Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Developer: Joshua Nuernberger
System requirements: Not available
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
Hello folks! Alaric here, with another report on my ongoing love affair with indie PC games. This year promises to be quite fruitful as high-profile releases go, and I must admit that I’m really eager to get my hands on some of the upcoming goodness. However, out of nowhere comes an amazing indie offering, which, come December, will be a very serious contender for my 2011 Game of the Year. I’m talking, of course, about the recently released Gemini Rue. Much like Auralux, Gemini Rue was developed by a student. One notable difference is that it was created using Adventure Game Studio, a free tool available to everyone. Despite being this developer’s first-ever commercial offering, it won the Student Showcase award during the Independent Game Festival 2010. When I first got my hands on it, I wondered whether it could live up to the honors it received. I didn’t wonder for long.
Gemini Rue is a classic point-and-click adventure, and at first glance seems to be a direct descendant of games such as Police Quest, Beneath a Steel Sky and the like. The game starts with Azriel Odin, a former assassin-turned-cop who has come to the crime-ridden planet of Barracus to find someone close to him. Things don’t go quite according to plan, and Azriel must do what he can to get to the bottom of what’s going on. In a parallel timeline, a man wakes up in a prison-like medical facility. His memory is erased, his future uncertain, and his surroundings threatening. His bunk is sixth in cell block D, so the invisible-but-sinister Director refers to him as Delta Six (the entire run-down facility feels like it was heavily influenced by Portal’s Aperture Science labs). As the game progresses, both storylines begin to unravel, and you learn more and more about the characters and the world in which they live.
The mechanics are simple. You control your character by clicking wherever you want him to go, and by using action icons (look/talk/take/kick) on any usable object. Certain items you can carry with you and use on other things in your inventory or on the surroundings. You can tell that something can be interacted with if it displays a description when you hover you cursor over it. As I progressed through the game, I couldn’t help but grow more and more impressed with it. Unlike in the vast majority of adventure games, the puzzles are incredibly well designed. There’s always ample information available, and it’s up to me to make use of it. Very few games are able to provide the kind of challenges that actually puzzle the player, as opposed to confusing him. This one required me to analyze, not to brute-force my way through it. There were no crazy leaps of logic, no pixel hunting, and not once did I have to resort to trying everything on everything.
The purpose of any game is to provide the user with an experience, and that can be achieved in a multitude of ways. Since adventure games tend (or at least try) to have adventures in them, the main way of creating that experience is by telling a story. Stories have settings, characters and plots, and Gemini Rue delivers handsomely on each count. The world seems real. It’s science fiction, but not the insane kind that we gamers are unfortunately used to seeing. This is the sort of world that Kurt Vonnegut might have dreamt up. The atmosphere is very noir, reminding me of Blade Runner, sans all the androids and inconsistencies. The characters in the story all seem alive. You don’t talk to some of them at all, and with others exchange but a single phrase, but you get a clear sense that they are real people who have been there before you came, and will be there after you leave. There is never a placeholder NPC #27.
Visually the game is stunning. Some of you might not be into pixel art, but it would take a very obtuse person to claim that Gemini Rue is not gorgeously drawn and animated. I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the best looking games ever in this category. If you’re able to appreciate the pixelated style, or at least look past it, you’ll be blown away by the good taste, intricacy and attention to detail. The music and sound effects are done in such a way that you’re not likely to notice them at all. This is the highest praise one can give, because it means that these elements feel like an absolutely integral part of the game. Dialogue is well written and voice acting is appropriate most of the time. All of the technical aspects fit together in such a way as to deliver the best possible experience. Between the writing, the art, the sound and the puzzles, Gemini Rue does a spectacular job of making you feel amazing.
I don’t recall another game in recent memory that screams quality as loudly as Gemini Rue. Everything about it is practically dripping with polish, love, art and great design. There’s a free demo, no DRM, no large and evil publisher, the price is a mere $15, and just about anyone with a computer can run it. There’s simply no reason not to buy it. And so far as I’m concerned, if a game manages to remind me of Planescape: Torment, Portal and The Longest Journey, all at the same time, then it’s a game that I absolutely must own and recommend to everyone I know. Should any of those AAA blockbusters happen to match half of Gemini Rue’s character and degree of excellence, I will be very pleasantly surprised.