consoles and PCs.

As well as shooting you also have a variety of special abilities, although we’re not sure whether they’re meant to be technological or magic. But either way can also smash through barricades and levitate enemies using what look like Force powers but are described as ‘EMP’, for some reason.

You’ve also got a sword, which you can slash at enemies with when they’re up close but also has ranged and area of effect attacks. And if that wasn’t enough you’ve got a surprisingly long-range dodge that works like something out of Devil May Cry, complete with a style rating once you complete a set piece.

There’s a small number of additional abilities to unlock, including a lighting attack, in what may be the smallest skill tree in existence, and which can be unlocked completely within 30 minutes or so. Although that’s not too surprising as the game itself barely lasts twice that. (The length of most games is one of the main reasons why the ‘so bad it’s good’ concept never usually works, but that’s not a problem here.)

The planned full-length game is called Bright Memory Infinite, which was what was shown in the first Xbox showcase – if you’re wondering why you remember that as looking quite good. Maybe this is just a random section from that, we’re not sure, but we have to admit we were always fascinated to know what comes next, and absolutely never guessed right.

We don’t want to disparage the work that’s gone into this as once you move past the terrible way it’s been ported to consoles it’s clear that creator Xiancheng Zeng does have some talent for game design, with some relatively well orchestrated boss battles and some puzzle sections that, while inane, are certainly no worse than many we’ve seen in more professionally produced games.

So in the end, we do kind of look forward to Bright Memory Infinite. We certainly hope Zeng gets some help with that one, because it really wouldn’t take that much to push this from being a laughing stock to a fun, shlocky action game. Bright Memory isn’t very good but it is fun and funny, and given the price, and assuming you know what you’re getting yourself in for, that makes it surprisingly easy to recommend.

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