Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gemini: Heroes Reborn (Xbox One)

So ... I had honestly never heard of this game until Imperative Entertainment's PR contacted me about doing a review of it. I didn't have a clue as to what the game was about beyond what I saw in the trailer, which I viewed prior to accepting the assignment. I didn't know that it was tied to the "Heroes" series, or the newly introduced "Heroes Reborn" series. After figuring this out though it did peak my interest quite a bit as I was a fan of "Heroes" back when it was popular, and in the headline news. I was actually curious to see how a game modeled after a TV series would pan out since such film to game translations often times do not bode well with the gaming community. We all know that such games tend to be not all that great, and that movie adaptations outside of games like the LEGO re-imaginings are usually a lost cause in the eyes of gamers.

I definitely think Imperative Entertainment, and the studio known as Phosphor Games were bold in taking on this game project, because of the legacy tied to said gaming genre and the legacy of the TV series itself. While I did encounter some unfavorable things in my playthrough, and several bugs along the way "Gemini: Heroes Reborn" did actually do alright for itself, in the "indie" sense regardless of my concerns. Using the Unreal Engine 4 as it's graphics processor really helped to bring the fantasy world, and the characters therein to life, if only visually. Even the gameplay was functional enough to a point to enjoy. At the same time though the rushed plot, and poorly applied character context building kind of hurt the mostly impressive gameplay. Having spoken dialogue, and onscreen text that was so to the point, and without proper storytelling elements in place really did the game a huge disservice. In the end it could have been better than it was, but wasn't too terribly bad for an indie game featured on modern-day consoles. Before I get too far ahead of myself though let me explain the game's premise to you ...

In "Gemini: Heroes Reborn" the story follows closely the main character, 'Cassandra' as she searches for information on her parents with a friend known as 'Alex'. The game opens up seemingly deep into the derived story with Cass, and Alex already on the search for company files related to her parent's whereabouts. Alex had just gotten a job in a technology corportation which had it's sights set on a destroyed property for future renovation purposes, and through this job Alex was able to find out about Cass's parents by mere happenstance. Along their way to the location of interest things go awry for the two friends as they end up getting separated early on by mysterious armed soldiers, and Cass's newly discovered time traveling powers. As Cass comes to the realization of who she is, and what she is capable of she follows Alex in, and out of two different time periods in an attempt to save him. All while being completely oblivious to the trouble that she is really facing. With her powers of time manipulation in hand, and some obtained powers that are gained later on Cass faces off against Evos (reminds me of the EVO fighting game tournaments, lol!) like herself as well as the soldiers who work for the man behind the "Gemini Formula" project, which she unknowingly happened to have been a part of. Thus is the plot in a nutshell.

While the game has obvious ties to a fully fleshed out story that is "Heroes Reborn" that given story does not seem to be the main focus of this gaming experience. The story definitely takes a close second seat of importance to the gameplay portion of the game which it is front, and center throughout it's entirety. Gameplay in "Gemini: Heroes Reborn", as it were is kind of like "Dying Light" in that you'll be controlling Cassandra from a first-person perspective with only her hands, arms, legs, and feet shown in front. You'll be able to move around freely in the various 3D environments which are divided up by chapter oriented levels, and loading screen intermissions with the most basic of movement options offered up. Things like crouching, jumping, running, and climbing will be at your disposal as you climb high, and descend deeply into the mine-like rubble of the destroyed, and time rebuilt research facility foundation which you are scouring for hints to your amnesiac plagued past. Along with the basic movement options come Cass's Evo abilities which allow her to see through both time periods as well as traverse each time period at will. This comes in handy when trying to sneak around guards, and into previously inaccessible areas that are locked off. She even has the ability to slow down time which will help with the combat scenarios that happen frequently throughout the story. Later on into the game Cass will also gain some telekinetic Evo abilities which will act as her only way to offensively fight off the soldiers, and Evos that she'll encounter.

With the "Time Scout" ability Cass can peek in safely from one timeline into another, and allow the player controlling her to better plan their approach to the current situation. It opens up a sort of floating image in front of Cass that shows what's going on in the opposite timeline, but in the same location that she's currently in. While the stealth gameplay is a huge part of getting from "Point A" to "Point B" you will also have to use your time, and telekinetic based powers upfront to fight off various types of armored, and armed soldiers in order to gain the keys required to progress from level to level. The time slowdown power acts as a more defensive feature in that it will allow Cass to dodge enemy fire, and retreat if needed while the telekinetic powers give her the ability to attack said soldiers with thrown objects and telekinesis blasts. You have to keep in mind while fighting off those that would oppose you that Cass does have a health bar that reflects her life, or death standings though. This health meter is tied to the special tech glasses Alex gifted her early on. The glasses keep track of Cass's vitals which oddly replenish if she escapes gun/weapon fire and rests long enough. There's also a meter for the limited use Evo abilities related to time manipulation. Yes, there are a limit to some things in regards to special abilities, but they do recharge when not in use. The glasses also house any chat dialogue shared between Cass, and the other contributing characters.

Along with the threat that is human soldiers, and Evos you'll also be facing the perils of environmental hazards which can also be manipulated to your advantage using your time bending powers. Things like giant rotating fans, flames, pitfalls, and conveyor belts will stand between you, and Cass's objectives. Sometimes said obstacles are used in a sort of platforming puzzle presentation (Think "PORTAL"), so it's best you think out your plan of approach thoroughly before going forward into uncertainty, blindly.

As far as extras go you will find 37 hidden objects scattered throughout the many levels of the game. Some are in-your-face obvious while others will require your puzzle solving prowess to obtain. Some of these items take the player back to the original "HEROES" series as nods to the events contained within while others reference the new "Heroes Reborn" series, and Cassandra's role in it. Finding these extra items seem to be more fan service than anything, but could possibly unlock something else if you collect them all.

Now for the Verdict ...

This game was not without it's notable issues. There were plenty of bugs, and glitches throughout the experience as well as frame rate, and loading aggravations. When it comes to the bugs, and glitches I personally encountered wacky rag doll distortions on a regular basis. This was caused mostly by the use of the telekinetic abilities on the soldiers, and other characters of interest. While it wasn't game breaking the contorted characters made the game seem less professional than it's applied environments looked. Seeing the soldiers stretch, and spaz out was laughable as well as distracting. Outside of that the most concerning of the glitches for me was the ending boss fight which was rendered unbeatable (after having spent several hours playing it). I had contacted the developer about the problem before typing up this review, and they described an end level design that I just did not see. The yellow pillars that were supposed to be there were not there when I dragged Mason with me forward into time, nor were the other items Mason was supposed to explode with his powers. Try as I might I could not end the game with that glitch in play. Even when I did as the developers said I could not defeat Mason.

As far as the Unreal Engine 4 application goes I did find that the environments looked amazing. The lighting, and structural details in both timelines looked like something that you'd expect from the new Unreal Engine, and newer generation consoles. The characters, however were a little less so. The characters looked more animated than realistic in comparison to the environments they moved around in. I think this in itself offset the presentation a bit. As far as the frame rate issues go I found that due to extreme attention to detail in the environments the gameplay experienced slowdowns from time to time. This included slightly slowed down character movement, and messy screens when combat was at it's most intense. The loading screens after deaths, and between levels also seemed to go on for an extended length of time. I think the loading times were on par with the "Dark Souls", and "Bloodborne" games, if not closely so. 

Going back to the previously mentioned plot I also found the story of Cassandra, and those involved a bit rushed. There really was no getting to know the characters on a deep level. It's like the developer focused on the basics of their powers, and predicaments while spending most of the development time and resources on the gameplay elements. It's kind of like they were using the TV series as a crutch. I would have loved to have known more about the main characters, the evil corporation, and the history leading up to the inclusion of these characters in the main story. That was just not there.

If I were to judge "Gemini: Heroes Reborn" in it's current state I'd have to say skip it. It's a bit broken. If the developer had elaborated more on the story, and actually made it as solid game instead of being episodic like it is I feel that would have helped some. Needless to say the kinks in the way of bugs and glitches also need to be worked out in order for the game to be in it's prime state, and recommendable form. For now it's a pass. Hopefully the developer can patch the bugs and glitches at least.

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