The story of Gemini Rue's rise to prominence is a true feel-good story in the adventure genre. Developed almost solely by UCLA Media Arts student Joshua Nuernberger over a period of two years, the game (then called Boryokudan Rue before a well-advised name change) was the Student Showcase Winner at the 2010 Independent Games Festival, eventually leading to a publishing agreement with well-respected indie developer and publisher Wadjet Eye Games. Full voice-acting was added, and Gemini Rue is now a full-fledged retro commercial adventure, and an outstanding one at that.
The story that takes place within Gemini Rue is not nearly so feel-good. It is the bleak story of two tortured souls in a neo-noir future: Azriel Odin, a rogue police officer with a dark past searching for a close friend who has disappeared; and Delta-Six, a resident of the mysterious Center 7 facility who, as part of a rehabilitation process, has had his memory wiped and is undergoing weapons training. Azriel's journey takes him to the dark city of Pittsburg on the planet Barracus, where an epidemic of drug usage has been unleashed by the mafia-like Boryokudan. Delta-Six's journey takes him through his daily routine in the rehab facility, where he attempts to piece together his wiped memories and determine who his true friends are. While seemingly disconnected at first, their stories and fates collide in dramatic and dark fashion in the game's final hours.
Athough Gemini Rue has many positive qualities, it is its sinister and memorable storytelling that sets the game apart as an exceptional independent adventure. Azriel's story takes the first hour or so of the game; Delta-Six then takes over for an hour. At this point, both stories proceed in parallel, and the player is free to switch between the two at any time, whether for reason of variety or just plain being stuck. At about the 5-hour mark, the stories of the dual heroes converge and the game plunges breathlessly into an exceptional and memorable third act. All told, the game provides 7-8 hours of solid playtime, barely a minute of which is wasted time.
I can quantify that with a great deal of certainty for a simple reason: Gemini Rue is a very, very easy game. It feels in many ways like some great Interactive Fiction works such as Photopia that are generally classified as being "on rails" and devoid of any puzzles that could disrupt the progress of storytelling. This game is not quite at that level; there is a lot of walking around in the relatively confined space of the two stories, and there are many challenges that could be described as puzzles, including quite a bit of research by Azriel on the planet computer terminals, but there is no inventory combination and never more than four items carried at once.
Obstacles are almost always a matter of common sense and designed so that solutions are visually obvious. Sometimes the most inelegant solutions are the most sensible ones—windows can be kicked in, locks can be shot off, and boxes can be moved to provide a boost. The immediate goal is always very obvious if one pays attention to text, or when it becomes necessary, trial and error through dialogue trees always proves successful. This is a textbook example of an adventure game that proceeds like reading a great novel, without getting tripped up in overwrought puzzles. Still, the almost total absence of challenge will prove unfortunate to those who feel rewarded after cracking a complex puzzle.
Much hand-wringing will surely take place over the threat of gunfighting action sequences, but I would like to dispose of such chatter with little more than a yawn, which is about the amount of effort I needed to complete these shootouts. I believe I counted five such sequences in the entire game, and none felt out of place. The sequences consist of moving between three positions (call them left exposed, protected, and right exposed) with the A-S-D keys and firing when your enemy moves into the matching position on their side. These events are short, painless, simple, and require a bare minimum of reflexes.
If that's not enough, there's even an Easy setting, and the game autosaves before each action sequence so that no time is wasted if you don't initially survive. I found them so brief and easy that I thought I should replay them on Medium for the review's sake--and was shocked to find that I was already on that setting. Rather than leaving any lasting negative impact on me, I actually found it pleasant to have at least a bit of intensity in the midst of multiple men trying to kill me instead of a silly resolution like just using the gun as a normal inventory item to fire at bad guys. To equate these harmless sequences with something much more difficult (Full Throttle's road battles come to mind) would be a big mistake that would keep you from a great experience.Continued on the next page...