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Review: #396

Gemini Rue
Developer: Joshua Nuernberger
Publisher: Wadjeteye Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/24/2010

Gemini Rue was originally titled Boryokudan Rue and it was a Student Showcase Finalist at the 2010 Independent Games Festival. As such, a lot of point and click adventure game fans took note and became excited for the eventual commercial release of the game through Wadjeteye Games. As for myself, I was a bit skeptical as to whether or not I’d enjoy Gemini Rue. I haven’t really liked any of the previous releases from Wadjeteye Games that I’ve played which have included the Blackwell games and Emerald City Confidential. As well as I was bit surprised by the sticker price of $14.99 for the downloadable version and $24.99 for the CD version. This is mainly because the game IS a student project and costs about as much as the full Back To the Future season pass by Telltale Games. Could a game made primarily by a single person merit a full retail release at the same rate high budget games in this genre go for, or should Gemini Rue have been priced more according to its indie roots?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Gemini Rue is a sci-fi mystery set several hundred years in the future in an interstellar colony. It is actually the story of two distinct protagonists, of which you will spend much of the game switching back and forth between. The first is Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin turned cop who has come to the planet called Barracus in order to find his brother. The second is that of Delta-Six or, Charlie. Delta Six has had his memories erased. All he knows is he is in a facility for reforming criminals in order to let them become functioning productive members of society again. Yet for some reason, the facility and its faceless director are teaching Delta Six how to become an expert marksman. At the same time, not everyone is who they appear to be in Center Seven (as the facility is eventually named) and Delta Six has to figure out what side he is on.

Obviously you can put the two story bits to figure out how they join together, but the story flows pretty well. You’re getting what appears to be two mysteries for the price of one, which reminds me of games like Still Life and Secret Files: Tunguska. This flip-flopping allows you to try a different character and progress as them if you get stuck as Delta Six or Azriel and you need to clear your head.

That being said the story does rely on a few weird plot decisions. For example Azriel is an ex member of the Boryokudan, (think an Assassin’s Guild) but in order to find his brother he tries to rejoin them to get help finding where he is being held. However, at one point Azriel mentions that he isn’t that known on Barracus. Then a random girl on the street knows him by name and his apparent reputation but actual members of the organization have no idea who he is. The overall story is enjoyable, but with several plot and/or continuity gaffes like this one, along with exceptionally long fetch quests that are used to “advance” the plot, the quality ends up dropping a bit. Gemini Rue boasts a decent story, don’t get me wrong, but it should have been cleaned up and tightened before a commercial release. Most of the characters never develop any real personality or depth and the emphasis is on the mystery itself rather than those partaking in it.

Story Rating: 5.5/10

2. Graphics

Graphics are a mixed bag. The game looks and plays like a sci-fi version of the original Alone in the Dark title. I loved the look and feel of the game back in 1992, but this is 2010. Yes, the game looks like it’s almost two decades old, especially with the character models and portraits. The hand drawn backgrounds are nice, as are what passes for the cut scenes, but they are nice from the perspective of, “Hey, one student did this for fun. It’s cute in a retro graphics sort of way.” From a 2010 product for sale perspective, most people that purchase Gemini Rue are going to be VERY disappointed with the visuals and the fact it looks like something produced during Clinton’s first term in office.

There’s some odd skipping and visuals issues as well. If you have a character following you, often times the frames for the tagalong will start skipping and/or they will begin moving in a jerky fashion. As well, sometimes characters with glitch and you’ll find yourself walking on air and unable to get down, thus needing to reset the game. Again, all of these are acceptable issues for a student made game, but once something goes on the block for sale, these issues cross over to somewhere between disappointing and unacceptable.

So visually the game is about two decades behind what is possible, but it still looks fine if you view the game with a set of retro blinders. It’s definitely below what you’ll see with most point and click retail releases, but Gemini Rue does at least have a style all its own.

Graphics Rating: 4.5/10

3. Sound

The aural aspects of Gemini Rue are easily the best bits of the game. The soundtrack is very nicely done and the various tracks are fun to have as background music, even if they aren’t going to stick in your head hours after playing the game. The music really enhances the odd mix of sci-fi and film noir that you don’t normally see outside of a Tex Murphy title.

The voice acting is impressive too for a budget title. Sure the actors can be a little flat at times, but for the most part they do a fine job. Azriel, for example, definitely sounds like a gumshoe from the 20s-40s which fits his role perfectly but also gives a nice juxtaposition between the mystery and sci-fi elements of the game. The Director, on the other hand, sounds a little too cheery for the Kafka-esque institute he runs. Overall though, the voice actors do a fine job and really help to bring the game to life in the places where the script falters.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

You would think it would be easy to make a point and click adventure game considering how many of them these days are made by small independent studios or even a team comprised by as little as one to three staffers. Unfortunately, Gemini Rue proves this theory to be incorrect with the amount of issues, that both its engine and gameplay suffers from.

The game uses the standard point and clicking to maneuver your character around. Unfortunately it does so in a very odd manner. The left button is supposed to be a quick interact with objects in the environment. However a bug in the game causes this to sometimes trigger the “speak to” option instead so you’ll find your character replying that he can’t speak to a door when he would otherwise be trying to open it. The right mouse button bring up objects in your inventory as well as actions like shoot, talk, kick, or interact, but you can only bring up this menu if there is a clickable item on the screen. This is fine for the actions, but if you want to check your inventory by normal means, you’re rather out of luck. As well, there are some items that look the same but have different amounts (such as weights) and the inventory screen doesn’t show WHICH of the similar items you have. So for example, you need a 4lb weight to lower a platform that used to have a gun on it, but if you grabbed the 10lb weight and can’t remember that you grabbed that one down the line, you’re out of luck again. Now if you go back to the gym where you got the weight, you can see that options you have chosen before are highlighted, but if you chose more than one, you’re back to the same problem.

Another problem is how pedantic the clicking can be. To access an apartment, you’ll have to right click on a ladder and choose the hand icon to climb it, then right click the railing to climb off the ladder, then another part of the railing to jump over it, then cross a divide, right click on another part of a railing to click over that and repeat the whole thing over until you get to the window you need to open. So much of this could have been streamlined and it usually is in other games of this type. With some sections of the game having a time limit, the overly anal nature of having to clicking on multiple steps in a sequence that would otherwise be a single click on other games gets annoying FAST.

There are also several bugs in the game that will cause the game to need to be restarted. DO NOT save your game when one of these triggers, or you’ll permanently be stuck in this situation. One example is in the maintenance room in Center Seven. Sometimes your character will just magically hover in midair and you’ll be able to get back down. I have included a screen cap and it looks like he’s levitating. This appears to be something that get be triggered with any one of the numerous box puzzles in the game, so be careful.

Finally, there are the “action” elements added to the game. They are nice ideas in theory but are implemented horribly. The first are the aforementioned box puzzles where you push a box left or right and then climb on or climb off them. I appreciate that you actually have to push the box using the WASD keys, but it’s slow moving compared to other games in the genre where again, you just click on the box, click where it can go and you’re done. The other action sequence comes with shooting enemies. Again, you switch over to a set of keys to shoot and duck behind cover, as well as using the CTRL button to go for a headshot. This is all well and good, but it feels out of place in an adventure game, as well as poorly done. Most adventure gamers are ones that test their mind rather than their reflexes and this aspect alone will annoy many fans of the genre.

In the end, I just didn’t find Gemini Rue very fun to play at all. It’s too unpolished, buggy and makes some odd control decisions both pedantic and detrimental to the overall flow of the game. It’s just not very good.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability

Like most adventure games, Gemini Rue is mostly a “one and done” title. Now the game does do a few things to mix it up, such as the ability to switch between characters. This lets you change when some things happen in your own personal timeline, but as the game is a very linear affair for both characters, it’s more of an illusion than anything else. The real reason to play the game a second time is with the commentary track running. This track is a lot of fun and gives a lot of insight about the game. It’s easily my favorite thing about the game and I really wished more games provided this.

Aside from the commentary track though, there is no real reason to pick this up and play it again, especially with the issues it suffers from. Still, at least there is an attempt to give Gemini Rue more replay value than most games in its genre. That’s something at least.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Although the game has a few puzzles, most of your time in Gemini Rue is spent backtracking to do fetch quests. The game moves very slowly although you can use the ESC button to move things along, but be careful as that is the same button that brings up the save/load/quit screen. You’ll be moving back and forth through the same limited locales to find the right item to bring to the right location. It’s all very dull after a while and what few puzzles are in the game feel tacked on to pad the length or give the game a bit of variety. They don’t really add to the story and that annoys me most of all when an adventure game does that.

Aside from the length of the puzzles, they are pretty easy. However, they are very linear as well, so some puzzles (and their solutions) only open up after you’ve done a specific action in a specific location. This is all well and good, but it is a bit annoying to trigger something only to have it not actually be accessible until later on. Especially when you can’t tell at first that the solution is out of reach for the time being.

The shooting sequences and the fact you can die in some puzzles will annoy some point and click fans as they won’t be used to action bits or death in general. Adventure games rarely have either. The good news is that people not used to combat oriented games can at least change the difficulty on combat alone (The default is Easy to begin with). It’s not bad, but between those and timed events, fans of the genre need to be prepared for both and the eventuality that you will die at some point and have to let the autosave reload.

Overall, the game’s lack of diversity in regard to puzzles, the poorly done action sequences and the constant backtracking left me cold. I just found this as blah as I found the actual gameplay itself.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

The story of Gemini Rue has been done before, both in terms of the clichés and the character switching mechanism, but it’s a nice Tex Murphy twist on several old bits. The gameplay is subpar compared to a lot of adventure games and the shooting sequences have been done better in titles like The Lost Crown (another point and click game that was basically a single person’s work). So a lot of the ideas in the game, right down to the graphic style and even the basic gameplay have been done previously and more importantly, done better – even by people who have made a game completely by themselves.

On the plus side, I thought it was a bold move to go for an Alone in the Dark meets Tex Murphy mashup and I loved the commentary track idea, so let’s call it a thumb’s in the middle here.

Originality rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I like my mystery/film noir adventure games, but I’m not really a Sci Fi fan unless it is something like ,a href=” http://diehardgamefan.com/2010/11/18/review-darkstar-the-interactive-movie-captains-box-pc/ “>Darkstar, so the two cancel each other out. However, between the bugs, fetch quests, sheer amount of backtracking, and the slow pacing of the title, I just couldn’t get into this game. I usually love point and click adventure games, but this was an absolute chore for me. The entire thing dragged from beginning to end, I didn’t feel any sort of attachment to the characters and I honestly didn’t have fun with the game at all. If I didn’t have to review it, I’d have probably stopped after the second day of events and never picked it up again. Again, I’m pretty friendly to adventure games, and especially indie adventure games, and the fact I didn’t enjoy this at all speaks volumes.

Addictiveness Rating: 3/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s hard to figure out who this game would appeal to. Most adventure gamers want a straight point and click affair and deviating from that tends to piss fans of the genre off. Same too goes for the ability to die. At the same time, Gemini Rue is mainly a sci-fi version of Alone in the Dark and although later versions of the game are infamous for being horrible, the first game is pretty iconic in its own right. Still, that game was the exception rather than the rule, and did all the outside the norm aspects Gemini Rue tried for, and did them better.

As well, I’m a pretty big fan of most games in this genre, and Gemini Rue just left me cold. Considering this is a game in a genre that is considered all but dead by the majority of gamers (save those in Europe), has graphics that are dated by twenty years, glitch and buggy gameplay and action sequences and death in a genre where both are looked down upon leads me to feel the game’s audience is going to be exceptionally tiny at best. It’ll really be for those that champion indie games getting professionally published and well…that’s about it.

Appeal Factor Rating: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

At the end of the day, Gemini Rue is a decent enough example of a well made school project by a beginner. However, when you look at its 19.99-24.99 price tag you realize this game is as much (OR MORE!) as several episodes or even an ENTIRE SERIES of Telltale’s high class adventure games, full budget releases like Secret Files: Tunguska or even things like the Mystery Case Files series and you realize the game has priced itself out of where an indie adventure game should be. Compared this to the $6.99 adventure games you can get from Big Fish Games or the fact most adventure games for the PC these days have a max price tag of $19.99 and you have to wonder who would pay that much for a game with graphics this dated as well as this many issues. I’d have probably been a lot kinder to the game had it been half the price it is set at, but at twenty dollars you can get brand new high budget adventure games as a day one purchase like Baron Wittard. Gemini Rue is simply a case of paying way too much for way too little.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores
Story: 5.5/10
Graphics: 4.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 3/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10
Total Score: 41.5
FINAL SCORE: 4.0 (POOR GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Gemini Rue is a cute little game made by a single developer (and a composer) but it suffers from several issues that prevents the game from being able to justify its price tag. Basically you can have a game with graphics from 1992, a mildly interesting plot and some bugs that can crash your game completely, or for the same price (or less) you can get something like Stacking or the entire Back to the Future series from Telltale Games. It’s not really rocket science here.

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