By Marty Mulrooney
Gemini Rue is a science fiction adventure game created by independent developer Joshua Nuernberger. Three years in the making, the game was recognised at the 2010 Independent Games Festival as their Student Showcase winner. Set within a bleak vision of the future dominated by a crime syndicate known only as the Boryokudan, players take control of Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin with a shady past, and Delta-Six aka Charlie, a prisoner in a secret facility who has had his memory wiped clean. Gemini Rue was released today (24th February 2011) via digital download and can also be purchased on Limited Edition CD until the 27th February 2011.
I first heard of this game – formally known as Boryokudan Rue – quite some time ago and it immediately appealed to me on a purely visual level, evoking Blade Runner with its moody, rain-soaked depiction of the future. At the time Joshua Nuernberger was developing the game alone and it was very much a solo project. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I received an email from Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games during September of last year, asking if I would be willing to beta-test a new game he was publishing called Gemini Rue.
I beta-tested the game for a day, posted my feedback and then immediately stopped what I was doing. The build I was playing at the time had no voice acting and no character portraits implemented, as well as numerous bugs… but this isn’t what caused me to halt. Even at this early stage, I could tell I was playing something truly special. I decided to hold on for the full experience. It was truly worth the wait.
Players initially take control of Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin looking for his missing brother on the rain-drenched streets of a planet called Barracus. The world is beautifully portrayed, with the puzzles largely managing to avoid the usual pitfalls of the genre, instead functioning as natural progressions of the narrative. Azriel soon finds himself picking locks, breaking into buildings, evading the Boryokudan, tracking down suspects and even recovering a stolen shipment of drugs known as ‘juice’. It all feels very natural and this helps this side of the story’s progression come across as believable and real.
Running alongside Azriel’s quest, a man known as Delta-Six – Azriel’s brother perhaps? – wakes up in a mysterious prison, where he is forced to perform various tests in order to win meal tickets. With no memory of who he really is, he must avoid the constant gaze of the omnipresent ‘Director’ whilst deciding who he can trust and forming an escape plan. Like a mash-up of The Great Escape and George Orwell’s 1984, this side of the narrative offers excitement, paranoia and a burning desire to escape. The sterile white environments contrast sharply with the concrete jungle of Barracus, making the times when the player can freely swap between the game’s two main protagonists even more pronounced.
The gameplay and visual style are reminiscent of classic Sierra adventure games from the mid-90s, with the slightly more complex than usual interface mostly paying off in the long run by allowing a greater degree of input from the player. Right clicking an object or person allows you to use your ‘eye’, ‘hand’, ‘mouth’ or ‘foot’, as well as any inventory items. Although the ‘eye’ and ‘mouth’ functions are mostly used to look and speak – staples of the genre – I was often impressed how the ‘hand’ and ‘foot‘ actions were implemented. Climbing a box, using your ‘hand’ to grab a ladder, then using your ‘foot’ to break a window all feels very intuitive and perhaps most importantly, interactive.
Another key element of gameplay used throughout the game is a basic combat sequence where either Azriel or Delta-Six must engage in a tactical gunfight. The WASD buttons control targeting and moving in and out of cover, whilst Ctrl controls breathing – to perfect headshots – with the spacebar acting as the gun’s trigger. These sequences are quite important to the narrative as a whole – Azriel is a trained assassin after all and Delta-Six is being reconditioned as a killer – but overall I found their implementation slightly clunky. Luckily, they don’t crop up too often and ultimately serve their purpose well. Adventure purists may balk at their inclusion, but they do look cool and death only sets you back a few minutes at most.
Elsewhere the graphics are superb, retaining a sketched appearance that is consistently charming, enhanced by a plethora of small animations: rain beating on a bus stop roof, flies circling a flickering streetlamp, leaves swirling in the gutter. The sound is also superb, with a soundtrack that broods in the background, sound effects that convincingly sell the world and voice acting of a professional calibre.
Yet the main draw of Gemini Rue also happens to be the one crucial element that I cannot reveal too much about: the story. The narrative as a whole works really well, yet this is a tale that only fully resonates when certain plot twists have been revealed. The storyline of Gemini Rue is nigh on perfect, a dark slice of sci-fi heaven that touches upon themes of identity, friendship and redemption. I can’t claim that it is the most emotionally involving game I have ever played – it could have used some levity at times – but overall, this is one of the best narratives I have witnessed within any genre, within any medium, for a number of years.
Some slightly clunky combat sequences coupled with the occasional niggling control quirk – you cannot freely access your inventory for example – may stop Gemini Rue from achieving absolute perfection, but don’t let any of that put you off. Joshua Nuernberger has proved himself a true visionary and Wadjet Eye Game’s involvement has only served to accentuate the experience as a whole. Without a doubt, this is already one of the best adventure games of 2011; visually, aurally and thematically stunning. A phenomenal achievement.
9.5 OUT OF 10
I have also recently interviewed Joshua Nuernberger and Dave Gilbert on HardyDev.com here.