October 11th, 2011 | By Chris Priestman
After Gemini Rue delivered its final message about the human condition, I found myself sat upright before my monitor as the end credits rolled, applauding. But what was it that had caused me to feel the need to demonstrate a physical appreciation of the game in a room occupied by only myself? Mental disabilities aside, let’s just say that Gemini Rue is a poignant package that commands the respect it deserves.
Gemini Rue sets its mood immediately with a dark suburban street, heavy rain slashing across the screen, a light jazzy soundtrack and a gruffly-voiced male protagonist. This is undoubtedly neo-noir, albeit it is brushed over with an 8-bit aesthetic. You play as Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin turned cop on the search for his missing brother. As you point and click your way through the game you will encounter the seedy belly of a drug-reliant city – its addicts sprawled across the dark pavements, vacant from withdrawal. Azriel soon finds himself between peril as his search gets him tied up in the affairs of the Boryokudan; an all-powerful crime syndicate who have their hands in many pockets. It does not take long for Gemini Rue to grip its player and incur a sense of danger that easily matches Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templar’s finest moments. Azriel worms his way through the criminals by lying to their faces, sneaking around back alleys and eavesdropping on hushed conversation. Like George Stobbart before him, Azriel is a self-motivated investigator who is not afraid to dice with danger and due to a turn of luck, come out unscathed.
This detective-like role fits hand-in-hand with the point and click adventure, and Gemini Rue actually uses perhaps the most intuitive interface to compliment this further. Rather than merely clicking on an object to interact with it, the player must make a tactile choice. This is whether to use the eye, hand, mouth or foot when clicking upon an object. It’s a subtle addition that adds an extra layer to the rudimentary mechanics, and one that accentuates the immersive feel of the game. Azriel’s Communicator (cellphone to me and you) has a similar effect as you make phonecalls to question leads, or ask for help from your trusty pilot, Kane. Players are treated like adults and trusted to follow clues and subtle hints during dialogue, rather than being led around like a child. This is the kind of game that points a gun in your face and expects you to muster the intelligence to delicately talk your way out of the sticky situation. Furthermore, there are none of those annoying progress inhibitors that have you stuck because you had not tried combining every item in your inventory together. Rather, you will be circling the same areas because the object you need to interact with is not made clear enough due to the blocky graphics. Luckily though, this only happens on a rare occasion. However, this slight aesthetic fail is not helped by the fact that Gemini Rue recycles its environments quite often for the majority of the game’s length. Although the mature tone and overall style of the game is utterly inviting, its charm begins to fade when you have been walking the same paths for a couple of hours.
Gemini Rue manages to veer away from being too repetitive by splitting its narrative in two. While you search the streets of Barracus, dodging criminals and getting mixed up in drug scandals, you also take control of Delta Six, or ‘Charlie’ as he is known by his inmates. Delta Six is being held in a hospital in which all of the inhabitants are wiped of their memories and put through training programs to redesign their personality. Delta Six awakens after his latest escape attempt causes him to go through another memory wipe. The dark noir setting is effectively traded for a typical sci-fi interior – sliding doors, shiny metallic walls and a team of scientists watching your every move. This oblique situation teases many questions, but the most troubling is who do you trust? As you meet the various inmates, they all claim to be a long-time friend while constantly warning of the fake charm of others. The only person you can really trust is yourself, but then you have the problem of not knowing who you are and what you have done in the past. All you are aware of is that you are being trained in gun combat, which acts as a handy tutorial as well. Combat in point and click adventures is one of those things that will have many people grimacing; not many attempt it and when they do it is usually a half-assed effort. Gemini Rue utilises cover-based shooting and does a surprisingly good job of it. In another good turn, the game never relies on combat to mix things up or add some excitement to the gameplay. There is just about enough shooting to justify its inclusion as well as not interrupt the focus of the game: it’s plot.
As Gemini Rue affectionately disperses itself between the gritty themes of neo-noir and the thought-provoking elegance of a hard-boiled sci-fi, it’s delectably mature in its realisation. It never gets this cross-over confused and finds the perfect middle ground. The characters are never too exaggerated, and the sci-fi dialect is always sensible so that it doesn’t become incomprehensible. Gemini Rue may have a strong beginning that is going to sucker you in due to its sense of peril, excitement and intrigue; but the last third of the game is something else entirely. As the dual narrative gradually draws closer and closer, the writing and structure of the game evolves into some of the best I have ever experienced in a game. It’s initial plot twists may be fairly obvious by the time you reach them, but the consequent ones will undoubtedly surprise you. The themes and thoughts that the game was merely prodding up until that point are fully fleshed out, the action ramps up in intensity and the characters demand your utmost attention. One moment in particular struck me as perfect; watching a ship fly across an epic space landscape with a gentle piano accompaniment provided an outstanding peak to the game’s narrative. It illustrated the situation and mindset of a particular character in an undeniably beautiful way. It is these moments that make you realise you care about the characters and are transfixed by the unfolding of a fantastic plot. The voice over work lends itself to a lot of this, along with the pacing and structure of the narrative. It then masterfully comes to a close like any classic sci-fi tale by planting thoughts and musings on the state of being human. I could go on all day.
To say that Gemini Rue is an impressive narrative-driven game is an understatement. Its gameplay is recognisable to any point and click veteran, and without the odd design mistake, it would have easily sat amongst the greats in the genre. What the game’s mechanics do an excellent job of though, is accompanying its tone and narrative execution. All in all, it is a well rounded package that never wavers from meeting its end goal. It is worth playing through at least once just to experience that last third of its narrative. I wish I had a save point just before it unfolds so I could relive its execution over and over again. Without a doubt, if you like point and click adventures, or are in love with mature themes explored in either a neo-noir or hard sci-fi setting, play this game. Gemini Rue is close to a masterpiece in computer game narrative.
Check out our interview with the developer of Gemini Rue, right here!