Let's get Gemini Rue's obvious characteristics out of the way. If you've looked at screen shots or a trailer, the first thing you noticed, no doubt, was the murky 2D graphics. If you were around for the old Sierra and LucasArts point-and-click adventures of yester-decade, this might have intrigued you. If you started gaming with the PlayStation 2 or later, this might have turned you off. Personally, I played through the entire game on a 1920x1200 monitor and I agree that it is a little like wading around in a bowl of soup.
Then you might have an issue with the genre itself. This type of adventure has seen a bit of a nostalgic resurgence, but many times it has been for remakes of long-established series. Gemini Rue certainly tips its hat to the past, but it's a brand new property with new things to say. In the end, however you feel about its retro sensibilities (and I only make such a big deal about them because others have), it's your choice to play it or not.
And choice - individuality, free will, and conscience - is what lies at the heart of the game. Yes, it's your decision whether you want to devote eight or so hours to the worlds of Barracus and Center 7, but I'm confident you will have a good time if you make the commitment.
Gemini Rue started its life as a student project, but it's a long way from amateur hour.
The game is set about two hundred years in the future in the streets of Pittsburgh - but it's not the city of Steelers and - uh, what else is Pittsburgh known for? Anyway, this metropolis is part of a faraway star system. Gemini Rue follows the paths of Azriel Odin, an assassin turned cop searching for his brother, and Delta-Six, an inmate at a mysterious correctional center where residents' memories are wiped and skills like shooting and hacking are nurtured.
It's Azriel's story that begins to unfold first, and I suspected that leading him around was all I was going to do. Maybe the other guy, who we see in a cut scene in the introduction, is the brother we have to find. Truthfully, that would have been fine with me, since Azriel's world is a Blade Runner-inspired urban nightmare where the empty husks of human tragedy line the streets and organized crime, the Boryokudan, uses drugs to run the show. I was all ready to use my detective skills to crack the case and see more of life in the dregs.
But just as Azriel's investigation begins to heat up, Gemini Rue reveals its bifurcated approach to storytelling. For a good part of the game, you are able to switch back and forth at will between the dirty dystopia of Pittsburgh and the clean-but-ominous Center 7. There you pick up the tale of Delta-Six, who has had his memories, but not his cognitive skills, wiped multiple times and is being programmed for release to the outside world, evidently as some kind of gunman. In filling in the details of Azriel's quest and Delta-Six's identity, you use your mouse to point at objects, which you can then interact with in a variety of ways. There is a built-in hint system for parts of the game, but as long as you click the hotspots and follow up on leads, you shouldn't get lost for too long. Oh, and I don't think it counts as a spoiler to tell you that, yes, the two parts of the story come together in the end.
It's not high drama, but it is a compelling narrative with competent voice acting - a notable game all around. The voice actors seem to understand the material so you don't have a lot of misplaced stresses in the syllables or hollow reading like you do in some bigger-budget releases. Gemini Rue started its life as a student project, but it's a long way from amateur hour. I was also impressed with how straight the developers played their hand. One of the more annoying trends in smaller games is the excessive use of in-jokes and wacky references, but there is almost none of that here. The most obvious nod to games past comes when you stumble upon some crates with labels like "SQ2" and "LSL5," the former containing a space helmet and ray gun and the latter some unmentionables. Most players won't get the references, but they aren't made to feel as if they should. It's nice and restrained and takes almost nothing away from the gritty atmosphere.
As an added treat once you finish the game, you can play with developer commentary activated. This introduces additional hotspots all over the place that you can click on to hear about the development process and listen to blooper reels. For aspiring game makers, it can be fascinating to learn about the process of making a small project into a critically anticipated reality.
Comparing this game to something like Limbo, it's easy to see how the different components of an independent game can work together to make for a memorable experience. Gemini Rue and Limbo each excel at unfurling just enough of the story at one time to keep you playing and guessing. And they both end on an unconventional note that is sure to provoke a deeper internal dialogue than most games do. Both, of course, have a distinctive visual style, but whether Rue's is an asset or a liability is debatable.
What's less debatable, though, is whether you should purchase Gemini Rue. If you are all a fan of the point-and-click adventure, you pretty much can't go wrong with the small, quick download and low price. If you aren't so sure, consider exposing yourself to something new and supporting an independent game maker that got it right the first time.