Developed by: Joshua Nuernberger
Published by: Wadget Eye Games
Reviewed on: 14th March, 2011.
Presentation: The graphics are deliberately retro as are the interface and music. The graphics look and feel a lot like those found in point and click adventures like Beneath a Steel Sky or The Dig, which works very nicely for the retro ethos of the game, but does mean it inherits a few of the problems with older graphics like the sometimes difficult to see objects. That may just add retro cred for some folks, though.
Atmosphere: The game absorbs the atmosphere of its inspirations very well. It could have easily been released contemporary to the games mentioned above and it also captures a lot of the cyberpunk elements prevalent in the eighties to mid-nineties. The storyline does get a little stretched in terms of plausibility at points, but not by a huge amount.
Control and Mechanics: The mechanics are unusual by point and click standards. After a certain point in the game, you can click to switch between two different characters and play out each of their parallel stories. Each character has an inventory of up to eight items and the game is largely controlled by mouse alone, except in two situations (combat and crate movement) where WASD, control and space are used. These are separated, however, and the same hand could alternate between both as needed.
Who should buy this: Those who adore modern retro games, especially when they feel convincingly like an older game. Those who enjoy games with a cyberpunk ethos, especially with the deeper existential message often found in the genre. Those who just love a good point and click adventure with good puzzles and a great plot.
Who should avoid it: Those who aren’t interested in games with deliberately older graphics or don’t have any love for retro games. Those who want games to last a little longer or have more reply value.
If I have to give a score: The problems with this game are minor, it has been well-crafted and is a must-buy for any retro and/or point and click adventure fan who wants an engaging, existentialist story and engaging puzzles. 3/4.
There’s something unusual about playing cyberpunk settings now. Fans of figures like William Gibson often point to his pre-empting a lot of technological changes that occurred over the course of the past thirty years. I cannot help but wonder if they are being a bit selective, it is the case that he pre-empted some technological changes, but his real interest has always been in the way people will react to these changes and how they will be affected by them.
We haven’t burnt out from any information overload, technology has not dehumanised us, corporations aren’t openly governing our lives, we’re not addicted to highly potent drugs with crippling withdrawal effects and the most capitalist of nations still have the most equal distribution of wealth. Technology continues to improve our lives, we live longer and our quality of life improves continually. In short, Gibson was wrong and the era of cyberpunk novels and films presented us with a future that will not be.
Which makes it all the more interesting playing Gemini Rue. Right round to the idea of an extensive influence of Japanese culture and economic practice, something which is certainly long past being taken seriously, the game emulates the feel and aesthetic of the cyberpunk-inspired future. This immediately gives the game a kind of retrofuturism that can be found in the Fallout games and it’s interesting to see this game with such evident self-awareness in an age where the next Deus Ex game looks more and more like it’s taking its fear of technology all too seriously, despite the failure of cyberpunk to present a realistic vision of the future.
The game itself is set in the distant star of Gemini, on a planet named Barracus, at least at first. We are introduced, first, to the character of Azriel Odin, waiting for a contact who never arrives at a station on a planet where rainfall is constant and the streets are haunted by the presence of a nigh-omnipresent criminal syndicate known as the Boryokudan. Azriel, we learn, is seeking this contact in order to find his long-lost brother whom he has not seen since this system’s war of independence from nearby systems and its decline as the influence of the Boryokudan spread.
On the other hand, we are introduced to a prisoner known as Delta-Six to his captors and as Charlie to his fellow prisoners. Delta-Six, at the start, is undergoing a complex memory erasing procedure after a failed escape attempt. Soon after the procedure, he is reintroduced to tests designed to make him a valuable citizen again and discovers that, with his memory gone, the other prisoners have conflicting agendas and interests in him, and warnings come from all sides not to trust anyone else or even anyone at all. Above all this are the tests his captors expect him to complete and the feared final exam, something about which he was quickly warned.
After a short period walking in both character’s shoes, you get the option to switch between the characters mostly at will and play through their parallel stories. It’s an interesting way of progressing the plot given most other point and click adventure games with multiple protagonists dictated when you were controlling one or the other character.
The central appeal of the game is the fact that is harkens back to an earlier age with its graphics. As can be seen in screenshots and the trailer, it is designed with point and click graphics from around the mid-nineties in mind. The game’s plot and challenges could have been successfully implemented with more modern graphics, but the design choice gives it the feel of an older classic from nearly twenty years ago. There are certainly modern retro games that feel like modern attempts to capture the spirit of older games, but Gemini Rue feels like it could just have easily have been pulled forward from that long ago as have been released recently.
The graphics do present a minor problem that might drive some away from the game. It’s very possible to miss an object that one needs to use midst the clutter of pixels that appear on the screen. Sometimes it’s very hard to see exactly what it is that you need on the screen and this is made more exasperating by the dirty and cluttered nature of the setting in Azriel’s story or the sterile, almost featureless, prison which houses Delta-Six.
Besides that, however, there are very few problems that get in the way of your enjoyment of the game. Sometimes the plot gets a little strange, like the idea of a system-spanning criminal syndicate (who represent the central antagonists of the game) operating essentially out of a single apartment block and the dialogue is occasionally off (like referring to star systems as “galaxies” as well as the odd misspelt word), but that does not break suspension of disbelief too much.
What can get a little annoying is some of the control mechanics. I found the game’s combat system to be a little primitive and an option to skip it entirely (some old adventure games with action-driven sequences like Heart of China had this option) would have been good. It’s really just about timing your moves and it gets quite tedious after a very short while. Further, while the inventory is never cluttered (as you can only have a maximum of eight items), you need to be able to right-click an object on the screen to access your inventory which is a minor irritation. Finally, and this really is my last gripe with the game, the save system is sometimes unusual and arbitrary where you can and can’t save. Also, dying in the game sends you to the last autosave even if your in-game save was more recent. This is something that could easily be patched out and I think it’s something the developers should do.
As I said, these are minor gripes in what is a great experience for lovers of classic point and click adventuring. The game draws you into a cyberpunk setting that looks and feels as if it could have been pulled from the era of the eighties when the great cyberpunk novels were being written. The puzzles themselves are sometimes quite hard and really make you stop and think but they are mostly accessible by logical thinking and require no head scratching trying to work out why the developer chose that solution. It’s a game that tries to get the player to ponder serious existential questions about the nature of things like personal identity and integrity while offering a wonderful and entertaining gameplay experience that you won’t forget any time soon. Another great example of what the modern indie movement is doing to keep the fires burning at the alter of one of the great genres in gaming history.
Gemini Rue is out now, available via Wadjet Eye Games’s website for £9.89.