Gemini Rue is an intriguing sci-fi noir adventure set in the 23rd century. The Gemini War has decimated the worlds in this solar system and the resulting dystopia is controlled by the shadowy Boryokudan crime syndicate who hold sway over its junkie citizens via the drug trade.
After an initial scene in a strange hospital operating room where a man (known only as Delta-Six) has just had his memory erased for “attempting to escape”, we cut to the surface of the dirty and rainy city streets of a planet called Barracus. Your name is Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin who is now trying to take down the Boryokudan and track down his missing brother Daniel with the help of his star ship’s pilot Kane Harris and some other less-than savory locals hiding out somewhere in the city.
At certain points during the game you can take on the role of the mysterious Delta-Six character and follow his storyline as he attempts to regain his memory and figure out who he is, why he tried to escape and who he can trust at this mysterious hospital. That’s all I really want to say about the game’s plot as I don’t want to spoil anything, but eventually the two storylines do converge and the pay off is well worth it.
Though originally published for the PC in 2011 by Wadjet Eye Games, Gemini Rue draws its inspiration from the classic point and click adventure games from Sierra Online and Lucas Arts that dominated my PC gaming for much of the mid-eighties to early nineties. If I didn’t already know better, I would have sworn the game was from this time period, it just has that whole look (retro Apple II-era graphics) and feel to it. For gamers who clicked their way through the Space Quest and Police Quest series Gemini Rue will feel very familiar, yet it’s an entirely new gaming experience.
Because this is a port of a PC title traditionally played with a keyboard and a mouse, Wadjet Eye games had to find a way to convert all of the game’s input to touch. When I met with Wadjet Eye’s founder Dave Gilbert for a preview of Gemini Rue at PAX East earlier this year, he explained to me how his wife (the programmer) went about doing some of this by adjusting the size of the touch points and tweaked additional aspects of the interface based on beta testing feedback. Some slight alterations needed to be made to the game’s shooting mechanic when they ported the game to the touch screen. It is easy to see that a lot of thought and consideration was put into this and it shows with how responsive the interface is.
Players can move around simply by tapping on the screen, but more complex actions require the use of the classic-style HUD which appears when you tap on an object. It contains the standard set of ‘look’, ‘touch’, ‘speak’ actions as well as one for ‘kicking’ and access to your inventory of which you start with a gun, lock picking set and communicator. For the most part, this all worked quite well and there were plenty of in-game tutorials to help new gamers get used to the system. There are a few sections (like box moving and combat) which utilize virtual keyboard keys on the screen to mimic what players of the PC version just performed with their keyboard. Admittedly, these sections did feel a little odd at first, but I think replacing the virtual keys with dragging or touch elements would end up taking away from the retro feel of the game, so I’m actually kind of glad they decided to go this way.
The lack of a mouse for hot spot surfing is solved by allowing player to tap and hold anywhere on the screen. After a second or so, all ‘tappable’ areas are marked on the screen along with a label of that they are. If you prefer to go old-school you can also just drag your finger around the screen and when you are over an interactive object an asterisk will appear with the name of said object.
The only aspect of this retro style which I can see getting on a more modern audiences’ nerves is the repetitive nature of some basic navigation actions which you will perform (easily) 50+ times throughout the course of the game. These are things like opening doors or climbing up a series of objects to reach a higher location. This sticking point is that you always have to perform the full set of actions each time, there are no short cuts (learned by the character), that allow you to use a more direct shorthand instead of performing each intermediary steps. What I mean is, say for example that a particular door requires you to tap on a button to open it before you can walk through, you have to do this each and every time you want to enter that door. So the character will stop in front of that door, wait for it to open and then you have to then make them walk through it. There is no way to just tap the door and have the character do these intermediary steps automatically on future visits. It ends up making the game a bit slower.
Retro styling and controls aside, the story that Gemini Rue tells is one of the strongest and most satisfying parts of the entire game. With a very Philip K. Dick-like plot, it draws you in from the get go with interesting characters and a number of twists, turns and red herrings that work well to heighten the game’s mystery and suspense. When I say that you’ll br captivated by the story, I’m not exaggerating. One night while I was on the couch playing Gemini Rue on my iPad with headphones on, my wife was working at the kitchen table. All of a sudden I looked up and three hours had mysteriously passed in a flash, it was 1am and my wife had gone to bed!
I’d estimate that it took me somewhere around 6+ hours to go through the entire game and as a general rule, the point-and-click adventure genre doesn’t lend itself to multiple play-throughs. However, once you’ve completed the game, there is the option to play through it again with a Developer commentary track turned on, which enables additional touch points that appear in various locations as you play through the game. When activated, they provide you with some interesting factoids on decisions that were made during development and even audio outtakes related to that portion of the game. I played with a little of this and it was pretty interesting stuff. If I can find the time, I definitely plan to revisit this sometime in the future.
The team at Wadjet Eye have done an excellent job porting the game for iOS. While some aspects of the interface may cause minor frustration with modern point and click gamers, they are easily overlooked by this child of Sierra-era. The time you invest in this adventure is rewarded in full by the game’s final payoff. This was just the first of Wadjet Eye’s titles to make the leap from the PC to tablet and I certainly hope it is not the last. I would love to see more iOS ports from Wadjet Eye in the future. Retro-haters avoiding this title on graphics and screenshots alone are doing themselves a big disservice, Gemini Rue has one of the most engaging video game storylines I’ve experience in recent times.