I will start and finish this article using the same phrase: 11-11: Memories Retold is the reason I love videogames.
On Monday 3rd September, my first official day as a games journalist, Mieke and I were lucky enough to get hands on with 11-11: Memories Retold at Bandai Namco HQ in London. I knew absolutely nothing about this game going in, and it completely blew me away.
Set during the First World War, 11-11 is a story of two individuals on opposite sides, each reluctantly thrust into war. Harry, a Canadian photographer voiced by Elijah Wood, and German zeppelin engineer Kurt, voiced by Sebastian Koch are drawn together as 11-11-18, when the Great War came to a close, approaches.
I’ve been gaming since the late eighties. A question that’s been on my mind of late is: “what makes a perfect game?” and 11-11 is a strong candidate to answer that question. Developed by Aardman Animations – of Wallace & Gromit fame – they truly understand the unique potential for storytelling that comes with an interactive medium.
Ultimately the reason I play games is immersive escapism. Being responsible for driving the narrative forward or, in some cases, actively shaping the narrative through gameplay-based decisions is where gaming trumps all other mediums. With books, movies or television the audience is merely a passive observer of events, but as gamers we become responsible for not just what is happening, but how it’s happening as well.
The ‘perfect’ game to me is one that understands that exclusive quality of the medium, where the focus on interactivity and immersion is first and foremost. 11-11 does this in a manner quite unlike any other. If you’ve ever wondered what an oil painting in motion looks like, then look no further.
At first, this totally original art direction threw me; everything looked blurred, with details deliberately out of focus. A few minutes of adjustment were all it took to settle in. This distinctive visual style not only singles the game out but serves a storytelling purpose as well. War is difficult to comprehend. It is overwhelming, terrifying and confusing, and that fact is reflected in a visual style that deliberately obscures details.
The sound design, too, is fantastic. The vocal performances are sincere and heartfelt, and the fact that an actual German plays a German character does not go amiss! The beautiful orchestral score and the often literally explosive soundscape all make for exceptional high quality, and an often harrowing experience.
I played this game for twenty minutes, and yet I am already fully invested in its world and its characters. Kurt, the German engineer, is compelled to go to war after he learns his young son is missing. Despite not being a father myself, I instantly felt an emotional attachment to his plight. Kurt is not a soldier; he is thrown into war because of the love he has for his son, hoping to find him.
Harry is an enthusiastic and naive young man, sold on the ‘adventure’ of photographing war. Very early on, he learns he was mistaken to believe the propaganda and promises of those who convinced him to risk his life photographing the battlegrounds.
After only twenty minutes with these two I absolutely need to see where their stories go and how they are connected.
Another important element of narrative-through-gameplay is that we don’t do what every war game has done thus far. We’re not soldiers here; this isn’t about killing the bad guys. We’re an engineer and a photographer, a father and a young man. We are not triumphant heroes or warriors. At one point we’re even a cat.
Yes, you read that right, 11-11 has you play as a cat (and how, I might add). This cat has the most cattish controls of any cat/cat-like character in gaming history. The animation and control scheme for the animal are *perfect*. This is genuinely difficult to admit as a dog lover, but this game really knows how to cat!
As for why we play as the feline? The developers have mentioned that it is important to offer a different – or rather, indifferent – perspective on human warfare. We’re set to play as other animals through the game too.
As promised, I will end how I began. 11-11: Memories Retold is the reason I love videogames. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy and experience it in full.
11-11: Memories Untold has an initial release date of 9th November 2018, and will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.