Azriel Odin, a former assassin for the Boryokudan crime syndicate, is out for a bit of redemption. Having left his shadier days behind, he now assists those still left in the syndicate who want to defect. Azriel’s mission brings him to Pittsburg, a wretched armpit of a city on the planet Barracus. Meanwhile, Delta-Six, a test subject with no memory, wanders the corridors of the enigmatic Center 7. There, Delta-Six is exposed to rigorous training and kept under close eye. And somehow, their stories are connected.
Joshua Nuernberger is an undergraduate student studying at UCLA. Before Gemini Rue, he created Chatroom and La Croix Pan. Both games can be downloaded for free and were created using – the also free! – Adventure Game Studio.
Gemini Rue, a classic point-and-click adventure game, immediately evokes the memories of the early genre efforts from both Sierra and Lucasarts. Built using Adventure Game Studio, anyone who’s experienced Police Quest, Monkey Island or a similar title should feel right at home; left clicks move your character(s), while right-clicking on various objects in the environment brings up a verb menu and inventory. From there you can engage NPCs in conversation, observe your surroundings for clues and get lost in the timeless sleuthing the genre is known for.
Given the trusted mechanics the game is laid upon, Gemini Rue sets itself apart with its tightly paced narrative, likable characters and engrossing atmosphere. The story begins with Azriel standing beneath a rain soaked transit stop, impatiently waiting for an old friend named Matthius. Of course, like any good noir story, Matthius doesn’t show, leaving Azriel to talk up some locals and track down his contact. From this point, Azriel’s investigation leads him to a list of questionable folk, culminating at the doorstep of his previous employers, the Boryokudan.
Delta-Six on the other hand, begins his story with a clean slate, having just had his memory wiped. From there he’s informed by the mysterious Director that he had attempted to escape, and would have his memory re-erased after every subsequent attempt. In Center 7, Delta-Six is surrounded by dozens of other subjects and some of them seem to know him well. Without any memory or previous experiences to call from, he’s left to decide who his friends are, and, who he is himself.
The pacing and direction of each narrative leaves a surprising feeling of urgency, which is something traditionally uncommon in an adventure game. The desire for Azriel to find who he’s looking for, and for Delta-Six to reassemble the pieces and break free, creates a pair of compelling goals that drive their respective stories. Each is punctuated further by – relatively – high-adrenaline segments, including gunfights and foot chases, which also sadly illustrate the game’s need for an actual run animation.
Combining the noir story of Azriel, with that of Delta-Six, who is essentially an amnesiac, is certainly ripe for stale genre conventions. Gemini Rue artfully balances the two narratives without ever falling too heavily into cliché. There are moments where the story is a bit heavy handed, and the accompanying sentiment somewhat preachy, but it’s a worthwhile message; it’s impossible to ignore your affection for these characters and your desire to see them survive. It’s also clear from the dialogue that writer/creator Joshua Nuernberger has a firm grasp on the material he’s dealing with. At one point Azriel quips, ‘he probably burned puppy orphanages’, in reference to a corpse that had been thrown in a dump, lightening the mood and reminding us of Nuernberger’s sense of humor.
Another pitfall the game skirts is in its puzzle implementation: everything in Gemini Rue works in a logical manner. That doesn’t mean the game is easy and won’t leave you feeling periodically stumped, but after the 5-10 extra minutes it might take you to find a solution or talk to the correct person, you’ll never feel cheated. The other encouraging aspect is you’ll always want to figure things out. This might sound obvious, as puzzle solutions are necessary to progress in the genre, but the strength of the narrative and the compulsion it creates, leaves you driven to leave no situation unsolved for too long.
One of the handier devices at Azriel’s disposal is a Communicator, which triples as his notepad, rolodex and phone. The device can be used in conjunction with the many terminals that dot his various stops across Pittsburgh. Names, numbers and other crucial pieces of intel can be freely dragged from the Communicator into the terminal’s search function, which yields information that the Communicator then auto-logs into its note section. Your pilot’s number is also stored from the very beginning, providing an invaluable sounding board for Azriel, as well as a small hint feature that is perfectly wrapped into the fiction.
The overall attention to detail in Gemini Rue is impressive. The hand-drawn environments, periodic segments of ambient music, and confident voice acting coalesce into a superior point-and-click effort. The artwork juxtaposes the drugged-out streets of Pittsburgh with the sterile interiors of Center 7 to create a genuine feeling of unease in both. The music, while sparse, is used in the right places to highlight certain moments and get under your skin. And finally, the voice acting is fitting: it’s effective and appropriate.
Gemini Rue is the first commercial game from Joshua Nuernberger, but not his first effort using Adventure Game Studio. His mastery of the tools, as well as the strengths of the genre, are perfectly suited for this science-fiction/noire story. Gemini Rue is equal parts tense, thoughtful, and surprising; it’s the single best, most compelling adventure game I’ve played in years.