Bright Memory (opens in new tab) is the kind of game for which worldbuilding is your protagonist breathlessly saying: "Could this be the Floating Island hidden at the North Pole?" It's a question that only inspires more questions. Is it the floating island at the North Pole, or is there another one? How and why do we know about this floating island? Why do we seem so casual about it? There's an artful way to start a story in media res, creating mystery and excitement, and then there's throwing out a whole bunch of nonsense because you think it sounds cool. Bright Memory is definitely doing the latter. But it's also a fun, over-the-top shooter with some Japanese action game essence crammed into it—think Bulletstorm, but anime.
Right now, Bright Memory is a brisk game you can complete in just 30 minutes, though there are some unlockable skills and a scoring system that encourage playing through a few more times. It starts you well-equipped, though, with a handful of abilities you can use immediately. There's your energy sword, which you use by hammering on the E key, and which also has a couple special attacks strangely mapped to the mouse scroll wheel. There's a grapple hook that yanks you towards enemies, and an EMP blast that sends them floating helplessly into the air.
Within a few minutes I was EMPing hordes of strange opponents—one minute paramilitary soldiers, the next red-eyed undead warriors with swords and shields, the next a lion chimera with a dinosaur frill and armadillo shell—and then tearing them apart with an assault rifle or slicing into them with the energy sword. The gun has nice feedback with a chunky thwack as bullets hit enemies, and there's a fun ground slam sword move that blasts nearby enemies with a shockwave. Like in Devil May Cry, there's an exciting cadence to comboing abilities and shooting while dodging other enemies.
Doing all this in first-person is a lot messier and harder to manage than it is in a third-person action game, though. The dodge move, mapped to Shift + A/S/D, is disorientingly quick and I found it hard to pull off when I wanted to, because I was often already holding down one of those keys to strafe around a fight. (I probably should've just remapped it, because I WASD wrong, and that definitely made dodging a lot harder for only me). When I got to an extremely Dark Souls boss, he killed me over and over again until I got better at dodging—and discovered I also had a shotgun, which I discovered by accidentally pressing the 2 key. That helped a lot.
Bright Memory is a mess of ideas and clichés pulled from other games, but its combat is genuinely fun. It can be a little too manic when you're trying to dodge and stay on top of three cooldowns and reload your gun at the same time. Like Doom Eternal, Bright Memory leaves me needing to catch my breath after a battle.
Somehow this game is the work of a single Chinese developer (with a bit of extra localization support and a couple of voice actors). It's honestly really impressive—this is a nice-looking Unreal Engine 4 game that runs well over 60 fps on my GTX 980, enemies are well-animated and the gunplay feels better than shooters with much larger dev teams. The cracks show here and there, like in some wooden facial animations in cutscenes. But still, it's a hell of an accomplishment.
After about a year in Early Access, Bright Memory released last week as "Episode 1," and the developer is moving on to making Bright Memory: Infinite, which I assume will be a longer game. I expect the story will make no damn sense, but playing Bright Memory is kind of like watching a good B-movie. I want more dialogue like: "I should take this statue to the Doctor. It must have some kind of secret" (what doctor??) and "These two connected worlds are a pair of twins, we must sacrifice one for the other to survive" (What worlds??? Also: Not how twins work!!).
Anyway, I eat this shit up. I don't know if Bright Memory's combat has enough depth to really stay engaging through, say, a 10 hour game, but I had enough fun with it in half an hour that I'm considering going back for a second run to unlock a few more skills I haven't tried yet. One lets you electrocute everyone on the battlefield, and that sounds like a pretty good time.