Gemini Rue

"Gemini Rue mines one of philosophy's most challenging conundrums: the nature of the self."

Although the retro movement has produced more dross than motion control, its affordability has allowed talented people to make games that otherwise might have gone unrealized due to lack of funds and personnel. Oftentimes, a team of three hundred dilutes the grand ideas of the creative mastermind behind a project. Sometimes nothing beats the focused passion of the individual, and Gemini Rue is the product of one such individual: Joshua Nuernberger. While short of phenomenal, Gemini Rue is a compelling cyberpunk adventure with a memorable narrative.

The plot follows the dual storylines of two characters separated by light years and mysterious circumstances. The first protagonist plays detective on colony Barracus, where citizens struggle with Juice addictions and the oppressive crime syndicate, the Boryokudan. The other plays test subject to the whims of the faceless Director on Center 7, a rehabilitation institute. To reveal more would induce paroxysms in those sensitive to spoilers.

The characters experience little development throughout the story, but this seems less a flaw, and more a thematically appropriate necessity. Those imprisoned on Center 7 undergo memory wipes and reconditioning after a life of crime, to be thrust back into the universe as different persons. Heavy character development seems almost counter-productive. Gemini Rue mines one of philosophy's most challenging conundrums: the nature of the self. The game asks questions philosophers have struggled with for centuries, and I have never seen satisfying answers. What is identity – what comprises the self – can it be isolated and manipulated or even destroyed – is it memory, experience, or is there something deep within us that cannot be found and thus cannot be eradicated? While not written with much panache and not overly sophisticated, Gemini Rue arouses impossible questions and concludes beautifully.

The perpetual rain of Barracus, the dingy dustbin apartments, and diffused light pouring through half-open blinds combine with spurts of moody music to create a great noir atmosphere. Obviously an homage to Blade Runner, Gemini Rue has a trenchcoated protagonist in the role of detective, melancholy fits of music, and a gritty low-tech setting. The hyper-pixelated retro graphics never feel incongruous; indeed, they work wonderfully here, somehow contributing to the dirty gloom, and I'm not one for resurrecting ancient graphical trends. Unfortunately, a few graphical glitches mar the overall presentation, and the voice acting rarely approaches believable. A text-only option appears in the menu, but I found the voiceless version too empty. In the end, I settled with subpar voice acting.

Instead of picking up random objects and trying to stick them all over the environment, players instead converse with locals, tap into computer networks, and even engage in a few shootouts. Gemini Rue is one adventure game wise to the facts of life. Death can cause some frustrating repetition, but I appreciated the inclusion enough to forgive the trial-and-error aspect of some scenarios. Though primitive, the combat system provides additional interactivity, tension, and a sense of high stakes. The conversation and roleplaying also make the game more immersive and realistic while giving players some choice. I'm inclined to think the choices are merely superficial, but it's a nice illusion nonetheless.

Not every puzzle and problem-solving scenario plays out logically or perfectly, however, and navigation can be troublesome. Due to the elementary graphics, moving characters about can prove tedious. They follow odd paths at times, which can lead to accidental death in some cases. Since the game is relatively small, some tasks require backtracking as well, although hitting the "Esc" key skips the walking animation. Finally, not even a game as far from video game tropes as Gemini Rue can escape filler tasks. Although these segments are rare, a five-hour game shouldn't have any wasted space.

For better and worse, Gemini Rue might best be described as a "neat little game." For whatever reason, the game feels short of its potential, and every facet seems sullied by flaws both minor and moderate. Still, the cyberpunk tone, engaging story, and varied gameplay make more of an impression than those flaws. For adventure game lovers, cyberpunk affiociandoes, and fans of Blade Runner (read: anyone still reading this review), Gemini Rue is a must play.

© 2012 Wadjet Games, Joshua Nuernberger. All rights reserved.

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