Gemini: Heroes Reborn
PC, PS4, Xbox One
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