If I were to compile a list of the best kinds of ‘Heroes’, the hit TV show of the same name would be far behind David Bowie’s song and those delicious miniaturized Cadbury’s chocolates, but slightly ahead of the Karaoke abyss found in Bournemouth. Heroes (the show, so you don’t think I’m talking about chocolate) was genuinely ace for its opening season, but fell apart quicker than a dry sandcastle in the agonising seasons that followed. Somehow, this hasn’t prevented it from making a comeback with Heroes Reborn lurching onto screens in the US and soon in Europe. Naturally its return has been accompanied by a tie-in video game, joining the likes of Game of Thrones, Falling Skies and Sky Sports Simulator (or FIFA 16 if you like) in expanding the known universes of these particular brands. So here we have Gemini: Heroes Reborn, which takes residency in spin-off city, but does it have enough to pay the rent?
For those unfamiliar with Heroes, or those desperately trying to forget it, it focuses on a bunch of folk with emerging superpowers and beyond;it’s mostly silly guff with the odd cool moment in terms of story arc. Gemini: Heroes Reborn sets itself up before the start of the rebooted telly series, distancing itself enough to be its own thing – a wise move if you want to entice a larger crowd to your game who aren’t familiar with the show. It still connects to the source, but loosely. The game focuses on Cassandra, a young woman discovering her powers just as she searches for information about her missing parents at a rundown facility. Cassie’s powers are impressive, she is able to use telekinesis, slow time and swap between two different time periods, peeking into the other time period to see what dangers might lurk before jumping back or forth.
Gemini takes a first-person action route, eschewing guns for using telekinesis to solve simple puzzles and chuck masked soldiers into industrial fans. The powers available to you increase as you progress, with the challenge ramping up alongside (for ramping up, read: throw in more, slightly tougher guys). There’s no denying that at its heart, Gemini is a Frankenstein’s Monster of other games. There’s a debt to Valve’s seminal titles, Half-Life and Portal, that’s so huge, it’s a surprise that bailiffs don’t show up in the first half hour of the game to repossess it. This is mainly because it of its use of physics-based puzzles and gravity-defying object-flinging. It also utilises the time-hopping manipulation seen in the criminally underlooked Singularity and the ever-divisive Bioshock Infinite, with the past version of levels opening up previously unreachable areas, while the present day’s decay does much the same for other parts.
You can forgive a shameless mish-mash of other game’s ideas if they get done right (see Singularity itself, which Gemini almost feels like a continuation of), but largely, Gemini doesn’t fully commit to anything, leaving the player with a game that feels like several undercooked homages to better games instead of a decent romp in its own right. The plot and performances were never going to be spectacular when the source material doesn’t exactly scream ‘award-winning’, but Gemini doesn’t even have the decency to be interesting enough to warrant being as daft as the show. Progression through the fairly short levels is dreadfully mundane and uninspired considering the playset of powers at your disposal. That’s not to say it doesn’t do anything right. Gemini briefly flickers into life with one or two of its puzzles leaving you thinking longer than a nanosecond about the solution, then again, brighter still, when using the telekinesis powers.
Flinging soldiers off walkways and to their doom is fun many times over, and even after the twelfth time of launching a computer chair at the face of an elite soldier, I still found myself cackling. There’s a very base joy to the combat in Gemini. When it works it produces hilarity and entertainment in spades. Slowing down time, circling an enemy and throwing a filing cabinet at him from behind and watching his body get flung into one of those industrial fans is the sort of moment when Gemini is at its best. The criticism of this is that it’s never used anywhere near as much as it should be, and that everything that surrounds it is woefully inept. The only other redeeming touch is using a pair of smart glasses as an excuse for having a HUD, even then it’s made cringey by the wall of text messages that pop up. Encasing this wrong egg in a meaty shell of dreariness is the presentation.
Now, you could argue two things in Gemini’s defence here. One is that it is made on a small budget to begin with, the other is that it’s a mobile port, never likely to trouble the power of the PS4’s heavyweight first-person titles. Fair excuses and reason enough the game doesn’t get a hammering for looking like it does. What isn’t quite so excusable are the various issues that plague Gemini. Mobile game port or not, this is built in Unreal Engine 4, a console port should look a bit better than this, yet it’s passable for a last gen game, but a tad inadequate for a PS4 one. And then there are the textures loading in late, some ugly pop up and some really truncated animations all adding up to a rather shoddily-presented package. Yes, it’s a small studio, but a bit more time spent polishing and tweaking this side of the game would have been nice to see.
You know what though? Despite all these problems, Gemini remains fun to play just enough that it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time. The many dull parts are at least spaced apart, and the game has an incredibly short running time so it’s the perfect game to pick up and play for a weekend before moving onto the next one and forgetting about it. If Gemini had been console-focused to begin with would we have seen a better game? Probably, and for all the criticisms I have of it, there is definitely some potential in future projects by the developer Phosphor Games given the right amount of time and the right toolset. Gemini might be guilty of grab bagging a whole bunch of better game’s ideas, but it at least tries to go down a lesser-travelled path than most first-person titles do. It’s just unfortunate that it wasn’t as well executed as it could have been.