It’s easy to think of the resurgence of the graphic adventure genre in the last few years as having been fueled entirely by Telltale Games. But while their work has been undeniably excellent, companies like Wadjet Eye Games have also been out there, more quietly releasing some great games. I recently reviewed their Blackwell series and enjoyed it, so when they released an iOS port of their 2011 PC game Gemini Rue, I jumped at the chance to review it.
Gemini Rue is set in a cyberpunk 23rd century that resembles the rainy, grungy world of Blade Runner. You start the game as Azriel Odin, a detective looking for his missing brother. As the game begins, he lands on a world where he thinks he can find the last piece of the puzzle that will lead him to his brother. Later, your focus and control changes to a character known as Delta Six, who finds himself in some kind of rehabilitation facility without any memories of his past. Delta Six quickly learns that his lack of knowledge came about because he attempted to escape from the facility and, as punishment, had his memory wiped by its director. Clearly, this is a place he does not want to be.
Throughout the middle of the game, you are free to switch between the two characters. The actions of one man don’t affect the other in this section, but switching can serve as a good way to give your mind a break if you’re stuck on one puzzle and want to take a crack at another. Once both characters’ storylines in this section are complete, however, you’re moved back into a linear path for the joining of the two threads and what I found to be a very satisfying conclusion.
Gemini Rue’s story is its strongest suit. It’s interesting and tight, with characters that make sense and a mystery that leaves you asking questions right up to the points you get their answers. You aren’t overwhelmed with unnecessary details about the universe, but you get enough to understand what you’re dealing with. The scenarios as both Azriel and Delta Six give the game great opportunities to fill you in on what you do need to know about their worlds without feeling like you’re simply being handed a stack of exposition.
Much of Gemini Rue’s gameplay falls directly into the traditional point ‘n’ click model. You talk to people to gather information and you look around the environment for the items required to get past the obstacles in your way. There are, however, two features not usually seen in the genre: separate “use your hands” and “use your feet” actions and combat. Having the hands and feet options is something I only remember seeing before in the classic LucasArts game Full Throttle, and the idea is that using your hand with a door might mean you’ll knock on it or try to open it, but that using your foot on the door will mean that you’ll try to kick it open. There were a few times that I wished the game would have given me the benefit of the doubt when I tried the wrong one, but I can’t really fault it for being consistent with its internal logic.
The combat isn’t overly difficult to understand, but it feels out of place. You’re given a gun and cover, and you pop out in moments when the coast is clear to take a shot at your enemies. To its credit, the combat doesn’t occur every five minutes, but it’s often enough that you get a good feel for it. Also, the game always autosaves shortly before it begins, and there’s no denying that it makes sense for the characters to get involved in shootouts in this plot.
The thing is, even when I did well in combat, I felt like I shouldn’t have had to do it at all. I will admit that this feeling partially arises from the simple violation of tradition (“it’s just not done in this genre”). When I want combat, I’ve got almost every other genre under the sun to fill that desire. But I also feel the way I do because the combat breaks up the flow of gameplay and delivers the wrong kind of tension. In the rest of the game, I’m concerned about the plot and my ability to solve the puzzles, not whether my reflexes and the touchscreen controls are good enough to avoid losing all of my HP. Thanks to autosave, the combat doesn’t ruin the gameplay, but it still goes into the negative column in my book.
Visually, Gemini Rue is presented in a pixelated style that hearkens back to the “good old days” of graphic adventures without sacrificing detailed characters and backgrounds. It’s a great choice for this game, as the style seems to heighten the gritty atmosphere and Blade Runner-esque feel of the world. There are times when you aren’t able to see an object or hotspot clearly, but holding your finger in one place on the screen for a couple of seconds highlights usable items in the room, so the needs of both style and substance are met.
The iOS port of Gemini Rue brings with it the full voice acting from the original version, which is top-notch. Many iOS games forego voice acting, and that would have been a real shame here, particularly because this game uses music as punctuation rather than as constant companion. When you’re wandering around trying to solve puzzles, there’s only the ambient noise of rain or air conditioning, so when music kicks in, you know something’s about to go down. The music is quite good, so when it does show up, it serves its purpose well, driving home the emotions appropriate for the scene.
Thus far, I’ve painted a rosy picture, but as it is said, every rose has its thorn, and Gemini Rue’s thorn is its controls. This is a game that was designed for PC keyboards, a mouse, and a full-size monitor, and it shows. On a number of occasions, two items you need to interact with are right next to each other or an NPC stands right next to (or in front of) something you need to use, and a finger on an iPhone screen just doesn’t have the degree of precision required — at least not with much speed. You can invariably get the job done after some fiddling around, but rosin up that bow, because believe me, you will be fiddling. Similarly, the on-screen buttons for combat get the job done, but they’re spread across the screen in places where buttons don’t normally go, so you have to stop and look at them when you’re supposed to be not getting shot to death. Had I played on an iPad, I assume that many of the closeness issues would be helped or eliminated altogether, but that the combat experience would have been the same.
That said, if you like graphic adventures and poor controls are not generally a dealbreaker for you, don’t let that one issue stop you from trying Gemini Rue. It’s got logical puzzles that require thought but don’t have a lot of red herrings to guide you away from the correct path, great voice acting that complements a worthwhile story from start to finish, and just the right atmosphere. Definitely my favorite of the Wadjet Eye Games releases I’ve played.