Videogame Potpourri: Review of Gemini Rue

(Follow the link at the bottom for the version with screenshots)

WARNING: Possible minor spoilers

I started Gemini Rue soon after I beat Metro 2033, took a break to revisit Medal of Honor: Airborne, played some more Gemini Rue, took a break to revisit Halo, played some more Gemini Rue, took a break to finish Miasmata, played some more Gemini Rue, took a break to finish Home, then finished Gemini Rue. So although it's not a particularly lengthy game, it's taken me awhile to actually complete. The crossover game from 2012 to 2013, I guess. Why did it take me so long? Well, I guess because I tend to get bored when I don't have things to shoot. Although there was shooting in Gemini Rue, so... I dunno. Regardless, the point is that I've finally finished it, and finally get to tell you what I think.

Adventure games tend to either be keyed towards the puzzle solving or the storytelling, and Gemini Rue leans decidedly toward the "storytelling" end. It tells a tale full of uncertainty (which I'm being deliberately vague about to avoid as many spoilers as possible). From the very beginning, you're unsure of who you are, what you're trying to accomplish, who you can trust... questions do get answered, but new ones invariably arise. The story is a constant parade of mysteries both big and small, with likable characters, solid writing, a moody scifi world, and a final hour that's bona fide seat gluing material. Basically, it's really good. And it's told with a wonderful surplus of narrative flair. There are many, many little moments in Gemini Rue that are just right. Moments when it understands your relationship with it, and how to use that relationship to immerse you and intrigue you. For instance, at one point you're given the ability to switch between two characters at will. What happens to one character can change your perception of what happens to the other character, and vise versa, depending on what order you do things in. That's the sort of thing the game excels at. Using interaction as a storytelling device in subtle, psychological ways rather than practical ways.

But the storytelling isn't perfect. There are times when the narrative trips over the gameplay, and vise versa. I think that it's inherently difficult to tell a story through a linear adventure game and not have moments where the integrity of the narrative is sacrificed in favor of puzzles, or where the linearity feels oppressive and counterproductive. For example, at one point you have to coerce information out of an extremely reluctant character over the phone. There are a number of dialogue options and possible approaches, and at first it's a rather intriguing scenario. That is, until you realize that there's only one specific approach that actually works, and there's no real way to intelligently interrogate him or even work through the situation via anything but trial-and-error. You just try every possible branch of the dialogue tree, your constant calls and attempts at sly manipulation becoming more and more ludicrous each time. It doesn't flow, it doesn't fit, and it isn't enjoyable. Just in general, the linearity can often be annoying. One character in particular refuses to do anything without a "good reason" (translation: "it's part of the one correct path"). Sure, it makes sense that he wouldn't want to break into every apartment or go on a murderous gun rampage, but having at least a little bit of ply would have been nice. There's never any illusion of being able to stray from the beaten path You are on a rail, and you will stay on that rail almost indefinitely. This can be especially frustrating when you're trying to do something that seems like a perfectly reasonable solution. Why do I have to break into that apartment that way when I could have easily done it this way? Does this sound like nitpicking to you? Because it kinda sounds like nitpicking to me. I suppose that the majority of my complaints with Gemini Rue's storytelling are really just issues with conventions of the point and click genre as a whole, and perhaps it's unfair to spend so much time going over them. None are ruinous, none really get in the way of the overall effectiveness of Gemini Rue's narrative. But... maybe that's the problem. The rest of the storytelling is good enough that the less-good parts stand out like the stupid elevator kissing scene in Drive.

Visually, the game bears more than a passing resemblance to Beneath a Steel Sky. It takes place in a similarly dark and gritty world and features a low-res pseudo-realistic art style. One half of the game stands firmly in neo-noir territory, with rain-soaked streets and organized crime and trench coats and soulful saxophone music and stuff. It's so very noir that it's almost a parody. Almost, but not quite... just ridiculous enough to be cool. The other half is set in whitewashed laboratories and industrial facilities. They aren't nearly as evocative or detailed as the noir locales, but they're perfectly acceptable. The art is fantastic. Just fantastic. Every scene is beautiful to behold. I mean, just look at these screenshots. The only thing that might put people off about the visuals is the low resolution. I don't actually know what Gemini Rue runs at, but it's probably around 320x200. Yes, everything looks very blocky and pixelated, and not in the acceptable "cutsey pixel art" sort of way. It looks like a point and click adventure from the 90s. It looks like Beneath a Steel Sky. But personally I like that. Low resolution visuals certainly aren't right for every game, but in this case I view them as a form of impressionism. They suggest what you are meant to see rather than realistically representing it. Many parts of scenes are just abstract textured moosh when examined closely. Little blobs of pixels are pistol magazines. Snakey lines of white are metallic reflections. What exactly is that thing on the table? It could be a glass. Is that little bit of dark a hole in the wall? Most of these questions are answered subconsciously as your brain automatically makes sense of what you're seeing... but you still have to use your imagination. It makes the experience more immersive and more personal than if it were crystal clear and sharp, in my opinion. The world exists partly on the screen, and partly in your mind. It's made partially your own. What's more, the rough impression of noticing individual pixels complements the game's gritty atmosphere. Once again I don't think this approach is right for every game, but when paired with great art as in Gemini Rue I think it can be very effective.

The music is just as well-realized as the art. It's very, very fitting. Very complementary. Sometimes it's jazzy. Sometimes it's melancholy. Sometimes it's actiony. Sometimes it's labratory-y. Sometimes it's just Gemini Rue-y. Always, it's good. There's one particular track that plays in the labs that I really fell in love with. It was like cloudy twilight on a hilly field, with only an imposing yet inviting industrial facility to be seen for miles, sillouetted against the sky, as lonely and people-less and clean as the endless expanse of close-cropped grass and the unreachable heavens. A world that is only in the imagination, with its unreachable emotional vividness and profound unspeakable, dream-like, unknowable truths. Or something like that. Maybe it was just a synth with some bloopy melodies over it. Regardless, as I said, the music is very very fitting and only serves to enhance the already evocative atmosphere. And despite some occasionally wonky dialogue, the voice acting is pretty fantastic across the board. So yeah... A+ for sound work.

Although it's a fairly traditional point and click adventure at heart, Gemini Rue has a respectable array of unique mechanics. For one thing, your input isn't just limited to walking and interacting. The left mouse button tells your character where to walk while the right mouse button brings up an inventory screen with options to examine, use, talk, or most amusing of all kick. It's a cool idea and it does make you feel like you have a little more control over your actions, but practically speaking it mostly just adds more things to randomly try on your quest for the one right answer to a given puzzle. The game also features an unusual cover-based combat system that comes into play during several appropriately-spaced gun battles. These sequences are interesting and could have been fairly enjoyable if not for the clunky controls. Leaning out from behind cover feels unwieldy, as the buttons don't always coincide with the direction your character actually goes, and having to manually cycle through targets rather than being about to freely select them is also a pain. They aren't smooth or intuitive. Still, they're playable, and serve to break up the puzzles.

So on that subject... the puzzles! What's a point and click adventure without confounding puzzles, after all? Well, Gemini Rue's puzzles work. I don't remember any of them being particularly clever, and they're mostly the expected ludicrous solutions to ludicrous sequences of player-thwarting barriers, but I don't remember any of them being bad either. Wait... that's right, there was that one. Umm... ok, basically here's what happened: I spent at least an hour being baffled by one particular puzzle, and finally went online to get some help. Well it turns out that there's a game-breaking bug that shows up at that particular place for some people, necessitating either a restart or rolling back to a pre-puzzle save. Luckily, I had one. So I spent the next hour or so doing the puzzle over and over again, trying to get everything exactly right so that the game would finally work. And each time, I kept encountering the same bug. Finally, I got fed up, and decided to look at a walkthrough to be sure that I was doing everything in the correct order. And...erm...let's just say that it wasn't a bug. It was just me not noticing something that I was supposed to notice, because I assumed I was running into the same bug that other people had been running into. So I guess there's one puzzle that I hated, but most of that was my own fault (although it demonstrates why it's important for point and click adventure games to be as perfect as possible from a QA standpoint). Oh yeah, and there's one little "minigame" that's rather difficult and tedious. There are also some mechanical inconsistencies. For instance sometimes you can "use" an object from all the way across the room, and your character will walk over to it. Other times he'll say "I'm not close enough to use that." And while you can get through most of the puzzles without trouble, figuring out what to do next can be a pain. There are several times where you're left to just poke around the world and try every interaction, without any real clear idea what you're doing.

Gemini Rue is a great point and click adventure with a well-told story and an interesting world. But in the end, I found it more endearing than entertaining. There are a lot of really little irritations that add up, and they're unfortunately as regularly-paced as the game's many revelations. Also, I wish that it had made some genre sacrifices to accommodate the narrative rather than vice versa. But it's still good. It still succeeds at what it tries to do, and succeeds admirably. It just struggles to get there. For my own part, I liked Gemini Rue. In fact, despite all the complaining I've done in this review, I really liked it. I liked the world, I liked the story, I liked the presentation, and I liked the characters. If you're a point and click adventure fan, it's a no-brainer. But if you aren't a point and click adventure fan, chances are it's not going to change your mine.

A fellow adventure gamer on the Escapist!

It's a fair review. The game is little weak on the puzzle side, but it's still a proper AG that is not without appeal.
Gemini Rue is far from the best Wadjet Eye game (I prefer Blackwell 1+2, Primordia and Resonance), but for people into the genre, they will probably play this game anyway, because there's not enough decent titles to keep an enthousiast occupied.


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