Gemini Rue PC Review
Gemini Rue is a sci-fi, cyberpunk, future setting, point and click adventure game with an anachronistic look reminiscent of the early 90's adventure games. Developed by "newcomer" Joshua Nuernberger and published by indie adventure game publisher Wadjet Eye Games, Gemini Rue seems to be both parties first attempt at a full mainstream commercial release.
And we honestly couldn't have asked for better. How embarrassed must big budget triple-A studios feel...
The game follows the story of two main characters: Azriel Odin, an ex-mafioso/assassin turned cop, and Delta-Six, an inmate at an Orwellian "Big-brother is watching" type mysterious hospital, whose memories have been wiped clean. Set in a grim, pseudo-noir, futuristic setting where the Boryukudan crime syndicate runs the galaxy, the game tells the tale of how two characters' fates come together.
Visually Gemini Rue is unapologetically classic - 2.5D pixel art, and a visual interface that was perfectly mainstream circa 1992. Which isn't to say it's bad. If anything I feel the game lends credence to the argument that good visuals are not the same as graphical power. The backgrounds are beautifully hand drawn, and all the sprites, while clearly pixel art, are high quality down to the well designed and synchronized animations. I expect newer gamers, that have grown up on photo realistic HD "shades of brown" graphics, to feel a bit awkward about it at first, but, for all it's worth, I'd advise you to roll with it. It's a completely different artistic experience full of its own charm, that really wouldn't have been the same with, say, the CryEngine. Think more like a very high quality graphical novel, like The Watchmen or V for Vendetta, less than a live action movie.
The game's soundtrack is also of high quality, never overpowering the gameplay, but retaining enough presence to flesh out the background and lend audio context to the situations. While it's not the type of soundtrack that just "pops out", like Bastion's, instead it becomes an excellent complement to the visual settings and situations. Which is the whole point of a soundtrack after all.
The voice acting, on the other hand, earns some mixed feelings. While some characters have a very solid and believable performance, others are somewhat lackluster, and a couple of lines throughout the game are downright phoned in. It isn't terrible, and it was far from a deal breaker for me, but it was definitely one of the weakest points of the game. Which is a pity, because for the most part the dialogue is well written and interesting.
Which brings us to what I consider one of the most crucial aspects of adventure games: The story.
I'm honestly somewhat worried talking about the story at all in fear of accidental spoilers, so let me just say that it's easily one of the most beautiful and well achieved stories I've experienced in any medium. The story telling is well achieved through the game play and dialog, and the writing is kept succinct, punchy and flab free.
Furthermore the characterization is well done and manages to avoid the classical error so many "veteran" studios fall prey to: Gemini Rue never assumes you care about any character by default. Instead it pulls you in through the action and settings and slowly feeds you the story (and I can't emphasize this enough) through the actual game till you're sufficiently emotionally invested in the characters that you'll want to see them through.
There is definitely a lot more than can be said about the story and story telling, from its exploration of the "Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep" (or "Blade Runner" if you prefer movies) theme, or the exploration of human psychology and development, to the seamless way it all comes together, but if I say any more I fear I might spoil some of the brilliant story and that ought to be a crime.
The gameplay is another place where Gemini Rue shines. The biggest problem of most point-and-click adventure games of yore was that the puzzles tended to quickly degenerate into downright arbitrary "moon logic". Fortunately Joshua seems to know better, and all the puzzles in the game are fairly logical and reasonable, in a way that playing through the situations feels organically and natural, instead of "guess what the developer was thinking" or "rub items on stuff till something works". There was only one moment in the entire game where I felt the situation wasn't very clear, and even then the solution wasn't exactly obscure, just easy to overlook.
It's also important to notice that at several points in the game I found more than one solution to the same problem. For example, right at the beginning while questioning a receptionist over a person's whereabouts I can choose to tell the truth or one of three different lies. First time I decided to go for a bold faced and "high risk" lie as a test and, sure enough, the receptionist called out my bluff, and refused to give me any more information, prompting me to find the needed information elsewhere or find some other way to persuade him. On a second try I chose another option that got me the information right away. While it doesn't seem to significantly affect the main story course, they're nice little details that make you feel less like a spectator railroaded into a preset story and more like an active element in its midst.
Gemini Rue, unlike most games of its genre, also features, a combat system. The system itself is not very prominent, is fairly shallow and not exactly the highpoint of the game. It's easy to write it off as a random gimmicky. However it is at least adequate, which is more than can be said about many bigger budget titles, and I found that its existence and correct use helped flesh out the world in ways many other competitors have failed to achieved. By having an actual fighting system the developer could tackle intense confrontations without having to resort to either quick time events or "deus ex machina" contrived solutions. It adds a different level of intensity to the game. At one point early on you're being chased through some back alleys by some henchmen. While most adventure games would simply have you leg it, or drop a crate on the enemy's head, Gemini Rue puts you right in the middle of the action, and in a shoot out with pursuing gangsters.
Had it been featured more prominently and less graciously, the fighting system would have become a shallow and repetitive negative point, but as it is in the game I find it to be a rather well conceived complementary gameplay element.
As far as duration goes, Gemini Rue clocked in a fairly decent 6 to 7 hours for me for a first playthrough, also featuring a Valve-style "Developer Commentary" version, and several easter eggs and achievements that are bound to make fans of replays easily double that. So for sheer quantity alone, it's most definitely worth its price.
In short, Gemini Rue is a brilliant "old school" style adventure game full of new life. It's well designed, with a lot of attention to detail, and absolutely worth the paltry admission price. If you're at all a fan of adventure games or simply good stories, it's not a difficult decision at all.
Oh yeah, did I mention this game had, literally, one developer?
Caliostro thinks that if you're having Beneath A Steel Sky and Blade Runner flashbacks you're not the only one.
Buy From: Steam, Desura or Wadjet Eye Games.