If Gemini Rue had been released 15 years ago, it would be remembered today as a classic. But the gritty, sci-fi thriller was instead released in 2011 and serves as a nostalgic reminder of the heyday of point-and-click adventure games. Part Blade Runner, part Beneath a Steel Sky, it's a game that doesn't attempt to do anything new. Instead, it does something old very, very well.
Gemini Rue is a detective story. At least, that's how it begins. You play as Azriel Odin, a tough, trench-coat wearing cop stuck on a planet of perpetual rain and run by a criminal syndicate known as the Boryokudan. When a meeting with an informant falls through, Odin finds himself struggling to gather the information he needs to find his missing brother. At the same time, in a rehabilitation facility hidden deep in space, a man known only as Delta Six finds himself without any memories. A mysterious director guides him through his rehabilitation, but what he's being rehabilitated for he doesn't know. Meanwhile, other patients attempt to curry his favor. But why? And who should he trust?
Who am I?You'll play as both of these characters throughout the game, and their stories intersect in surprising and clever ways. It's not what you initially expect. The story at first appears to be little more than a spin on Blade Runner, but as it unravels, Gemini Rue is able to stand on its own. The tale is dark: people die and complicated issues are addressed. Themes of betrayal, predetermination, and the importance of memories are interleaved throughout.
The story is certainly engaging, with a small yet solid cast of characters and a fantastic closing sequence, but what really makes Gemini Rue is its atmosphere. The noir-esque tone is set immediately, with falling rain, retro-futuristic technology, and a dark but subdued musical score. Odin is a cop with a past he wants to forget and a partner who doesn't trust him. It would almost feel clichéd if it wasn't done so well. And while the visuals are decidedly retro, they are no less impressive for it.
Gemini Rue is simply a beautiful game. What the developers have managed to do with the limitations of pixels and sprites is incredible, and the art boast an amazing level of detail. Things get less impressive when you leave the dark, run-down planet surface and enter the sterile, stark-white rehabilitation center, but it still looks great. The only real issue visually is the inclusion of bland, out-of-place character portraits that thankfully can be turned off completely. They only obscure the detailed backdrops anyways.
The stellar production values and solid writing are able to almost entirely mask the fact that the game uses a formula that hasn't really changed in over a decade. You interact with the world using the simplest of commands—an eye to look at something, a word bubble to speak. It's archaic in a lot of ways, but also cozily familiar. If you've played an adventure game before, there isn't much you need to learn in Gemini Rue. The one possible exception is the curious inclusion of cover-based combat, which will occasionally have you trading bullets with enemies. It's simple enough, though, and there's a pretty extensive tutorial disguised as a rehabilitation training session to guide you through the process.
Something old, nothing newThis also means that the game is subject to many of the frustrations of the genre. The puzzles are generally intuitive and don't require any bizarre solutions. Problem is, though, that because the game world is frequently so dark, it's pretty easy to miss certain small, hidden clues, which results in the always dreaded pixel hunt. This is alleviated somewhat by a few clever additions, including a computer network that you can search for clues and a cell phone-like communicator you can use to call for help.There's also at least one poorly constructed minigame that has you guiding a spaceship via a radar. It poses no challenge and is incredibly tedious.
But with a game like Gemini Rue you should already know what you're getting into. It uses a formula that's already well-established and doesn't veer from the course. What it does so well is accentuate the strengths of that formula by presenting a gripping narrative coupled with a convincingly beautiful presentation. It's a love letter to adventure gaming, but at the same time it stands up as a thoroughly enjoyable modern release.