You’d think that playing a point-and-click mystery adventure game on a touch screen device would be intuitive and natural. Unfortunately, Gemini Rue joins a long list of iOS titles which would prove your wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the game certainly does have it’s merits, but there are still some significant bugs to work out.
Gemini Rue is an iOS port of Wadjet Eye Games PC title of the same name, with a planned release date of April 11. It really doesn’t change much except for the interface, and the price of $4.99 (discounted for a limited time to $3.99 at launch) is reasonable, especially when compared to the modest $9.99 price tag of its PC brother. Wadjet is very excited about the game, and it seems the PC version did quite well for itself, winning an award at the Independent Games Festival. Still, the experience wasn’t quite as impressive as I’d hoped, and seems like it was downgraded a bit from the PC version.
The visual style is actually kind of appealing, but, like so many of the game’s features, just isn’t quite “there” yet. The pixelated look does well, but objects overall are just too small and colors blend in too frequently to make anything stand out. Playing on the iPhone, this was exaggerated even more than it would be on an iPad or a PC. There are hand drawn backgrounds that add a lot of value to the visual style of the game, but it doesn’t quite mesh entirely and the layers seem too distant from each other, like they’re not really interacting with each other. There were also several times that the animations didn’t quite sync up correctly. For example, the gun fights include muzzle flares and blood splatters, but those frequently didn’t appear, despite seeing the gun recoil and the target collapse from the shot.
That brings up the combat, which comes up far too frequently for the game. It’s handled by shootouts with a clever design. You’re automatically hidden behind cover and there are touch screen controls which show up in-context to allow you to duck out, fire, aim, switch targets, reload, etc. The aiming is done through a strange breathing system. Touch the aiming icon and your character draws a breath filling a bar, similar to what you’d find in a golf title, and when it’s in the green section you’ll score a headshot. In theory, it’s kind of neat, but when you have to pair that with timing to avoid the enemy’s fire and predicting when they’ll poke their head out again, it gets frustrating. As a point-and-click, the emphasis should be on puzzles and setting a deliberate pace, not trying to pack in the action.
What’s more, the touch controls aren’t perfect. It’s not like on a DS where you have a stylus for pinpoint accuracy, you’re trying to touch a small panel with your actual finger. Usually it works out, but there are a lot of times that it takes several tries just to get a hold on what you want. I can see where this would have been vastly easier and more rewarding to master on the PC version. Similarly, the PC version had the gun controls mapped to various keys on the keyboard, which would make it a much more rewarding and easier-to-control experience. It’s also difficult to navigate, having to tap various areas when you might already be at the edge of the room you’re in, trying to find somewhere to tap that will get your character through the door to the next area.
The characters and story are where this game really does set itself apart. It’s a “neo-noir science-fiction” plot that takes you to multiple planets through space and has you playing as two different characters. Eventually you gain the ability to switch between them at will, progressing their individual stories as you see fit. There are also some typical tropes from video game stories that take on a new light. For instance, one of your characters has amnesia. Not because of some unknown event, but because he deliberately tried to escape the facility in which he is held, knowing that it would result in a full memory wipe for him (and it’s not his first). It takes a bit to get going, and is rather slow-paced, but the narrative is a rewarding experience as a whole. The only thing that really pulls away from its value is the voice acting. While not the worst that I’ve heard in a game, it has a distinctly mechanical and forced tone to every character. It’s not helped by the writing that has a tendency to take itself just a bit too seriously. While the voice acting isn’t great, the sound is high quality. The music sets the tone well and you’re able to hear the lines clearly, regardless of their delivery.
There’s no multiplayer to speak of, and only the one game mode, though in this genre, that’s not uncommon. There also were no achievements, which was something of a shock. Given the whole point is going around and clicking EVERYTHING, there’s plenty of opportunity to add Easter eggs or other collectible goodies that will help to add a reason to keep coming back to the game. Considering the difficulty and learning curve, that may not be a bad idea. The puzzles are simple enough, but there are a lot of new options that aren’t necessarily obvious. For example, pretty early on, there’s a scenario wherein you’re running away from some Boryokudan (the bad guys) and you get through a door. All you have to do is close the door behind you and lock it to make sure that they won’t follow you and pop a cap in your face, but when you’ve spent the whole game trying to get into places, it’s a whole different frame of mind to try and keep others out. I understand a certain amount of handholding is too much, but I don’t see why your companion (who’s following you around for a short period) couldn’t have yelled a tip like “Close the door to hold them off!”
The game is far from perfect, and if you can swing the extra $5, I’d definitely recommend the PC version over the iOS version. It’s not terrible, though. There was clearly a lot of work put into the game, and the level design is pretty rock solid, along with the sound. It’s just the sometimes-shaky controls and the often-muddy graphics that really hold it back. Worth consideration, at the least. If you’re curious, you can try a free demo on their website.
Our Rating: 3/5