Date: September 2012
Release Year: 2011, Developer: Joshua Nuernberger, Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games, PAGODA Link
I don’t usually find indie games with retro graphics very appealing, so until now I tried to avoid products form Wadjet Eye, which is a company that primarily focuses on publishing games of this style. On the other hand, I am a huge fan of noir themed science fiction and I have seen a lot of positive comments on Gemini Rue from various adventure gaming websites, so I decided to give it a shot. Overall, I am truly impressed, and despite some stupid design mistakes related to game mechanics, this is the best science fiction themed game I have seen in a long time.
Science Fiction, Neo Noir and Dual Characters
Gemini Rue is set in a very distant future where the mankind conquered other galaxies and space travel is an everyday activity. However, future is not that bright; there is an intergalactic war going on, people are suffering and the drug mafia is ruling the streets. You begin the game as Azriel, a former assassin who went rouge to find his missing brother Nathaniel. On the other side of the story, we have Delta-Six, a prisoner in a spaceship that is anchored in some desolate part of the universe. After his latest escape attempt, all of his memories are erased and now he has to figure out who he is and how to get out of this prison.
In the beginning, game switches the stories for you based on the milestones you have achieved in each story. However, after a while it lets you control to play whoever character you want, which is always a welcome feature for a game with multiple protagonists. Azriel’s story plays like a classic Film Noir script. It is basically focused on doing detective stuff like breaking into apartments and interrogating people for clues, while being surrounded by garbage filled dark streets, constant rainy weather and a paranoid suspicion that criminals lurking in the streets may get to you anytime. This is one of my favorite type of story settings and the designer of the game (Joshua Nuernberger) does an awesome job at fusing the necessary elements to absorb you into this dark detective thriller. You meet interesting characters, deceive bad guys and hack into security systems to gain information. By the way, Azriel is a very well written character. He is very smart and brave but also selfish at times and possesses many weaknesses that we learn about as the plot progresses.
Although escape from prison themed story of Delta-Six starts very promising, it picks up much later into the game. I was really disappointed by the relative slowness of his story, which is further dragged down by the prison related chores and the lack of interesting environments. The fact that his memories are erased also do not help at all; unlike Azriel he almost never speaks and lacks the commentary thoughts that help you to relate to his character. I do not want to be too harsh, because after you pass that boring introductory phase of his story, some interesting twists occur and playing him becomes much more enjoyable.
As you can guess, two stories converge towards the end, and I have to say that this is done rather masterfully. Initially I was expecting this convergence to be rather straightforward, but as the both sides of the story progresses, the game keeps surprising you with new twists. I was so pleased to play an adventure game where I can’t predict the end of the story by playing the first hour of the game. That certainly didn’t happen in a long time ! Overall, I can easily tell you that Gemini Rue’s most powerful part is its story and characters. This is one of the few games that makes you think about its ending even after you have finished the game.
Retro Graphics Done Right
Like I said in the intro, indie games with poor graphics usually repel me. Sure, I know an adventure game is all about story and puzzles, not the visuals. However, a certain visual style is mandatory to absorb the player into the gameworld. Most indie games lack the taste in visual style due to obvious reasons (being able to design a game not necessarily means that you are a good artist). Note that I am not talking about quality of the graphics in the technological sense, visual style has nothing to do with that. To me, first two Monkey Island games still have wonderful graphics (something that remakes certainly didn’t have).
I am happy to say that Gemini Rue certainly has a very good visual style. The game inherits the taste of early 90s Sierra adventures and mixes it with its own flavor. Although interactions with the world are limited, attention to detail is amazing. Streets, apartments, spaceship interiors, all look very realistic (of course not literally) and does a great job of conveying you that you are navigating in a well structured world with a deep background. Even better, lots of extra rooms and locations are present in the game that add nothing to the gameplay, but enhance the feeling that you are just a tiny part of this habitat. I really wish more indie games (and actually a large part of professional developers) pay attention to visual style and details like this game does.
Voice overs are done very well too, especially Azriel has a very good speaking tone and most of his dialogue is well written. Some characters are weirdly voiced, but I guess they are still above average for an indie game. Music is sparse, but it does its job whenever it plays.
Action Sequences ? Really ?
OK so far I had nothing but beautiful things to say about this game. Now it is time to focus on its weaknesses. It is safe to say that this is an easy game. If you are a seasoned adventure player, most of the puzzles will be a piece of cake for you. Your inventory is limited and usually it is very clear where to use which item. The only exceptions are the ones that require pixel hunting, and oh boy, this game indeed has some extreme pixel hunting sessions ! Fortunately these are not very frequent, but if you are stuck in the game don’t blame yourself, most likely you forgot to wander your cursor like a madmen all over the screen and missed an item.
Having said that, the game actually integrates puzzles within its story very well. I don’t remember a single puzzle that feel forced into the storyline for the sake of giving player a challenge. Maybe this is the reason why the game is so easy, I guess in real life people do not use crazy door locks with obscure colors and diagrams.
Unfortunately, the game commits to one of the most unforgivable sins in adventure game design. Action sequences !! I am really surprised that this idea came from an indie designer. I can see this happening in a bigger game, because the production company may insist to have such elements in the game to attract other players. However, indie developers come from within the adventure gaming community and given that it is clear that most (if not all) adventure gamers hate action sequences, I am really having hard time justifying why the designer thought that this is a good idea. I guess he thought it would be a cool experiment and might suit the flow of the story.
I don’t want to be too harsh, the game actually lets you adjust the difficulty of action sequences and provides you with a fairly comprehensive tutorial in the beginning. However these sequences are not fun to play at all and they just drag the flow of the game. If I wanted to play action sequences I would go on and play an action game. I don’t want to say this feature is a deal breaker and you shouldn’t buy this game, fortunately game has enough cool features to let you tolerate those sequences. However they certainly do not improve the gameplaying experience at all.
Overall, Gemini Rue made me want to check Wadjet Eye Games catalogue and restored my faith in indie adventure games. Story is very well executed and game certainly has a taste in visual style that many modern games lack. However, note that game comes with very easy puzzles and frustrating action sequences, which prevents it from being a perfect adventure.
The Good: Original and very absorbing story. Good puzzle-story integration. Well executed retro graphics.
The Bad: Requires extreme pixel hunting in several places. Could have used more puzzles.
The Ugly: Completely unnecessary action sequences.