Gemini Rue [2011]

Traditional adventure games are in an interesting position nowadays. After declaring their death a decade ago, they managed to survive, evolving into a low budget niche genre focused around a specialized audienced and not so much in the mainstream market like in the good old days when Lucas Arts and Sierra fought for glory.

During the last decade, the genre steadily grew and we saw some interesting attempts that tried to modernize it beyond the shadow of past glories. Games like Machinarium, The Dream Machine and of course, the subject of this review, Gemini Rue.

Gemini Rue is a personal project of Joshua Nuernberger published by Wadjeteye (responsible for friendly Blackwell series). The game gained some notoriety after winning the IGF Student Award in 2010. But in reality, for the larger audience the main selling point and interest was the artistic direction full of cyberpunk influences.

Thats precisely its strogest point, but ironically also it’s aquilles heel. It’s so close to pop culture cyberpunk imagery that sometimes it struggles to create its own identity. In fact, sometimes i got the feeling that Gemini Rue never really manages to take off towards its huge potential. Visually the game is gorgeous but rarely seems alive, the atmosphere is stunning but too artificial and the game world is very appealing but the scale is tiny.

It’s unfair to criticize Gemini Rue for the small scale since it’s  an independent project of a single person, but it is a pity that the whole game is set in half a dozen places and everything is conveniently located in the same neighborhood, the same streets and in the same apartments.

Another of the strong points, the narrative also reflects its low budget and independent spirit. It covers very interesting topics and addresses them in a competent way, but it could have gone further. Some of the themes are unususal  to see in this form of entertainment and left me wanting for more complexity. The role that memories have on humans and in how they define us is very refreshing. Are we the same person without our memories and past experiences? Do we become a new one? What power have the people who control them and define what are our memories are? Gemini Rue sometimes almost enters into interesting and complex philosophical paths, even if sometimes it lacks  the courage to move on.

The story itself is well structured with narrative parallels between two planes in which we control two different characters seemingly unconnected. The outcome has a pair of clever twists that radically alter the perception of the events we’d been having. However, again, the game suffers a bit due to its small scale, since the characters are so few that eventually we add 1 +1 and its easy to decipher the secrets of the story.

The interface and controls are what we expect from a traditional adventure game, fortunately (for me) the puzzles are few, logical and easy. In a game so focused on the narrative, that was an excellent decision. The search system is interesting, but everything else is pretty standard, with a system of four verbs and a traditional inventory. It has a combat system that is not as intrusive as it may seem initially.

As i said previously, the visuals are very good in the retro style that tries to emulate, imagine a mix between the direction of the Blade Runner game with the style of the first Gabriel Knight. But i think it could have been even better if it ran at higher resolutions. Sound is one of its strengths, especially the music (as you can imagine very Vangelis, of course), unfortunately the voice acting can’t keep up with the same brilliance, quite the oposite unfortunatly.

In conclusion, Gemini Rue is a good adventure game full of potential, but limited by the fact it was developed by a single (even though talented) person. The narrative and retro style turn out to be the strong points with everything else not quite in the same level. As an independent project it’s worth playing.

Positive:
+ Story
+ Retro style
+ Music

Negative:
Voice acting
– Too short


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