Gemini: He­roes Re­born

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES -

Gemini presents a sad in­ver­sion of con­ven­tional wis­dom: that a big li­cence is the best way to squeeze some life out of a bad game. It’s un­likely any­one would call this a great one, ad­mit­tedly, but there’s no get­ting around the fact that its He­roes Re­born her­itage drags it down, rather than the other way around. It’s tough to rec­om­mend play­ing, or pay­ing for it, but at the same time it de­serves re­spect for what it does with very lit­tle.

Wisely, it has as lit­tle to do with He­roes as pos­si­ble, pri­mar­ily bor­row­ing a few terms like ‘Evo’ (evolved hu­man – ie, a per­son with spe­cial pow­ers) and throw­ing in the oc­ca­sional men­tion of Hiro Naka­mura and the Re­nau­tas com­pany with­out re­ally ty­ing it­self to their sto­ries. In­stead, it’s the tale of a girl named Cas­san­dra and her friend Alex, try­ing to break into a strange in­stal­la­tion called The Quarry in search of in­for­ma­tion about Cas­san­dra’s miss­ing par­ents. This goes as well as can be ex­pected, and Alex is cap­tured – for­tu­nately, just as Cas­san­dra dis­cov­ers a nat­u­ral knack for sev­eral flavours of time ma­nip­u­la­tion.

At this point, for­get the plot, for­get the He­roes Re­born uni­verse, for­get the bud­get price and, in the un­likely event that you re­mem­ber the pre­vi­ous He­roes Re­born tie-in game, for­get Enigma: He­roes Re­born on mo­bile. Gemini has one trump card: serv­ing up fun pow­ers in an in­ter­est­ing, if ul­ti­mately un­ex­cit­ing, lo­ca­tion – bor­row­ing from the likes of Sin­gu­lar­ity and BioShock and Psi-Ops to turn Cas­san­dra from a reg­u­lar col­lege girl on the run into a re­al­ity-bend­ing jug­ger­naut. Ev­ery­thing else is ir­rel­e­vant, es­pe­cially since it’s been a fair while since those games or any­thing else that’s played around with time and space in the same fash­ion.

The first power is the most novel, and only re­ally pos­si­ble due to the game’s short length – about four to five hours. The game takes place in 2014 in a col­lapsed in­stal­la­tion, but at any time you can open up a win­dow and spy into 2011, and then shortly af­ter­wards flip be­tween the two at will and use both the time-sight and in­stant flip­ping to go through locked gates, to climb over col­lapsed pieces of scenery, and to watch guards wan­der past be­fore you sim­ply time-slip be­hind them in the most over­pow­ered stealth tech­nique since Dis­hon­ored. Both time­frames have guards, but not the same ones. The trick there­fore soon be­comes jump­ing ef­fort­lessly be­tween time­frames to get around and past both them and any ob­sta­cles in safety, as well as find­ing ways to keep push­ing for­ward through the present day’s col­lapsed scenery and high se­cu­rity in the past. This is a great abil­ity, and it’s in­ter­est­ing to vault be­tween past and fu­ture so flu­idly. While the base de­sign is noth­ing spe­cial, aside from a few good sec­tions of am­bi­ent sto­ry­telling, it’s hard not to want to see it bor­rowed for some­thing like Tomb Raider at some point – to peer past the ru­ins and see them in their prime.

It helps that Gemini doesn’t bother try­ing to re­strict it, or most of its oth­ers. Slow­ing down time has, iron­i­cally, a timer, but oth­er­wise you’re al­lowed to cut loose with­out wor­ry­ing about stamina, mana or other ar­ti­fi­cial re­stric­tions that would get in the way of the fun. You also don’t have to play de­fen­sively. Cas­san­dra doesn’t use guns, but she soon ac­quires telekine­sis cour­tesy of a big, painful-look­ing sy­ringe that looks like it came straight out of BioShock, and the ba­sic pow­ers keep evolv­ing. Slow­ing down time and com­bin­ing it with telekine­sis, for in­stance, lets you grab en­emy bul­lets in mid-air and re­turn them, or sim­ply throw the guards around like rag­dolls. Some of them, at least. Oth­ers are too heavy, too well pre­pared, or too fast for that to work, de­mand­ing new plans and oc­ca­sion­ally zip­ping through time to wait un­til they’re stand­ing closer to po­ten­tial am­mu­ni­tion or at least fac­ing away from the next door into the base. It’s this that el­e­vates Gemini from be­ing a ba­sic cor­ri­dor shooter into some­thing that at least jus­ti­fies its ex­is­tence, even if it fails to de­mand that you buy it. It’s clumsy. The AI is ter­ri­ble. The plot con­stantly in­trudes with long and te­dious di­a­logue that only high­lights Por­tal’s ge­nius in, to use the tech­ni­cal term, let­ting you bloody get on with it. It’s bad enough to be stuck in one place lis­ten­ing to two un­in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters ex­change ban­ter with­out it gen­er­ally be­ing of the level that uses “Hey, check out th­ese dope SMART GLASSES” with no ap­par­ent sense of irony or well-de­served shame. There’s also very lit­tle chal­lenge, with Cas­san­dra’s un­spo­ken power ap­par­ently be­ing to ab­sorb bul­lets and con­vert them into the fastest recharg­ing health in gam­ing.

And yet, when it flows, and you face a room that en­cour­ages you to play with your pow­ers in­stead of wor­ry­ing about find­ing the ‘right’ path, it works. At the very least, the time-spy­ing me­chanic cries out for its own game on a big­ger bud­get, with­out the lin­ger­ing sad­ness of be­ing tied to a show that peaked in 2006 and spent the next decade a sham­bling corpse drip­ping with sad­ness for how much more it could have been.

Even at its best, He­roes Re­born: Gemini can’t hope to be one of those games that breaks out of li­censed-game pur­ga­tory. Un­like most, how­ever, it gen­uinely tries, with some clever and well-ex­e­cuted ideas, and the fact that it strug­gles to live up to their po­ten­tial ends up be­ing, to at least some point, a mark in its favour. It would have been so easy to churn out a ba­sic FPS cash-in. In­stead, Gemini takes the time to cre­ate a game that feels fit­ting for a new Evo in the He­roes Re­born uni­verse, even as the show it­self fades away, and it de­serves credit for that – for its ideas, for much of their ex­e­cu­tion, and for end­ing on the hope that one day they’ll get the game they de­serve.

Te­dious di­a­logue only high­lights Por­tal’s ge­nius in, to use the tech­ni­cal term, let­ting you bloody get on with it

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