The long-passed souls of the great Sierra On-line and LucasArts graphic adventure games reside deep within Gemini Rue, though the game takes the bad along with the good. A stylish science-fiction noir that bounces between locations and timelines with surprising confidence, Gemini Rue hits the highpoints of the best adventures—strong characters, compelling themes, tight plotting—but has a few small quibbles around the edges that keep it from true greatness.
The game opens in a strange facility, straight out of the TV series Dollhouse. A test subject known only as Delta-Six is about to have his memory erased by the evil Director and his minions, and no matter how you try to free Delta-Six (clicking frantically on the straps binding him, or on the mechanism about to erase his identity), nothing works. There are no last-minute saves coming from some obscure inventory item.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, an ex-assassin named Azriel Odin waits underneath an awning, out of the constant rain on the planet Barracus. He was to meet his friend Matthius, but Matthius didn’t show. So Azriel embarks on a Blade Runner-esque adventure, first to find Matthius, then to unravel a larger plot that gradually reveals itself in immensely satisfying fashion.
As the story bounces between Azriel’s quest and Delta-Six’s attempts to figure out what he was up to before his memory was erased, the two storylines comment on and inform each other in intriguing, suggestive ways. Is it mere coincidence that the gun-battle mechanics Delta-Six learns in the facility recur when Azriel gets in a scrape on Barracus? And is there a reason, outside of a limited art budget, that so many visual elements pop up in both locations? Most players will have figured out all but a few of the game’s story turns by the time the game drops them, but that doesn’t make the revelations any less thrilling.
But the pitfalls of the adventure genre follow Gemini Rue as well. The game’s graphics, while gorgeous in places, are muddled, which makes it hard to tell what you can interact with on a given screen. And the game’s timed sequences rarely allow the luxury of pixel-hunting. Similarly, the interface is often clunky, requiring two or three mouse-clicks where one would suffice.
And while the storyline is intelligent and sophisticated, experienced adventure-game aficionados should find themselves with only five or six hours’ worth of play, much of which is taken up by (admittedly fascinating) dialogue. The story’s few puzzles occasionally seem to be tossed in as mindless busywork, or they’re easily, instantly solvable. The action sequences are also incredibly easy, even on harder difficulty settings.
But the best adventure games are about the pure momentum of story, of getting deep into some sort of twisted yarn. And developer Joshua Nuernberger has crafted a smart, thoughtful tale that keeps introducing fascinating new ideas and characters. Even for such a throwback game, the execution is terrific, with great voice acting and smart-looking cutscenes. Those longing for the bygone heyday of the adventure genre won’t find much of a challenge in Gemini Rue, but they will find a good time and some justified nostalgia.
Note: Gemini Rue can be enormously difficult to get running on a computer running Windows 7, 64 bit. There are workarounds, but the troubleshooting process is more trouble than it’s worth, and finding a machine running an older version of Windows is preferable.