Mar 2, 2011

Gemini Rue - a noir review

You should have heard of Gemini Rue by Wadjet Eye Games by now. It is, after all, the indie, AGS-authored, point-and-click adventure that has actually (well, finally) made it to a more mainstream gaming audience, earning glowing reviews left and right. Then again, being of a more indie persuasion, you, precious reader, might remember Boryokudan Rue by  Joshua Nuernberger, the dystopian, neo-noir sci-fi adventure with a thing for both action and mystery that won the 2010 IGF Student Showcase award; well, they are both the same game, though publisher Wadjet Eye have added a full voice-over and helped with polishing things over.

The result is a truly impressive game, that, interestingly, has one of the best plots I've recently seen. Oh, and lots and lots of beautifully rendered 2D rain. Anyway. The two playable characters of Gemini Rue, Azriel and the aloof Delta-Six, star in a mature adventure that sits somewhere between Blade Runner, Rise of the Dragon and Beneath a Steel Sky. The pace of the realistic sci-fi plot is excellent and the storytelling itself quite remarkable, as Gemini Rue follows Azriel, the rogue police officer with a dark past and Delta-Six, the inmate at the Center 7 facility who has had his memory wiped, in a mostly dark story taking place in a beautifully noir setting.

A properly noir scene.

Azriel's attempts to locate his brother take him to the dark city of Pittsburg on the unnaturally rainy planet of Barracus, where the Boryokudan, an organization not unlike the mafia, are running things and engaging in a most destructive, yet apparently exotic, drug trade. Delta-Six, on the other hand, spends his days in the aforementioned rehabilitation facility, where he attempts to discover his true allies and his true identity while trying to escape. As you should have guessed, those seemingly disconnected stories collide in the dramatic and definitely climactic final part of the game, that leads to a pretty brilliant finale. Mind you, these are not happy Sierra characters in a fairy-tale land and they most definitely are not people you'd invite over for tea and biscuits. 

The game setting, the game world if you prefer, feels both big and interesting. It's a labour of love that you'll love to explore, especially if you care for its decidedly retro aesthetic. What's more, it's mostly evenly split between the gritty, rainy planet Barracus and the sterile Center 7 facility. A deep visual contrast, that helps highlight the differences between the two playable characters and the situations they are in. 

Spot the difference yet?

The characters in Gemini Rue, though not all of them extensively developed, are for the most part well-written and believable, with the two leads being by far the best and more elaborately developed. Gemini Rue does after all  focus on them protagonists, and has them face a dark setting, more than a few, uhm, unhappy scenes, betrayal, death, and their dark pasts. This, you see, could also be described as a game about identity; also as a game that treats amnesia as punishment.

The Gemini Rue controls follow, for the most part, a pretty standard point-and-click system, but do sport a few intriguing new mechanics and additions. You, beside fiddling with your traditional inventory, get to shoot stuff in a tactical-arcade manner, control two characters, use a handy phone/digital organizer thing, access terminals and even physically manipulate other characters. The puzzles themselves are mostly easy, yet highly entertaining, very well implemented, and feel perfectly integrated into the plot, and, before everyone starts screaming against the shooting sequences, let me just remind you that combat systems appeared in quite a few Sierra games too. What's more, the action sequences work, fit nicely into the setting, help change the game's pace, and are perfect for the sluggish reflexes of the average adventurer. 

I did really enjoy playing through said shoot-outs, (almost) as much as I enjoyed playing through the game without a walkthrough and getting only mildly -and, importantly, very briefly- stuck; never in a truly old-fashioned hair-pulling way mind. There's nothing in there that can't be solved with a bit more exploration and some thinking, whereas the only part I disliked was a pretty tedious mechanical little puzzle that was both generic and not that well explained. Oh, and this is wisely sized game too -should take you anything from 6 to 8 hours on the first playthrough- without any boring and/or filler parts. The fact that Wadjet Eye have implemented a fantastic in-game commentary makes a second playthrough necessary...

As this review is finally coming to its conclusion, I know I just have to mention the visual retro glory of Gemini Rue with its deeply atmospheric VGA graphics, the impressive character portraits, the weather effects, the tons of top-quality animation, the successful framing of each room, and the lively yet hand-painted backgrounds. The sound consists of some lovely ambient effects, mostly rain apparently, a very impressive -in most cases- voice over, and some atmospheric, subtle and slightly bleak music, that sadly doesn't play throughout the game. All in all, Gemini Rue is a brilliant mix of old and new on every level, that manages to be entertaining and even (mildly) thought-provoking. If this were released sometime during the nineties it would now be considered a major classic.

The plot thickens...
Verdict: One of the very best commercial indie adventures I have ever played. It's beautiful, gripping, seamlessly combines the old with the new and I would thus describe it as an absolute must-buy for adventure gamers of all persuasions. Get it here. Now, please!

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. Hey Gnome - nice review, worth the wait! :-D

  2. Thanks a lot for another very interesting review! It's a pleasure to see that Gemini Rue seems to be getting great reviews everywhere. Also, it's nice to see how much media attention the game gets in general. For example: I was totally suprised, but one of the biggest mainstream websites from Germany (4Players), not known as the biggest fans of the adventure game genre, covered it and wrote a very positive article about it. It seems like the game really deserves that kind of attention and your article illustrates that once again. Sooner or later I'll definitely play it myself. :)

  3. @ CaptainD: Hehehe... Thanks! :)

    @ Ingmar: Thank you Ingmar. And I must admit I too was happily surprised by how widely loved this one has turned out to be. I'm sure you'd love it too. Really.

  4. It looks so nice, that game that is.

  5. Yeees... quite the beauty.

  6. It's really a great game and I loved the 'kick' action implementation. I hope Nuernberger continues to develop adventure games :)

  7. A most insightful observation Uriele. And I too hope the good Mr. Nuernberger gives us more excellent games.