Gemini Rue. Duality + regret. A remarkably thoughtful and fitting name for this game (and certainly much more pleasing than the original Boryokudan Rue). Another entry in the monstrous Wadjet Eye Games adventure lineup and primarily the child of Joshua Nuernberger, Gemini Rue has been very well received since its release in early 2011. The game takes place in a futuristic sci-fi world with some touches of cyberpunk thrown in. As with other recent Wadjet games, it is a full experience complete with voice acting and attempts to push the underlying Adventure Game Studio engine as far as it can. As a whole, their efforts greatly pay off, riding on the strength of the characters and overarching story.
Gemini Rue is, at its core, a combination of detective and escape adventures, both of which work perfectly within the adventure genre. Like many Adventure Game Studio titles with few available resources, all action takes place in a limited amount of areas to maximize use of art assets. In this case, we venture through the downtrodden mining colony of Barracus and the secretive prison complex of Center 7. The story begins with our detective searching for his brother along with a small crew. Complications arise, allies are made, and the plot begins to intersect onto the hidden complex. As with other recent quality point-and-clicks we've played, Gemini Rue contains solid voice work and strong writing to pull you into the stories and plights of each character.
Unlike most, it also makes attempts to add action into the genre in the form of gunfights. These gunfights revolve around poking out of cover just long enough to charge a shot and hit an uncovered enemy before they can release a shot on you. It feels exactly as awkward as that description. You'll eventually get used to it, but clearly the engine is not made for any sort of strict timing action elements and the action attempts are more frustrating than anything else. While I appreciate the attempts to add creative elements and try to add danger and adrenaline to the game with the gunfights, they don't really add much to the game and if anything, may only be offputting. The game's "unique" adventure elements are a bit more interesting. Harking back to more primitive games, player interactions can take the form of unique actions, namely Eye, Hands, Mouth, and Foot. This covers up the lack of unique dialogue and in-depth character interactions as varied actions beget varied responses, but this also further complicates dodgy AGS controls and makes simple solutions more frustrating than need be. Old-school adventure game fans that focus on the puzzle and interactions will likely appreciate the inclusion while new-school fans focused on the plot, characters and experience will likely be annoyed.
Puzzles are slightly enriched by the interaction menu but still end up decidedly mediocre and mostly par for the course in point-and-click games. By far most puzzles are little more than the means to an end. They generally aren't overly frustrating but still have moments of silliness as well as some solutions that you wouldn't have any reason to think of. Several puzzles do thankfully include "unique" mechanics that are actually fairly fun. And then... we have the almighty crate. You can move the crate left or right and stand on the crate as well as step down off the crate, supplemented by a visible control scheme when you go into "crate mode" (similar to gun mode). This again just offers evidence to the scripting difficulties developers must encounter when they want to introduce new elements to the game. I'm looking forward to see what a well-funded adventure game (like Double Fine's upcoming Adventure) can manage in terms of gameplay elements and clever puzzles that add to the game rather than pad time.
On the other hand, the overarching themes, intersection of elements, delivery and good use of minimizing negative effects of tropes are what makes Gemini Rue stand out as an elite title and carries it to success and praise. Although I'm going to keep a bit hushed on the plot side, a story with imprisoned amnesiacs and futuristic space detectives fighting gangs could easily turn trite. Similarly, themes of duality, determinism and regret. But Rue avoids these traps and manages to stay fresh and separates itself from potential inspirations (spoiler: you can find the Cowboy Bebop crew as a series of easter eggs). Unlike some adventure games, this one has few significant options to choose from, but the ones that you can find do add a bit to the characters. In one case, you even get an extra scene near the end that honestly should be part of the main story in the first place.
To sum, this is yet another very strong adventure title with (relatively) solid visuals, voicework and sound for a complete experience. I can entirely see how the sci-fi atmosphere and attempts at varied gameplay elements can lead many to see this as a breakthrough in the genre. I'm definitely impressed overall, but it's lacking a bit of personal feel and gets a bit too trapped in the gameplay to qualify as elite. Regardless, Gemini Rue is unquestionably a highly recommended play. But I can really not say enough about how I wish the developers would move on from AGS and use more modern tools that can let artists really stretch their legs and implement new gameplay forms not entirely gimped by an engine that belongs in Windows XP (and that's being generous). Until this happens, the genre will fail to break through and receive what they deserve for making fantastic game after game. This is easily the most underrepresented modern genre yet the most accessible to the average person, and it is a shame to see such limitations on titles that otherwise deserve much more.