Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gemini Rue

After the Blackwell Bundle made such a (relatively) good impression on me (and to keep from getting burned out on D&D adaptations) I've started going through the rest of Wadjet Eye's stock. Primordia and Resonance are bought, downloaded, and slated to get a play-through sometime between now and the heat death of the universe, but first up on the schedule was Gemini Rue.

Why Gemini Rue first? 'Cuz "noir", that's why. Ask a stupid question...

Anyway. In terms of mechanics, much of this game felt less like a game than a proof-of-concept. There are quite a few gimmicks thrown in to spice up what I'm guessing is the somewhat dreary clue-gathering routine for adventure-game fans. For one thing, you get a pistol, with supposedly limited ammo... but the shooting matches are so narrowly scripted that they felt more like a chore than a thrill. There's no depth to the system and by the time you practice enough to get to think you're the fastest gun in the west, the game's over.

Nominally, there are two characters to control, but as they are controlled always in sequence without (for instance) the ghost/medium interplay of abilities from the Blackwell series, this adds nothing to the core puzzle-solving gameplay.

It is possible to die, which seems a marked departure from the few adventure games I've played which tend to guarantee success, mandating no "safety-saves" and letting the player retry everything as much as necessary.  Oddly though, the start of the game was much more difficult than the end, perhaps to allow for more focus on the story once the plot thickens, perhaps merely by accident.

It was nice to see environment interaction also knocked up a notch. Instead of just clicking on anything to activate it in any way, you get four possible interactions to choose from. A nice idea in principle, but it was unfortunately not carried through. Each object generally has just one correct interaction pertaining to it, usually blatantly obvious. No, kicking the brick wall with handholds does nothing, and neither does trying to talk to it. I would've liked to see some variable results from these interactions, multiple paths to success in solving environment puzzles. Still, this is at worst a harmless feature, and adds at least a bit of thought to some spots in the story.

More relevant to core gameplay is the size of the environment itself. Instead of sending you to where you need to be after every cutscene, instead of putting you in front of the "whatever" you need to click on to continue the story, the major segments of the game tend to dump you in a grungy city street full of identical-looking apartment buildings filled with identical-looking doors. You have to use this thing called a "map" and some weird sort of input called "addresses" and "directions" instead of walking up to the one obvious location and scanning the screen for interactable objects. You might have to pay attention. You know, just the tiniest bit.
Here, the problem is not implementation, but simply lack of content. Like Blackwell, Gemini Rue is a bargain-basement product and it skimps a bit on frills like the filler which would have put the main storyline into better perspective. It would have been nice to dot all that unused cityscape with a few more random interactions with the populace. There is, as I remember, only one such instance. However, some of that space was used for a very quaint series of easter-eggs: cameos by the core cast of Cowboy Bebop! Writer knew his audience, is alls I gots ta say.

However, overall, adventure games are stories. Interactive stories. Given that, it's Gemini Rue's plot that weighs the most heavily into its overall effect, and the plot is pretty damn good. There are enough hints that you get the overall slant of the story, that any reasonably intelligent person can predict some of the dramatic twists while leaving enough surprises to keep things interesting. The dialogue and voice acting are not stellar, but still better than anything you'd find in, oh, let's say MMOs. A few more takes and more careful editing would have been in order to keep the sound flowing better.
The story's nicely paced, it's quite complex for its brevity, it's consistent and it plays its "noir" card smartly: enough to appeal to fans of such a motif while not completely alienating other audiences. Better yet, it doesn't pull its punches... until the end.

That's my one real complaint. Gemini Rue is one of those stories which get partly spoiled by a weak ending, by an unnecessarily hopeful slant on the conclusion. There should have been one more death at the end. There should have been a stand on principle. There should have been a sacrifice. To escape a life of rue is not laudable if it causes you to allow another's echo* to die out.

*hint of things to come - hopefully

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