Back in 2013, Phosphor Games launched a Kickstarter for an ambitious, open-world, do-whatever-you-want superhero game called Project Awakened. The Kickstarter never reached its funding goal, but Phosphor’s design aesthetic caught the attention of publisher Imperative Entertainment, who tapped the studio to create two games based on the Heroes reboot, Heroes Reborn. The first game, Heroes Reborn: Enigma, is available now on mobile, and focuses on puzzle solving and exploration. The second game, Gemini: Heroes Reborn, is a bit more ambitious, blending first-person exploration and combat with time travel and telekinesis super powers.
You play as Cassandra, a new hero who discovers her powers while doing a bit of urban exploration and stumbling upon a secret underground facility. When her friend is abducted by paramilitary soldiers, she discovers the ability to time travel between her present day of 2014 and 2008. A pile of rubble in 2014 might be an open door in 2008, and a wall in 2008 might be a giant hole in 2014. Cassandra can even use the power to peek into the past or future and scout ahead before making the leap in time. It’s pretty cool to see in action.
In my time with the game I got to talk to lead designer Scott Bowler. He assured me that although the game may have a bit of a Portal aesthetic with the underground facility and puzzle elements, Gemini actually focuses more on combat thanks to some of Cassandra’s other powers.
Faced with the actual facility guards in 2008 and the paramilitary goons in 2014, Cassandra’s dire situation helps to manifest other powers like time-slowing and telekinesis. The resulting combat is an interesting mix of teleporting between time periods, getting the drop on guards, and attacking them with all manner of environmental objects, from office chairs to their own bullets.
While Bowler told me the stealth aspects of the game are “not metal gear solid by any stretch of the imagination,” I saw how players, despite being unable to use guns, could get themselves out of trouble. Time jumping gives the player a chance to scout a room from a safe vantage point or easily get behind enemies. Even in a room where the guards are after you, it’s possible to simply lift them up and dump them into the alternate time period. And, if all else fails, you can always catch their bullets out of the air and throw them right back.
Gemini’s hook seems to be that combination of powers and a physics playground that allows players to invent clever ways of dispatching their enemies. With Phosphor being made up of ex-Midway devs, some of which even worked on Psi-Ops, it’s hard to avoid the comparison. But in a more modern context Gemini feels a bit like Dishonored, with players empowered to go head-to-head with enemies if they can combine their skills effectively, or to take the stealth approach and slowly sneak around them.
My main concern is whether Gemini will offer up enough versatility and variety in its combat playgrounds to keep things interesting for “around 6 hours” of gameplay. In my demo I got a taste of that potential with heavy enemies that subvert some of Cassandra’s powers. For example, one paramilitary enemy isn’t affected by her time-slow ability, unless you can get behind him and remove his backpack. That said, in everything I saw of the game, Cassandra was almost always ultimately grabbing boxes and desks and office chairs, charging up her TK ability, and letting loose on a guard’s face until they were out cold. It was fun when I did it myself, but I have some concerns about whether the combat loop will hold up to multi-hour sessions.
It really comes down to how Gemini blends combat with exploration and storytelling, and in that respect what I saw was promising, if not mind-blowing. The facility where the game takes place has some cool attention to detail. There is some considered environment design between the two time periods, with recognizable landmarks from the past believably torn down in the future. Then there’s the little AI behaviors, like the way guards will try to shoot at you when lift them into the air, desperately reaching around if you grab them from behind. Phosphor wanted even more attention to detail, like confused AI behavior when you bring them into the other time period, but with a team of “around 23 guys making two games at the same time,” they couldn’t pack it all in.
Of course there’s also the Heroes references. The whole underground facility concept seems to fit well with Heroes Reborn’s first season aesthetic, and the game is also full of little easter eggs from the new show and past seasons. While I get the distinct impression that Gemini is forging its own path, there should be some fun things for fans to sink their teeth into.
Set for release on consoles and PC for $14.99 on January 12th, Gemini: Heroes Reborn isn’t asking for a huge investment for fans to play what looks to be a solid physics combat game. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, Gemini is far more involved and polished than anything I would have expected out of a licensed Heroes Reborn game. It’s the players coming from bigger budget games like Portal, Bioshock, and Dishonored looking for something similar where I place some of my concern. My first impression is that Gemini isn’t as good of a puzzle game, combat game, or stealth game, respectively, as any of those examples — but perhaps that blend, in a smaller package, could end up being more than enough for this little game to shine.