That Joshua Nuernberger’s 2011 adventure game was heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film noir should be obvious to even a replicant with Mental Grade C. Gemini Rue’s protagonist Azriel Odin is a gritty, trenchcoat-and-necktie-clad cop in a crumbling city where it never stops raining and new opportunities await citizens in off-world mining colonies. However, if the game’s setting owes much to Blade Runner, it also embodies its own 1930s noir style lacking much of the sci-fi atmosphere and Asian influences of Scott’s film. Space travel and weather control aside, little on planet Barracus is actually drawn from science fiction. Azriel uses a surprisingly normal-looking handgun, busy receptionists staff mailrooms inside old brick buildings, Mafia-esque Boryokudan speak with New York accents, and residents still read about current events in their local newspapers. It’s an enjoyable, unique setting for an adventure game, though I was aghast at a shameless, shameless Blade Runner rip-off about halfway through that I’m surprised made it past the editors.
In Gemini Rue, players also take on the role of Delta-Six, who’s being rehabilitated for life outside the mysterious Center 7 prison facility. Since having one’s memory erased is standard procedure upon entering Center 7, Delta-Six and the player must discover the prison’s rules together, making for an entertaining immersion in the game’s world.
For most of the game’s second act, players can switch between playing as Azriel or Delta-Six, but this isn’t Gemini Rue’s only innovation. The game uses an interface strikingly different from the Sierra-style ones I grew up with. Just like in Phantasmagoria, players are alerted to usable game objects by moving the mouse over them. Clicking on these objects opens up a smaller screen where players can look at, operate, talk to, kick, or use an inventory item on the object. Though it took some getting used to, this system is incredibly efficient while allowing wiggle-room for different puzzles, and even the Foot icon can be used in a surprising number of ways.
As is also the case in Phantasmagoria, Gemini Rue makes excellent use of its medium to immerse us in the Gemini system that is the game’s world. Azriel’s conversations with other characters take place against the backdrop of the system’s history of civil war, revolution, and heavy crime, evidence of which we can also see by reading the game’s newspaper. Like well-timed exposition in a novel, players are introduced to Gemini’s history gradually, helping them to understand the world at their own pace. Those eager for more details, however, can use the search function on the city’s information terminals to read about people and places only briefly mentioned in earlier descriptions, proof that Nuernberger has certainly done his homework.
As impressive as Gemini Rue’s world is, parts of the game are far less interesting than others. In the third act, the excitement of the story increases in direct proportion to a decrease in the variety of the game’s puzzles to the point where most of the final challenges can be easily solved by shooting something, operating something, or moving a conveniently-placed box from one point to another, turning these sections into laborious chores as players eagerly await the next cut scene. Though the dialogue in these cut scenes is well-written and hooks players on to the story, more time could also have been spent on the mundane narration that guides us through the game. Consider, for example, a quick back-and-forth between characters:
Azriel: What do you know about Center 7?
Matthias: How should I know what the Boryokudan do these days?
Azriel: Because you worked with them.
Matthias: Well, back in my day, they used to kill the defectors. I don’t know what they do now.
Now compare it with some descriptions that players might encounter when tackling the weather station puzzle:
These chains are keeping the door in place.
This machine is off-line.
I don’t want to break it.
Despite these setbacks, I still recommend Gemini Rue very highly, both as an eye-opening exploration of our own identities and proof that the indie adventure game scene is still alive and kicking. For a trailer, playable demo, and more information, check out the Wadjet Games website at http://www.wadjeteyegames.com/gemini-rue.html