In today's diverse game development climate, it's hardly news that great things can come from humble beginnings. What is surprising is that one guy can create a game that, from an entertainment perspective, competes with some of the best mega-team offerings on the market today. UCLA undergraduate Josh Nuernberger near-singlehandedly created Gemini Rue
, a 2D point-and-click adventure set in a sci-fi/noir universe, and those of you who live for a good story can't afford to miss it.
Nuernberger's been around the adventure game block before, creating previous title La Croix Pan with free development toolset Adventure Game Studio. With Gemini Rue, Nuernberger's refined his approach and presents us with a Memento-like story starring ex-assassin Azriel Odin. Convinced his former employers—a shady group called the Boryokudan—have done something with his brother, Odin sets out to find him on the rain-drenched planet of Barracus. The game plays like the best old school adventures, highlighting interactive objects with text and enabling you, with a menu of icons, to use or comment on them. You walk by clicking where you want to go and talk by clicking on people and choosing the "talk" icon. As the game progresses, you can also manipulate other characters by clicking the "use" icon on them and getting them to do things like open doors or hack computers. There's a smart use of traditional mechanics in Gemini Rue, offering common-sense situational puzzles and good art direction that eliminates most of that irritating pixel-hunting so common to the genre.
An ominous beginning.
While inspecting and manipulating objects is to be expected of a classically made a point-and-click adventure title, what isn't expected is the inclusion of action game-style gunplay. Being an ex-assassin in a Blade Runner kind of universe, it's no wonder our hero carries a gun. What's strange is how poorly he uses it. Through what amounts to an ambitious, if flawed mechanic, you control Odin using the ASD keys: S makes him take cover while A and D make him lean out to fire. Firing is done with the Space bar, and an onscreen meter theoretically enables you to execute head shots when it's in the green. The problem with this system is that firing feels a bit on the slow, unresponsive side and it's close to impossible to watch both a meter and a moving enemy. The result is that you're likely to die multiple times before getting through each fight and may even have to resort to setting the combat difficult on Easy in order to move on. This makes combat the one thing in the game that doesn't quite work, but thankfully it doesn't happen enough to become a real nuisance. Besides, there's so much in the game that works incredibly well.
Most successful is the way the multi-thread story is handled. Parallel to Azriel Odin's plotline is a second thread featuring infamous space prison Center 7 and a mysterious inmate called Delta-Six. Center 7's directive officially is to "rehabilitate" violent criminals by wiping their memories and retraining them to be good citizens. At first we, like Delta-Six, have no idea what's going on as a series of inmates sidle up to him, warning him against one another and giving him questionable hints about his past. A faceless Director speaks ominously soothing words about the bright future ahead of Delta-Six while inexplicably training him to use a gun and we're left wondering, "What the hell is going on here?" It's a seriously complicated web of misunderstandings and deceit and one you'll have a great time untangling.
Graphically, the game is done in the hyper-pixelated style of the much-loved adventure games of the 80s and early 90s and while gamers new to the art style may be put off by the simplicity of it, nostalgic adventure gamers are sure to appreciate and embrace it. Nuernberger gets an awful lot of ambience from very economical means and obviously understands the importance of sound in an interactive experience. Gemini Rue's voice acting is admittedly a bit uneven and some supporting characters come off as slightly wooden, but the main characters (especially anti-hero Azriel Odin) exhibit the personality and toughness that they should. Composer Nathan Allen Pinard deserves credit for some deftly-handled scoring. The Barracus city sequences are desolate and moody with a lone horn against a backdrop of rain, making an infiltration planning sequence, which could have been cheesed up with an "Eye of the Tiger"-style approach, into something quiet and melancholy.
Welcome to the machine.
Having done all the writing, animation and programming himself, Gemini Rue took Josh Nuernberger a total of three years to make—the same amount of time it takes some triple-A titles to hit the shelves. If only more triple-A games turned out this well. With (for the most part) seamless, intuitive gameplay, impressive atmosphere and one of most well-crafted and interesting storylines seen in recent years, Gemini Rue is a game not just for adventure fans, but for anyone who loves a good, gritty yarn.