It has been a long time since licensed tie-in games were common on consoles. Mobile has provided a cheap and easy way for marketing teams to produce gaming content while also creating an alternative revenue stream from microtransactions. This feels like a shame to me, as these games used to be great at adapting mechanics from more popular titles and combining them in interesting ways. Some were even great in their own right, and I have fond memories of the visceral thrills of X-Men Origins: Wolverine or the battle in Robotech: Battlecry that took place just above Earth's atmosphere. Gemini: Heroes Reborn continues on in this tradition, combining parts from Portal, Mirror's Edge, and Psi-Ops into an intriguing first person combat model that carries the game through its relatively short length.
In Gemini, you play as Cassandra, a latent evo who is seeking out information on her parents that is located in a mysterious and decrepit research facility. You head in with your friend Alex, but he is captured almost immediately, and you must use the powers you never knew you had in order to get past the guards and uncover the information. The plot goes through the motions after that, providing the type of cheesy exposition and ham-fisted dialogue that wouldn't be out of place in a made-for-TV movie. For fans of Heroes, there are quite a few nods towards the show, including collectables and locations that you might recognize from past episodes.
The real star of the show here is the combat, which is handled completely through Cassandra's superpowers. Her main ability is time travel, allowing her to jump between decades and slow down time. Guards can't follow you into the past, so you can time travel in tough spots to let your health recharge and strategize. Your main offensive weapon is your telekinesis, which lets you hurl filing cabinets and computer monitors at your foes. Combined with your time abilities, you can even slow things down, grab bullets out of the air, and then send them back where they came from. This power also extends to just about every enemy in the game and allows you to toss them around with the full benefits of ragdoll physics.
Mirror's Edge was lauded back in the day for its gun-light approach to gameplay, and we've seen plenty of psychic protagonists that always keep a pistol handy as backup. In Gemini, we have a game that goes all the way with it, never allowing the player to pick up firearms. It's an incredible feeling when it works. Combining your powers to dodge attacks and get the jump on foes is never unsatisfying. There are definitely more than a few wonky physics moments where you can feel the game's limited budget, but those can be fun in small doses and doesn't detract from the rest of the experience.
When you're not bashing chairs against the skulls of confused guards, you're tasked with navigating through the facility. This means that there is some first person platforming to be done, but thankfully your time powers help you along here as well. Slowing down time gives you a speed boost and increases your jump height, making it very hard to miss any jumps you'll need to make. It's up to the player to remember about this power however, and I found myself puzzled more than a few times at a tall ledge before remembering what to do.
In addition to the platforming, there are also a few puzzles to be solved, and the solutions make creative use of your character's abilities. For example, flooding a room in the past might cause the floor to collapse, letting you access the building's basement in the present. Unfortunately, the game seems to be all too eager to share the solutions with you, and there were several cases where Cassandra wondered aloud about the answer before I was even done formulating the question. An option to turn these hints off or obscure them in some way would be much appreciated, and I wish there were a few more moments towards the end that took advantage of this setup.
No matter what you're doing in the facility, it's hard not to notice some of the game's more overt inspirations. I was reminded of the dark and dank underground of Portal 2 more than once on my adventure, and there are even a couple of cube puzzles and test chambers to go through. Still, Unreal Engine 4 does its job well, as the game's environments set the tone of the proceedings exceptionally well. In addition, playing around with the slow motion and watching the trails of bullets and rockets as they fired never really got old.
Speaking of inspirations, Gemini's narrative liberally takes from the Bioshock and Singularity handbook, both in the type of story it's trying to tell and some of the twists and turns it goes with. If you've been playing games for even a little while, you'll see every twist coming a mile away. It even suffers from the same problems that the original Bioshock did, ending the game on a prolonged boss encounter instead of a logical story beat. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the whole game came during this encounter, where the boss literally stopped attacking me in order to loudly declare that I wasn't going to use his powers against him. I couldn't help but pause the game, chuckle, and shake my head. When I unpaused, we returned to the dance of him throwing projectiles and me hurling them back at him.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn is derivative of a lot of things, but that doesn't stop it from being fun or toying with its mechanics in ways that other games failed to. The game's take on utilizing psychic combat without resorting to firearms is inspired, and a full scale release using these abilities could really be something. If this game is any indication, it seems as if Phosphor Games is eager to expand on these ideas as well, and I really hope they get the opportunity to. For now though, if you're in for a little superhero action with a B movie plot, then Gemini is well worth a look.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn was reviewed on Xbox One with a copy provided to us by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and Steam.
A return to the licensed games of old, Gemini: Heroes Reborn provides players with a condensed combination of Bioshock and Portal that does more than just rehash, at least where gameplay is concerned.