Platforms: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Phosphor Games
Publisher: Phosphor Games
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
Oh, Heroes, we’ve had a rocky relationship over the years. The first season of the show was nothing short of brilliant, giving us an electric mixture of characters and one of my favorite TV villains in the creepy and powerful Sylar. The subsequent three seasons, though, were a struggle at times, a fast decline into a mess of storylines and characters that become overly complex while also managing to make very little sense. And yet I still enjoyed it, in its bumbling way. It was a genuine surprise to see Heroes return for another season in Heroes: Reborn, introducing a mostly new cast of heroes. It just recently wrapped up with NBC confirming that as per the initial plans this was just a one-off production, though the show still had the audacity to end on a cliff-hanger despite it being pretty clear that another series will probably never happen. Having said that, who thought Heroes would ever get another chance after its first four seasons?
But it was even more genuinely surprising to see an official Heroes game also get launched with almost no marketing. It simply popped up on Steam and Xbox One without any fanfare, surprising a lot of people. A PS version a week later. Fearing the worst I fired up my review code and….and it’s actually kind of good. Not brilliant. Not great. But good. Fancy that.
Amazingly this is actually a sequel of sorts, following on from Heroes Reborn: Enigma, a mobile release that featured a different set of characters. Like Gemini here it too was a first-person game. Don’t fret, though, because you really don’t need to have played it to enjoy this one. However, the two do tie in and tell concurrent tales, so for the full picture playing both will be needed, or you could just go on Youtube and look it up.
The story follows Cassandra as she and a friend explore a seemingly abandoned facility in the hopes of learning what happened to Cassandra’s parents, whom she has no memory of having suffered some sort of accident when she was younger. Things aren’t as they first seem at the facility, however, and before long everything starts to go wrong. As for Cassandra it doesn’t take long for her latent evo powers to come to the fore, granting her some kickass abilities. Ultimately Gemini tells a very simple story that never surprises or impresses with its twists, writing or characters. . Yet it’s still surprisingly solid work. While I can’t say I was exactly engaged in the story unfolding, it was at least enough to keep the game moving forward.
Credit has to be given for not attempting to cheaply cash in by just cramming the game full of characters from the show, though. While certain people do get referenced it’s kept to a minimum, leaving Gemini to be its own thing. Having said that there’s also the sense that Gemini just so happens to be set in the Heroes universe and would rather that you forget about it. Indeed, it is actually quite easy to forget about it, the only things reminding you being the occasional use of the word evo and a familiar name popping up. I can’t help but feel Gemini was perhaps originally developed as a completely original IP that somehow picked up the Heroes branding along the way. In other words if you’re a big fan of Heroes and want something that ties in strongly with either the new season or the previous four Gemini may leave you feeling disappointed, but at least it doesn’t rely on the brand name.
It is also guilty of an ancient videogame crime; Cassandra will kill a lot of bad guys by the end of this game, and not once do we ever try to deal with the fact that she’s supposed to be a relatively nice teenager. Hell, at one point she exclaims how much fun she’s having with her new powers. Come on, Cassandra, have some decency. There are dead bodies everywhere. To be fair it’s a small nitpick amidst a sea of games where lead characters killing everything in site with seemingly no remorse is pretty typical. Still doesn’t make it any less amusing, though.
As an evo Cassandra boasts quite a few powers, including one that doesn’t seem to be related to the others which is slightly out of character for Heroes, where most of the cast have one power. For starters Cassandra is able to manipulate time by leaping back and forth between the present and the past, moving between two-time periods, one in which the facility is sparking and new (the past) and one in which it’s a crumbling ruin (the present.) It’s with this mechanic that the foundation of the game is laid; a door blocking the way in the past may not exist in the present, and vice versa, so perhaps you jump to the present but then have to deal with a few enemies patrolling. To ensure you don’t go jumping time only to discover the floor is missing or that’s a guard right up in your business Cassie has the ability to create a portal of sorts that lets the player see the other time zone without being seen themselves. With these simple mechanics the developers set up a suite of easy but enjoyable challenges before introducing a few more ideas. Cassie is capable of slowing down time, you see, which is great for escaping from pesky people armed with guns and a penchant for aiming said guns at your face. Slowing time also makes you able to jump higher and further while decreasing fall damage, equalling some slightly dodgy platforming moments.
Then comes the unrelated power I mentioned; telekinesis. You’re able to pick and throw relatively small objects with enough force to knock foes over, or potentially kill them if hit a few times. Some of the bad guys you face, though, can take a serious beating before they finally cease breathing. It’s possible to pick up enemies, too, although you aren’t able to toss them around in the same manner as a box, at least not until later in the game. Still, it’s enough to drop them off the occasional ledge, shove them into some flames or even use them as a human shield that their friends will stupidly fire in to. If you need a bit more offensive punch, however, slowing down time will allow you to catch incoming bullets before blasting them back at the enemy, a move which admittedly does feel pretty damn awesome despite how finicky it can sometimes be. It doesn’t manage to stop you from wondering why you can’t just pick up one of the many guns strewn on the ground after a small fight, but it’s quite fun and from a design point it’s eminently understandable why the developers don’t want players just grabbing assault rifles and going to town. Combat is initially pretty satisfying because you can hop back in time, carefully position yourself behind an enemy, pop back into their time period and hurl a chair at their unsuspecting face. Sweet. A later move that lets you hurl a ball of pure force is a nice touch for when there’s no objects around, but it’s not quite enough to stop combat from eventually becoming a bit repetitive. However, at just 5-6 hours that repetition never has time to set in.
With these mechanics in place the game develops an enjoyable rhythm. You amble through the somewhat dull corridors, navigating the world by hopping back and forth between time zones and occasionally doing some light parkour work. You may discover guards in both time periods, leading to fun sections where you’re trying to bounce back and forth between times to stay ahead of them while you wait for your powers to recharge so you can slow down time and hurl some bullets back at them, or try to catch a few of them out with a hastily hurled explosive container. Yet much like Heroes it’s impossible not to feel like there’s so much untapped potential lying just under the surface. As enjoyable as the game can be it’s also entirely uninspiring. You’ll quickly grow to want more from the mechanics, but the game never really expands past the most basic of ideas on how to use Cassandra’s powers. You’ll come to want more potential options in fights and more inventive puzzles that can make use of being able to bend time.
It’s honestly a little aggravating. Play the game for even five short minutes and you can feel something so much better lurking beneath the surface, and it all ends just before it can emerge. At five hours this is a short adventure, but at least it ends before the gameplay can become stale, because as much as it feels as though there are heaps of potential here the five hours we do get make me wonder if the developers would have ever been able to go much further with it. It doesn’t take long for them to seemingly run out of steam, a shame considering that a short game should be a license to really pack in the ideas instead of having to stretch everything out over a much larger period of time.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some nice moments that stem from the gameplay. You can take anything you’re holding with you into the other time zone, so it’s rather fun to pop out, grab an enemy and them warp through time again to isolate them, and there’s a nice idea where you plant a small tree in the past to access a vent in the present.
There are some very obvious clues to the game’s limited budget, such as how levels are essentially small, bite-sized locations made up almost entirely of corridors that you wander around, or how you just magically acquire a key for the door you need to get through after defeating the last enemy. And yes, this game does use the old, “find a key to get through the door” design. The game’s 16 chapters can all be completed rapidly, and I was often left with the feeling that had I no sooner just gotten into a chapter it was finished.
You can’t expect a masterclass in presentation, either, which is honestly fine. The environments look okay but certainly don’t impress thanks to a general flatness and lack of detail. The audio is a little stronger, however, largely thanks to some surprisingly solid voice acting that also helps to somewhat cover up how everything else sounds merely okay. In short it wears its budget beginnings on its sleeve, but by no means does it look bad.
A truly pleasant surprise from start to finish, Gemini: Heroes Reborn isn’t anything special, but it is solid. No other word can really describe it well enough. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s okay. It’s solid. It’s not, therefore, a game I’m going to put a recommended sticker. It’s not a game I’m going to claim you should immediately purchase and play because there’s plenty of other fantastic titles out there more deserving of that honor. However, if Gemini: Heroes Reborn sounds interesting to you, if you feel its mechanics are right up your alley, then it’s certainly worth playing. Sure, it’s a bit short, but it has a price-tag to match and I honestly had fun with almost every minute of it. Pretty good for a game that came out of nowhere, eh?