It seemed as though games neglected World War I for so many years, reaching instead into the deep well of World War II stories before becoming obsessed with the present day and near-future. Lately, however, developers have begun to mine The Great War for its own storytelling potential. Among a wave of such games comes 11-11 Memories Retold, which combines a unique aesthetic, powerful writing, and a touching soundtrack to become one of the best games ever set to the backdrop of "the war to end all wars."
11-11 gets its name from Armistice Day, when the first World War came to a ceasefire on "the eleventh hour on the eleventh day on the eleventh month" in 1918. The story opens a few years before that and tells parallel tales of Harry and Kurt, the former a young Canadian photographer and the latter a plane-building father with a son in the German military. Early in the game, both characters end up enlisting for the war for different reasons. For Harry, it's his foolhardy way to impress a young woman he adores, while for Kurt it's to search for his MIA son, whose group was attacked and left for dead.
It may be obvious that the story will eventually see these characters intersect, so the writers do that earlier and more often than you may expect. Harry and Kurt are meant to be enemies on the battlefield, but their story is much more complicated than that and it's a journey worth every second you spend with it. Tonally, the game does well moving through earlier lighter moments, mixes in stealth tension later on, offers brilliant twists, and ends with one hell of a finale. The story plays out differently according to your choices too, so there's a sense of player agency in it all.
Some later scenes are especially moving, and some decisions very difficult — and thankfully always timed, so as to push you to decide quickly — and it helps that the voice acting is, for the most part, pretty good. Elijah Wood lends his voice to Harry, and Kurt and the other characters are mostly done well too, which is crucial for a game resting so much on the narrative. You'll really feel for both protagonists and the game often lets you choose who to play as, although most of the time you'll eventually move to the other side of the story anyway. It's a smartly written story that feels emotionally honest, even as a few plot points definitely look like plot holes or are maybe not meant to be taken so literally.
The game's subtitle, Memories Retold, is brought to life by the impressionistic art style that, to my knowledge, has never been done in a game before. Seemingly meant to look and feel like actual memories, detailed but hazy, the end result may be one that takes getting used to for some players, but sooner or later most will come around to the beauty of this unique design. It also does well to distract from what are clearly some stiff animations. This aspect of the presentation hinders some of the more affecting scenes, although never enough to totally wipe any moment of its emotional resonance. Helping push the emotionality of the game is an original soundtrack that feels right at home. Somber pianos play while you read and write letters from home, and tense moments are given the appropriate accompaniment too. It's a versatile score and the tearful moments are especially moving partly because of the great music.
Gameplay-wise, 11-11 is a pure adventure title. Much of the game consists of you solving puzzles as Kurt, taking pictures as Harry, talking to characters, and making decisions. It layers this experience with frequent and impressive change-ups to the gameplay suite, however, like a really cool letter-writing mechanic that behaves sort of like Mad Libs from the frontlines of World War I. The puzzles are often too simple to really justify their existence, but often the context of these puzzles is still interesting, like when the characters must work together to get out of areas alive. It's never meant to be a game that requires much skill, and it's definitely a game that wants to leave its impression on you (no pun intended) by way of its storytelling merits, which are thankfully bountiful.
The achievement list was not visible at time of writing, but many were unlocked during my playthrough, and among them, most were missable. There are also a ton of history lesson collectibles in the game, and there's Gamerscore attached to those too. Chapter select and collectible tracking in the menus should make it easy cleaning those up. Most of the achievements I unlocked were for 15 Gamerscore, which means the list isn't as short and sweet as so many other sub-five-hour adventure games. It will also require multiple playthroughs as there are alternate endings to chase too.
Summary11-11 Memories Retold is a touching and tearful World War I game that puts the human element on the front lines. Never about being a war hero and always more to do with the real people in uniform and the reasons that brought them there, it's a story that you won't soon forget and even one you can help shape with several tense decisions left to players. Stiff animations and some plot holes hinder the project, but overall 11-11 is among the best World War I stories ever told in video games.
- Heartfelt, often unpredictable story
- Beautiful music and unique impressionist visuals
- Frequently adds more to its gameplay suite
- Animations are stiff and lacking
- Some plot points are either full of holes or a bit too absurd
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately four hours on the frontlines of World War I with Harry and Kurt, collecting roughly 20-25 achievements. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the publisher.
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