Gemini Rue (P)review

Gemini Rue, an IGF 2010 Student Showcase winner under its previous title, Boryokudan Rue, is Joshua Nuernberger’s first full-length commercial title that successfully follows up on the promising path already travelled by the developer’s first adventure game title, La Croix Pan. Dave Gilbert’s Wadjet Eye Games is to publish the game today, 24th of February, and a demo was made exclusively available at GameFront yesterday.

The game, a film noir/sci-fi adventure, is of two separate halves: Players control Azriel Odin, with the help of his partner Kane Harris, sneaking into the colony of Barracus in search of an informant known as Matthieus Howard. Interwoven between Azriel’s sections also figures the mysterious prisoner-patient Delta-Six, an amnesiac confined to and conditioned in a sterile facility with totalitarian, Pavlovian means.

An equal split between the two halves exists not only narratively, but also visually: On the surface of Barracus (a “New Pittsburgh,” as it is described), where habitable conditions are sustained by weather towers, where the constant presence of rainfall plagues the colony, its hammering rattle contrasting strongly with the sterile silence and cleanliness of the facility Delta-Six remains confined in. Where Delta-Six is a silent, worn-down man deprived of his humanity and personality, Azriel is a keen-eyed man of action and freedom, constantly entangled in danger, shootouts and the narrowest of escapes.

Indeed, in Gemini Rue, it first appears altogether unclear as to how these two different portions of the game, so completely binary and at odds with each other visually, thematically and narratively, could possibly relate to each other. Yet this is the very reason why Gemini Rue is, within the adventure gaming genre, the most sophisticated meditation of identity, destiny and memory (IDM for short - more on this later on the blog) since the Revolution Software classic Beneath a Steel Sky. Like BASS, Gemini Rue discusses the role of human-made predestination and its effects on society and the self.

The game - skilfully paced and constructed - ropes you along with the tiniest of details, notes and hints; a major portion of the game indeed consists of detective leg work done on communicators and terminals that Azriel uses to find various clues and people.  The terminal interface is well-suited to the game’s toned-down, realistic take on science fiction, and little interfacial improvements, like dragging and dropping in clues to search - that is, instead of having to type in words - will delight players.

To reach his goals, Azriel has to use his powers of persuasion and even violence to get the continuous fix of information that he desires. The same holds true of Delta-Six, of course, but in a vastly different scale: Where Azriel can use equipment and information to his advantage, Delta-Six clings to whatever he can to make some, any sense out of his predicament. In terms of controls, there are four operational modes to the interface – eye, hand, mouth and foot – and while the inventory to the game goes beyond even the most minimal of designs, the game nevertheless has an admirable and fresh focus on physical (and even corporeal!) puzzles, placing much emphasis on the main characters’ physical interactions with everything - including physically co-operating with other human beings.

Elevator music echoing in the lobbies of hotels, composed by Nathan Allen Pinard, creates a magnificent and bleak mood that is further enhanced by fantastic decisions of sound design that take into account, for example, such minor but poignant details as ambient effect volume changing based on whether a door is open or closed. The game’s soundtrack fluctuates beautifully between sombre silence, rainfall and poignant, melodic ambient electronica.

Although we have only briefly touched upon Gemini Rue here on The Slowdown before, noting Nuernberger’s interest in visually directing the player, I have privately witnessed the game improve with waves of continuous overhauls of graphics, audio and polish, rendering my personal collections of screenshots and videos from various builds of the game hopelessly redundant, and for the better. In a similar way, we have all witnessed the game shed its original, harder-to-type yet more descriptive title (psst, Boryokudan is Japanese for a “crime syndicate” or a “gangster organization”!) and transform into a hot topic amassing attention from the likes of PC Gamer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

All that needs be said is that Gemini Rue is, within the rather tight confines of the indie adventure gaming sphere, such an exhaustive and sprawling study that although I have now pretty much covered the ground that an ordinary “review” would, Gemini Rue simply remains a game that demands much more attention on to its intricacies that an overview such as this can offer.

Hence the parentheses for the letter “P” in the headline. Therefore, do see the game for yourself: GameFront go go. ‘s goo’. The full game, which offers 4-8 hours of gameplay per playthrough (of which you shall most probably have more than one), is available from Wadjet Eye Games right now, for the price of $14.99.