Back in 2013, a little known Chicago based game developer by the name of Phosphor Games announced Project Awakened, an incredibly ambitious superhero game that promised to offer an, in retrospect, downright absurd level of customization and variability compared to other games on the market, all powered by the then new Unreal Engine 4. It stuck with me for quite a while, even after the independently developed game failed to accrue the needed funds via Kickstarter, and the project was supposedly cancelled. But the developers apparently were able to salvage enough of their work and concepts to create a brief game that also served as a tie-in to some TV show I have never heard of… Which I guess is still something.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Phosphor Games
Gemini centers around Cassandra, a young woman who is exploring an abandoned and rundown facility in hopes of uncovering information on her long lost parents, with the help of her platonic male friend Alex. Things soon complicate themselves as the two stumble onto a group of armed thugs who are patrolling this demolished facility and Cassandra discovers that she has the ability to manipulate time. From there, things unravel in a predictable manner, as Cassandra’s past is revealed, more is learned about this facility, and more information about this world is scattered throughout.
It is a truly unsurprising story that I honestly just glossed over while playing it, partially due to how little is tries to play with the expectations of the player, but mostly because the story is not the most well rounded. With certain character’s actions coming off as forced and rather important story concepts being left undetailed in the end. I am assuming that both of these were due to a number of constraints that this game was developed under, all of which are pretty evident while playing. Also, being a time travel story, things naturally do get messy at certain points, especially after the game pulls a Final Fantasy I with its self-fulfilling time paradox of an ending.
Clearly more effort went into the gameplay, which almost seems like an underground prototype for a far more interesting game centered around super powers. Because it probably is. Taking the guise of a first person… action and puzzle game, I guess, Cassandra is a super powered individual, or Evo I think is the term the game uses, with temporal and telekinetic abilities. Including the ability to slow down time to increase her strength more easily dispatch enemies, increase mobility, and avoid hazards. Manipulate the environment and throw things using the power of her mind, in a manner not dissimilar to the Gravity Gun from Half Life 2. Or switch between the past and future timelines to solve environmental puzzles, avoid danger, and generally reap the benefits of dual world gameplay… when it does not lock Cassandra into a single timeline that is.
These mechanics all work well together, and allow for some interesting encounters and enjoyable puzzle solving. There is the predictable moving of items between worlds, or switching timelines to get behind a locked door or a pile of rubble, but it is kept pretty intuitive and never really becomes a drag. However, the actual combat the game is built around is rather rough. Seeing as how Cassandra cannot use a gun for reasons the game never explains (presumably she’s just allergic to them), her main method of attacking is to use her telekinesis to throw boxes, explosive fire extinguishers, regular old explosives, and even time stopped bullets at enemy forces.
Though, seeing as how explosives are hard to come by unless the player thoroughly scan the environment, it mostly consists of tossing boxes at enemies until they perish, picking up the same box, tossing it at a different enemy, rinse and repeat. While the ability to slow down time allowing for better aiming, as otherwise it can be tough to strike enemies with boxes. Still, I found it to be a far more effective method of doing combat compared to catching and throwing bullets, which requires careful timing of the slow down power. There really is no definitive method to predict when an enemy will fire, and more often than not, I ended up slowing down time far before an enemy actually shot their weapon.
While boxes are the main method of dispatching with enemies who Cassandra brutally murders with no remorse or even hesitation, and I think she murders about 100 people in total in a given playthrough, all of whom are men weirdly enough, she eventually does gain the ability to pick up enemies and drop them into hazards like giant holes, giant fans, or unstable electrical panels. Oh, and I do mean drop because she cannot actually throw them, and instead needs to pick up and drop them into a hazard. I would criticize this if it were not so silly and likely more enjoyable than flinging their ragdoll corpses into a fan, which causes their bodies to spin upwards into the ceiling and then come flopping down. My favorite part of the game is actually when Cassandra needs to pick up the final boss and rub his face into a bunch of coolant tubes to make them explode.
There is also another method of dealing with enemies unlocked very late into the game, which allows Cassandra to use telekinetic bursts to dispatch most enemies. This causes regular enemies to cease being threats, as theses bursts do as much damage as a whole box, and can be fired regularly due to the generously recharging meter. This power is also just one of many examples of Cassandra gaining a new or enhanced ability for no other reason than it fit with the game’s general design and allow Cassandra to grow in power as the game goes on. Aside from the telekinesis ability, which she gets by injecting herself with a plasmid, I do not think there is any proper explanation for any of them or any of the gradual improvements she gains throughout the game.
This same slapdash approach to progression can also be seen in the environment design, which feels hodge podged together at many points, and is not that memorable. Having played through Gemini only a few days ago, I struggle to piece together most combat encounters, as they all cumulate into a blur of familiar looking environments that have various enemies who are dispatched the same basic ways, and often involve environments either so constrained that it is hard to use telekinesis effectively, or large environments where it can be difficult to manage enemies, and slightly more difficult to locate all of the useful throwing items until combat is already over.
There are other gripes I have, such as certain sections that rely on first person platforming, which is always fun. Some puzzles that are a bit too unclear and had me relying on my waypoint more than I should have. How Cassandra is not permitted to look to the sides while she is lifting herself up to a higher ledge, which happens a lot in this game. Or how environmental murder aids are given a glaring icon that is present through walls.
Having exhausted the topic of gameplay, I should talk about the visuals now, which remind me of Shadow Complex in the fact that both games use what look to be stock Unreal Engine assets. Except Shadow Complex had better and more interesting environmental designs, and was made 7 years before this game, yet both look about the same graphically. The game looks like it could run on a PS3 or Xbox 360 with little difficulty, and features a series of largely uninspired rooms that make up each level, along with a more dilapidated counterpart that mostly just tosses things around and sprinkles multipurpose bulk grade rubble about. For as much as I enjoy flipping between dual worlds in a game, this was about the least interesting setting I’ve seen this mechanic applied to.
Gemini does boast a fairly slick looking UI though, as part of an attempt to make the HUD look like the protagonist is wearing smartglasses. While this does work fairly well, even though I have no clue why these glasses can measure her telekinesis and time powers, it also has speech to text functions for character dialog, which shows the player what each character is going to say before they finish their lines, meaning the smartglasses must also have temporal properties. Also, it cannot be disabled and looks quite garish.
I should probably be more fair to these visuals, as they genuinely do look fine, but for whatever reason, this game had a nasty habit of making my computer fans go utterly wild, whirling intensively even after I opened up my computer to increase air circulation. The game used less than half of my CPU at any given time, yet it sounded like it was pushing my machine to the limit whenever it ran. I troubleshooted and found no reason for this, and even tried limiting some of my fan speeds, yet this kept happening, despite how my computer is capable of running far more demanding games without sounding like it is going to explode.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn is far from being a bad game, as it does have a share of interesting ideas and concepts, and while the execution may be underwhelming in many regards, the developers clearly have an idea of how to properly structure a game, and probably did more with this 3 hour long experience than many others would considering the undoubtedly small budget they were given. It seems like a prototype or proof of concept for a far better game, and one that I would love to see realized. As its own thing though, Gemini: Heroes Reborn is a passable, slightly above average, brief little excursion that has good ideas, but is assembled in an almost shockingly rough manner.