One hundred years ago, the First World War ended. Armistice Day, later known as Remembrance Day in many Commonwealth nations, marked the conclusion of what was then the most brutal conflict in mankind’s history. Perhaps it’s fitting that 11-11: Memories Retold launched just recently to mark that fateful occasion. It’s a means to commemorate and remember those who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice.
Painting The Canvas
The first thing you’ll notice about 11-11: Memories Retold is the art style and visual presentation. It’s superbly gorgeous. The painterly effects by Digixart and Aardman Animations (creators of Wallace and Gromit) evoke dazzling imagery. There are moments of tranquil serenity punctuated by a sweeping musical score. Then, that’s followed by scenes of depression and dread, and unyielding terror knowing that battles are about to take place. I sincerely doubt the same effect could be achieved if they went the way of today’s regular 3D fare.
Key instances in the game such as the Battle of Vimy and even a short layover at Paris are highlighted by the opulent use of colors. Artists rendered each location with a deft hand. It’s as though you’re playing a video game in canvases created by watercolor wunderkinds J. M. W. Turner and James Whistler.
Yes, the graphics do take a while to get used to. However, once your eyes (and tastes) have adjusted, you could swear that this particular palette has achieved what it set out to do — craft a war game that reminds you of the horror, violence, and tragedies of war, yet still manages to promote peace, harmony, and even fate.
Telling The Memories Retold
The story works, thanks in part to the superb voice acting by your playable characters: Canadian photographer Harry (voiced by Elijah Wood), and German engineer Kurt (voiced by Sebastian Koch). The interplay and dynamics are on point even down to language barriers. For instance, if either character cannot understand what’s being spoken, the subtitles will be highlighted in red. Should they understand certain words or names, those will be in white.
In 1916, both protagonists are living fairly quaint and normal lives until war calls. In Harry’s case, World War I meant taking photographs and being able to impress a girl he likes. As for Kurt’s, it’s to find his son whose unit was presumably lost in the trenches of the Western Front.
Their destinies intertwine in the most unusual of circumstances — during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A brush with near-death shows that brotherhood transcends race, creed, and even clearly drawn allegiances. The two must work together to solve certain puzzles, none of which are too challenging. For instance, pushing a mine cart laden with explosives or even distracting guards and snipers are some of the dilemmas they’ll face.
If controlling two characters seamlessly wasn’t enough, the duo is also joined by a cat and a bird. Seems far-fetched, but this is a video game, after all. Both can be used to find hidden collectibles in the locations you’re in. The cat was quite endearing. There was even one instance when you had to find her while the battleground of Passchendaele was being gassed.
As mentioned, the 11-11: Memories Retold tells the story of friendships forming during the war. Additionally, the collectibles you find also flesh out more details about the conflict. These range from actual postcards and other memorabilia from the time period.
There are also minigames that happen frequently such as playing cards in the trenches (or with the Parisian elite). Likewise, you might encounter some QTE events that are fairly generous with their timers. All of these create an aura of immersion and are woven within the narrative.
Another key ingredient of 11-11: Memories Retold are the myriad choices that it offers. For Harry, as a photographer, you can take pictures of the battlefields, soldiers getting some work done, or how the war has affected civilians. There are a few occasions when your choice of photographs would matter since you can send them to his beloved Julia. In turn, Julia’s reactions to these pictures will change how she addresses you in her letters.
As for Kurt, it’s all about composing letters for his family. He has the option to choose from three different keywords or themes which form a part of his letter sent to his daughter, Lucie. You can choose white lies to prevent her from worrying, or you can talk more about his son, Max and how you’ve fared in your search. Some of Lucie’s reactions will slightly change depending on the content of your letters.
In the end, only a few key choices will matter to get the game’s various endings. I won’t spoil anything but, suffice to say, it might be one of the tensest moments you could experience in a game. There are key moments where you need to make choices not just to save characters, but also to save their very own humanity.
11-11: Memories Retold isn’t without flaws though. There might be a few graphical issues such as odd flickering visuals. This might be noticeable during the prelude to Vimy when you’re looking over the horizon or at munitions. Another is the audio skipping on very rare occasions.
Story-wise, there are a couple of instances towards the end that would truly make you go: “Huh? Did that just happen?” It becomes a little bit too fantastical and borderline silly that you can’t help but think if the story was suddenly rushed. Then again, we do have cats and birds determining people’s fates so I guess that’s a given.
Perhaps the most glaring issue with 11-11: Memories Retold is the game’s length. You can actually finish it in one sitting (roughly five to six hours). In fact, you can even replay some chapters to see other endings. Although, if you’re trying to see all the dialogue and reply changes or grabbing collectibles in various nooks and crannies, these will no doubt add more to your playtime.
A $29.99 pricing point for a six-hour-plus game might be too much for the average buyer. Still, I’d have to note that you’re more or less paying for the experience and the gravitas of the presentation, less so for looking for a 20-hour or more game time.
On The Eleventh Hour…
11:11 Memories Retold encapsulates fear, despair, hatred, friendship, and hope; everything you could want from a game that depicts World War I. Its painterly presentation and sublime art style capture and hold your imagination. Vivid depictions of hallowed battlefields, a haunting score, and a theme of brotherhood evoke a poignancy rarely seen in games.
The entire game is akin to a tribute for veterans and the brave fallen — even the end credits have a tribute and a Steam achievement. And yet, in spite of being a “war game,” it does not glorify death and violence. Instead, it highlights mankind’s triumph to retain that semblance of humanity. The only proper comparison I could make would be with Valiant Hearts: The Great War (and yes, there’s also an Easter egg for fans of that game).
It tells a wonderful, interwoven tale which, sadly, ends a little too abruptly and surprisingly, with some silly twists along the way. The game’s short length and price may turn off a prospective buyer. However, those looking for a satisfying retelling of The Great War — and man’s triumph (or downfall) in times of conflict — might want to give this a try.
Lest we forget, historians and academics have often touted The Great War as “The War To End All Wars.” It didn’t do that. Instead, this conflict spurred on by jingoism and a web of alliances created more hardships that followed. Young boys marched to war eager to experience chivalry and glory. What they saw was the meat grinder of No Man’s Land and the brutality of trench warfare. Propaganda dehumanized opponents, while soldiers and civilians all suffered.
11-11: Memories Retold remembers that part of our shared history in a tale that’s mostly somber and restrained, and, at times also whimsical.