It starts with a shot of rain falling from a purple sky. The trench-coated Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin, is waiting for an informant who doesn’t show. He’s standing on a decaying street on the planet of Barracus, a mining world run by a criminal syndicate called the Boryokudan. Drug addicts in varying stages of withdrawal are sprawled on the street corners. A young woman in a hoodie roots through a dumpster. The drains are overflowing, sewage running in rivulets through cracks in the pavement.
Gemini Rue is a gaming mood piece. A shimmering ambient love letter to noir drenched in detective novels and dystopic science fiction.
This is also the rare subtle video game—one that hides moments of bleak beauty and catharsis in minimalist music and hand-painted pixels.
Gemini Rue Poster
When you’re marvelling at the density of detail in the backdrops, or playing through the tightly scripted plot, it’s hard to believe that it is mostly the work of one man—game designer Joshua Nuernberger, who’s worked on it for three years. The game intentionally looks and plays like adventure games from the early 1990s, an era described by game critic Tim Rogers as one where people “read books instead of PowerPoint presentations to make these things”.
Mechanically, the game is an old-school “adventure” game, a genre often called the “point-and-click”. You control the main character by clicking on areas in the world you want him to move to, and then right-click to interact with objects or talk to people. It’s an old, ancient method that’s served the medium for two decades. The game adds a few interesting modifications to this formula. There are occasional gun battles to be fought—accomplished by moving your character in and out of cover and firing at the right time. The game plays out in two parallel, seemingly disconnected plot threads, and players can shift between the two at will.
The second strand (the first being Azriel and rain-drenched Barracus) is set in the antiseptic, bleached confines of a prison called Center 7. You control Delta-Six, a prisoner who’s just had his memory wiped and must complete “tests” under the gaze of a mysterious warden known only as The Director. The contrast between the two strands constantly keeps things interesting.
Stylistically, the game is more Blade Runner than the Blade Runner video game.
The plot is crawling with trench-coat detectives, morally bankrupt galaxies and secret off-world prisons, but Gemini Rue never feels like a cheap imitation. That’s because the plot is written with expert precision, and the characters fleshed out satisfactorily. The game has such a fantastic storyline and atmosphere that you hardly notice the crumbling edifice of the mechanics beneath.
The story opens up nicely—you’re never intimidated with information or taken off-track, yet it rarely feels like a hand-held tour. Puzzles and obstacles are logical, although many involve the object that arguably caused this genre’s demise: a wooden crate. The animations are probably the one other weak point. They’re a little daft. The main character walks across rooms like he’s ice-skating, and everyone’s gait is either an awkward shuffle or an exaggerated stomp.
But none of this ever gets in the way of the experience. Gemini Rue has a powerful story, a broody and lovely atmosphere, and an indie ethos worth encouraging. It’s the best indie game of 2011 so far.
Gemini Rue can be purchased for $14.99 (around Rs677) at www.geminirue.com