Dim apartments and the smoky offices of occident Japanese gangsters offer the only refuge from Barracus’s ceaseless rain. Gemini Rue’s first playable scene sets up a washed-out future noir heavily influenced, as the developer admits, by the film Blade Runner. And indeed the game is one of too few titles to explore the techniques Westwood deployed in their excellent spin-off of the same name, way back in 1997: point-and-click puzzle solving combined with dialogue, detective work and occasional gun-play.
For the majority of Gemini Rue you will alternately follow two characters: Azriel, a Bale-throated, ex-assassin cop searching one of Barracus’s grimy cities for his missing brother, and Delta-Six, a brain-wiped prisoner, rebuilding his identity within a clinical, penitentiary-cum-training facility. Their stories, as you can probably guess, eventually converge.
After a moment controlling Azriel it’s evident that Gemini Rue is an AGS adventure with ambition. We have but four verbs at our disposal: look, manipulate, talk and… what’s the foot version of ‘manipulate’? Pedipulate? We’ll call it kick. Azriel approaches one of the city’s data terminals and soon mends its flickering screen with a swift use of the boot. It’s emblematic of Rue’s puzzling; never ingenious but always holding a satisfying practicality and robust logic. Need to get past a padlocked door? No reason not to shoot the lock off.
And wonderfully, several puzzles possess manifold solutions; if you screw up a dialogue tree puzzle, there’s probably another way around. This kind of thorough design, at this kind of level, really impresses.
Once the terminal is working Azriel uses it to search for clues and data about the people who may know the whereabouts of his brother. It’s one example of the excellent asides that flesh out the game’s fiction, adding elements of detective busywork to complement the usual dialogue running and item gathering. Find a name – search a terminal for their address and phone number, maybe even call them using your communicator which doubles as a task and info log. Or call Kane, your partner piloting the ship orbiting Barracus, for help and tips. Fans of Blade Runner’s Esper Photo Analysis scene get a little treat too.
But, Mr Nuernberger, good though your design is, there’s no excuse for arbitrary pixel hunting. There were one or two frustrating occasions when my progress was hampered by near invisible key items – a pitfall of subtle art design at this resolution. Maybe there’s some AGS programming reason why there can’t be a button that labels all interactable objects in the room when pressed. If so: oh well. If not: do consider including one next time.
Delta-Six doesn’t have any of Azriel’s fancy technology and his side of the story moves away from the film noir into Kubrick-esq sci-fi. For the mid section of the game you have the option to switch between Azriel and Delta-Six at will which is intended to offer a reprieve if you get stuck on a particular puzzle. As it was, I found the natural flow between the two characters complimented the story’s pacing and thus was never compelled to switch them over myself. Nice to have the option though.
At Delta-Six’s mysterious penitentiary, for some sinister reason, he receives weapons training and must then take a series of tests in his newly learned gunsmanship. This fits the course of the story and also allows a tutorial for the combat system that both he and Azriel use to be neatly embedded into the game world. It works remarkably well too, including a cover mechanic, two shooting positions, reloading and target selection. Also, hit ctrl to activate a kind of concentration bar that results in a headshot with a correctly timed bullet. While it may occasionally feel a little unresponsive, the controls all fit intuitively around the WASD keys and ultimately I was never disappointed to see the chance for a gun fight.
Over the course of Gemini Rue, we end up spending the majority of our time in Delta-Six’s sci-fi prison which is perhaps something of a shame. Certainly, it’s a compelling location with a disquieting futuristic eeriness, but… I simply preferred the bleak dystopia of Barracus with its terminals, interminable rain, and ‘Boryokudan’ gangsters. With some sharply replicated neo-Vengelis musical cues, it had moments of atmosphere commensurate with Westwood’s Blade Runner, and a few more locations to explore here would have offered the game some needed length in this more characterful environment.
This said, Rue’s story is gripping and interesting enough to drive it along with writing and voice acting to shame games 100 times its budget. I shan’t go into detail for fear of tripping a spoiler mine but suffice it to say that the game investigates the typical cyberpunk theme of what makes us us, with something of a twist. It’s a shame that the writing gets a little skewed right at the end with a couple of lines that don’t seem to do the game a just denouement. (‘Maybe now he can live a life without rue’, for example. ‘Who says “Rue”?’, asks one of the voice actors in the outtakes supplied within the fun and insightful developer’s commentary. Well, quite).
But I’m nit-picking. Gemini Rue is an exceptionally accomplished point-and-click adventure hybrid with a flair for detail in both narrative artistry and game design. I highly recommend it. And the scary thing is, Joseph Nuernberger’s still a student. One to watch, I think.
Gemini Rue is available now from Wadjet Eye.