Let’s face it; nine times out of ten, a game based on a licensed property, whether movie or TV show, tends to suck. Whether due to developers failing to understand the appeal of the source material or publishers just looking to cash in on a popular brand, licensed games have become the ones whose quality is hardest to trust. However, there seems to be a trend toward granting licenses to indie developers lately, and results have been quite promising. Independent developers have done quite well with a game based on the anime Steins; Gate and that trend continues to an extent with Gemini: Heroes Reborn.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn: Playstation 4 [Reviewed], Xbox One, PC
Developer: Phosphor Games
Publisher: Imperative Entertainment
Release Date: 26 January 2016
Price: $14.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Based on the reboot/sequel of the NBC/Universal series Heroes which was a hit once upon a time, the game takes place in the same universe as the show but is otherwise a separate entity. That is actually befitting of the license as the show was known for having numerous characters with story arcs that are often disconnected from each other. As such, I was not surprised that no characters from the show appeared in the game. There are, however, secret trinkets to find connected to characters from the show like a comic featuring Hiro (Masi Oka’s character, the one who could manipulate time). While the secrets are cool to find for fans of the show, the game’s plot can be followed well enough even you know nothing about the universe.
Speaking of the plot, it is decent enough to keep you going but lacks surprises. The game revolves around a young woman named Cassandra who visits an old run-down facility with her friend Alex looking for clues about what happened to her parents. When it’s discovered that the facility isn’t deserted, Alex is captured, and Cassandra charges in to rescue him. Inside, she discovers superpowers awakening within her like the ability to jump between two time periods and telekinetically throw objects. These abilities become her only hope to survive. The dialog is well-written and acted, and the story flows nicely from one beat to the next. While very predictable, it does keep you engaged enough to get to the end.
The game’s aesthetics are a very mixed bag. The environments in Gemini do a great job of showing off what the relatively new Unreal Engine 4 can do. There is plenty of variation in the locales between the two time periods explored, and everything is incredibly detailed. The crags present in the derelict version of the facility look photographic. On top of that, the special effects are eye-grabbing, especially when you open a temporal rift to peek at the other time period. There are issues like how the lighting is very muted. Too much of the game is too dark. I had to turn up the brightness on my TV just to see where I was going. However, the biggest problem is on the technical front. The load times are awful.
When starting up a game or entering a new stage, prepare to stare at a static loading screen for almost two minutes. That was hard to stomach for games on PS1 CDs; it is inexcusable for a downloaded game today. To add insult to injury, textures pop in when the level starts. After THAT long of a load time, the fact that you have to stare at blurred polygons for another fifteen seconds while the textures catch up is pathetic. The results aren’t as abhorrent like with Duke Nukem Forever, but they still grate on me. The music and sounds effects work decently, but they don’t come in much. A lot of the game is almost completely silent. They couldn’t have added in a little ambiance?
The gameplay is equally mixed. The superpowers are very well-integrated into the game. Mixing the time-shifting with the telekinesis makes the fights with armed guards exhilarating. Popping up behind a guard, throwing a broken piece of ceiling, shifting time, and then peeking at the flummoxed guard never stopped being chuckle-worthy and satisfying. Likewise, environment navigation also uses Cass’s powers in interesting ways. Whether time-shifting to get past a cave-in or slowing time for long jumps, the powers are frequently used in inventive ways. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems that seriously threaten the fun. First are almost random difficulty spikes. You could easily sail through multiple stages only to hit a brick wall that forces you back to the last checkpoint multiple times. That becomes a real problem when you see how far apart the checkpoints are spaced.
There were multiple times in which I lost thirty minutes of effort because of one missed jump. There were also plenty of “What do I do?” moments throughout the game. While much of the game is linear enough to keep you moving, I encountered multiple times in which I was totally stuck to the point that I had to look up a walkthrough to find out what I had to do to move on. Those moments get as frustrating as the difficulty spikes. There are also some glitches. More than once I accidentally jumped through the level geometry and found myself falling forever. On top of everything else, Gemini is quite short. Not counting time spent replaying sections, expect to get at most six hours of game time with little incentive to play again.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn is okay. It has some neat ideas, it plays decently, it looks good for the most part, and it can be enjoyed even if you don’t know what “Save the Cheerleader; Save the World” means. It’s nothing spectacular, and it is on the short side. However, it can provide some decent thrills for the money. This Hero may be worth your time.