11-11: Memories Retold has an interesting proposition: a war game where you shoot not with a gun, but the lens of a camera. In a world where World War 1 is often used as a playground for 360 no-scopes and kill counts, it’s refreshing to see a game that analyses the people tied to the situation in a respectful, story-centric way. It’s also no coincidence that the release has tied into the 100th anniversary of the Armistice being signed.
The game is developed by Digixart and Aardman animations, the latter of whom, you’ll likely know best for their work on Wallace and Gromit. While the style and tone couldn’t be further from the cheese obsessed man and dog, the influence of the British company is clear with a well-developed, somewhat realistic and engaging story. The art style is also wholly unique, with both the characters and the world around them resembling a beautiful oil painting. While this looks undeniably gorgeous from afar, getting up close and personal with NPCs unfortunately makes them resemble something from a PlayStation 2 game.
The narrative is split between the plights of two characters who sign up to opposing sides. Harry, a young photographer from Canada is voiced by Elijah Wood, who brings all of the Frodo infused innocence you’d expect. We also follow Kurt, a German engineer who joins up to find his missing son and is voiced by Sebastian Koch. His voice acting is second to none, and the blending of German dialogue when he speaks versus the English translation in his head for our benefit, is pretty seamless. Both Harry and Kurt have you make choices that affect the way their plot develops later in the game. The frustration, however, comes from having specific dialogue options locked off to you by the need to find further collectibles. While this improves the replay value, it devalues the story and hurts the overall immersion.
While it’s obvious that story takes the front seat, there are also primitive exploration, collection, and puzzle elements. Generally, they’re the weakest part of the game. Moving boxes, fixing radios, and even talking to people can feel clunky if serviceable. It’s also jarring in a game based so heavily on narrative, that several NPCs use not only the same character models, but also the same voice actors. This is very distracting.
Dodgy gameplay elements aside, what we’re here for is the plot, and it really is fantastic. While not wholly realistic and gritty, it takes a more mature look at World War 1 from both sides of the battlefield. The ridiculousness of the situation is emphasised throughout, in particular as young Harry initially joins up to impress his childhood sweetheart. While it’s more than a bit romanticised, it captures the exhausted attitude of both sides, and, in particular, humanises the German ranks, rather than making them target practice as in something like Call of Duty.
11-11: Memories Retold is an immersive, beautiful, and emotionally charged game. It’s at its best when it functions as a playable film, with you making the major decisions. Where it falls down is in its clunky gameplay and story beats that are locked behind secret item collection. However, the strong celebrity performances and engaging story more than make up for this and create a really unique experience that is both thought provoking and enjoyable. As the subtlest World War game ever made, there’s nothing more appropriate to play to commemorate the signing of the Armistice.