The opening scenes of Gemini Rue promise a great big world of sci-fi noir. I am Azriel Odin, hard-boiled investigator, dumped in a city where it always rains. The graphics are pixelated, old-school, but perfectly capture the dreary, hopeless oppression of the planet Barracus. It’s oh-so-very Blade Runner, in the best way possible.
My mission is to meet up with a contact who can help me locate my missing brother, while evading the mafia organisation that runs the planet. To begin with, I need the guy’s address. As my first order of business, I acquire a keycard and get access to the city-wide computer system. There is a central database which can be searched by keyword, which can be typed in or dragged and dropped from my personal communicator. The world expands.
There’s a map of the city. I’m in District 6, but there are several other districts. The world expands. I find my contact’s apartment building. There’s six whole floors, all of which are accessible. And I discover that there are at least two other worlds in close proximity to this one. I have a spaceship – maybe I’ll get to visit them, as well? This game must be huge! I find my contact and we are airlifted the hell out of there.
It’s a tribute to the density of the universe Josh Nuernberger’s has created that I was thinking these thoughts for nearly an hour. Unfortunately it also raised my expectations so high that it hurt even more when I began crashing against the walls. After a short confabulation on our spaceship, I am dumped back on the same planet, the same district, the very same block as before. I walk to the end of a street and Azriel says: “There’s just more residential and business districts that way.” I want to see them!
Of course, it couldn’t be that extensive. No point-and-click game ever has been. Perhaps it’s even appropriate for a game themed around regret to take me on that journey of expectation and disappointment. But still, just for a moment, I thought…
After the crash, what’s left for me in Gemini Rue? Quite a lot, it turns out, along with some new frustrations. The good stuff first. Along with Azriel, I get to play a character named Delta-Six, an inhabitant of a sinister “re-education facility”, who has just had his memory wiped (again) for attempting an escape. As in Azriel’s sections, the mood is brilliantly evoked. Sound is used particularly effectively – a dull electronic buzz pervades everything, a white noise which works with the sterile white walls and blank stares of the other inmates to evoke an uncomfortable sense of isolation.
Your only contact with those who hold you captive is the disembodied voice of the Director – the stern-yet-pleasant voice of a long-suffering father – which is piped in through wall-mounted speakers to instruct you in performing specific tasks. It’s a situation not unlike Portal, where you’re promised your freedom once you’ve achieved a certain level of training.
Both the the voice acting and script are very good, helping to bring the characters to life and draw you into the somewhat uneven plot. There are a few interesting twists in this (including one big one that caught me by surprise), but the overall development of its ideas and characters is rather stunted through most of the game – until the end, when it tries to make all its philosophical points in a big, awkward rush.
Which is not to say that the storytelling is poor by gaming standards. Considered in that way, it’s quite good. It’s just that – once again – it fails to live up to the promise it has in the beginning. A lot of the steps on the journey simply aren’t as interesting as they should be, which makes the pacing rather sluggish. A large part of the blame for this has to be placed on the game’s adventure heritage.
The most basic frustration comes with using the interface. Every action (other than walking), requires two clicks to perform – right-click to open interface, left-click to select from four possible actions (hand, eye, mouth, foot). This is not gratuitous in the historical context of adventure games, but it feels clunky in this day and age, particularly when certain puzzles require so many clicks. There is one which requires the use of a wrench to loosen, remove, replace and tighten two pipes, then turn on a valve, which is eighteen clicks, not counting any extra ones you have to add if you do it wrong the first time. To be fair, this sequence isn’t so much a puzzle as filler leading up to a moment of drama (and one of the stronger ones in the game), but it is still frustrating.
There are a couple of other issues with the controls, like moments where I expected the eye to be the right icon, but it turned out I needed to use the hand. And then there’s the foot. It’s a cute idea, having the ability to kick stuff as well as grab it, but it’s ultimately gratuitous. I got stuck on puzzle a a silly number of times because I needed to use the foot icon instead of the hand. All it ultimately does is add clicks. A simple right-click look, left-click interact scheme would have been more than sufficient.
Speaking of getting stuck – it happened quite a bit. Like most linear adventures, the game works best when it leads you by the nose, signposting what your next task is and giving you some idea about how to achieve it. A few too many times, though, I found myself wandering around, trying to find the one hotspot I’d missed, which really got in the way of enjoying the story. My advice is to play it with a walkthrough close at hand.
And yet, despite all my gripes, I really liked Gemini Rue. It drew my into its world in a way that recent enormo-budget blockbusters like Bulletstorm and Dragon Age II have completely failed to do. That’s a huge thing, and it went a long way to mitigating my frustrations with the game’s limitations, most of which – clunky controls and outmoded conventions – are products of its lineage. I’d love to see what this could have been given a bigger budget and more powerful tools.