Wot I Think: Gemini – Heroes Reborn

A game based on one of the most consistently ridiculous and astonishingly dreadful TV shows ever made? How could I resist? Except, huh, something weird’s going on here. Gemini: Heroes Reborn [official site] isn’t… this isn’t entirely terrible. In fact, there are some really good ideas in here – far more than in the freshly cancelled series reboot after which it’s named and themed. What a confusing situation. Here’s wot I think:

Heroes was one of the most consistently, impossibly terrible TV shows of all time. Clearly there are truly hateful programmes that have no possible merit, like Celebrity Big Brother or any number of gruesome exploitative reality shows, but that’s not the category here. Heroes was a programme with unlimited potential, stupendous amounts of money, an enormous, mostly talented cast, and season after season during which it could have fixed its endless, pitiful mistakes. It was an excruciating and extraordinary experience to watch it consistently find new ways to somehow always get worse.

There are some who will cry, “No, the first season wasn’t so bad!” This, my friends, is what happens when a terrible programme finds new depths of terrible you previously didn’t know existed – that first bunch of episodes feel so good in comparison. Heroes was never good.

It could have been! Hiro was a lovely character, Silar was for a short while a truly terrifying villain, and it was certainly interesting to watch characters like Matt and Micah coming to terms with their powers. But it always had Peter Petrelli, and bloody hell, it always had Mohinder Suresh and his bookending purple prose. Brrrrrr. Yes, it was intriguing to learn why Claire Bennet was so important, sure it was cool watching Niki take control of her life, but that first season always had sodding Isaac Mendez and his godforsaken comic book. And as it went on, it became more convoluted, more confused, and so unutterably inconsistent. The only way I could explain the alternating affiliations with good or evil for so many characters was a writing process in which each episode’s writer was only allowed to watch the “previously on” from the last. From that they had to guess where each character was, how they were aligned, and where they were going. Absolutely nothing else makes sense.

So when NBC announced the show was back after a merciful five years off air, you had to expect that at the very least, Tim Kring wouldn’t be allowed to have anything to do with it. A man who apologised not once, but twice, for how terrible his programme had become during its original run, and then only repeated the same mistakes of incoherent, inconsistent drivel instead of plotlines, surely couldn’t be allowed to run the show once more? But of course he did. And of course, OF COURSE, Heroes Reborn has been every bit as dreadful as it ever was, for all the same reasons. From a time travel arc that makes absolutely no sense in any way, to characters with god-like powers they choose to never sensibly use, to that elbow-fucking comic book still somehow being used to justify every impossible coincidence, Reborn was Afterbirth. It’s already been cancelled.

Clearly the game to go with it would be equally awful, right? Huh. Weird. No. While flawed, Gemini: Heroes Reborn is packed with good ideas – things that surely have no place in this universe!

Oh fuck off.

This is from Phosphor Games, responsible for last year’s dreadful Corpse Of Discovery, and while clumsy and artistically weak, it’s a far too clever concept for this series to deserve. Playing as a teenage girl discovering her powers while attempting to investigate her parents’ disappearance, you quickly discover you have the ability to jump through time.

Now, obviously playing the same levels in two timezones is a hoary old concept in the world of videogames, but it’s one that’s much more rarely visited in first-person action. Add to that telekinetic powers, and you’ve got yourself a mix of ideas that is immediately engaging.

Cassandra can create a bubble in front of her that allows her to see into the other timeline, or jump back and forth between the two. As she explores the ruins/pre-ruins of a Renautas (the baddies in the show) facility. Once she’s injected herself with telekinetic powers on top, she can then pick up objects and fling them about, gravity gun style, and indeed transport them through time.

Which almost immediately presented me with innovative ways to approach combat that I’ve never used in a game before. Armed guards patrol both timelines, and while you can sneak your way past them, it’s also possible to chuck office equipment at them until they forget how to breathe. I quickly discovered that if I alerted a guard, I could then leap to the other timeline, observe them through the bubble in front of me, and arrange myself so I was snuck up behind them – grab a filing cabinet or something, prep it to throw, then jump back to their time and kerblammo. What a fantastically satisfying thing.

Add in slowing down time and now you’re dodging in bullet time, while chucking objects about. Then you can telekinetically pick up enemies and drag them into danger, like pulling a guard into the spinning blades of a fan (then slowing time to pass through safely yourself). And on top of that, movement is often parkour-ish climbing, a clumsy take on Mirror’s Edge. Combine all this and gosh, blimey, this can be rather fun.

Now, it’s important to stress that this isn’t a good game. It’s repetitive, clumsy, and a corridor, albeit in two time zones. Quite how they’ve managed to make the Unreal Engine look so ghastly I cannot fathom, the whole game abysmally lit, crudely textured, and when peering through time, for some reason pixelated like early 90s FMV. The plot is achingly dull (which is wholly apposite, in its defence), and forced on you as these inane teenagers babble the same dialogue about waypoints and being stuck again and again and again and again.

The clumsiness means the run-n-jump mechanics rarely feel smooth or natural, and you’re just as likely to watch the character refuse to grab an easy ledge and fall as improbably grip distant heights. And while I maintain the time travel deserves enormous praise, the crappy presentation makes it far too difficult to see if you’re about to quantum leap yourself into a hole.

But despite it, I’m enjoying parts. I tell you, I’m absolutely loving the combat, even if the soldiers are resilient to ludicrous amounts of damage. If they’re still alive, it means I get to have another go at slowing down time as they fire and catching their bullets, then flinging them back toward them. Or sneaking up behind someone a number of years in the past, then popping out to chuck an office chair at the back of their heads.

It certainly a little concerning that this teenage girl, only moments earlier innocently sneaking about an abandoned facility in search of some information about her mum and dad, is suddenly not only okay with really brutally murdering complete strangers, but also cheering about how much fun she’s having. “Woo, this is great!” she delights, after I shoved a man I didn’t know into an exposed electricity supply, and threw another off a platform to fall to his death. Er, okay – lady – you might be a baddie.

It’s absolutely ludicrous that the game’s only arrived on PC after NBC announced they won’t be ordering any more than the initial 13 episodes – a dead duck to which to be attached. Even at £11 on Steam I find this hard to recommend buying, because the truth is it’s not a great game. But it’s the basis of one. There are lovely moments of manipulating your powers to invent new ways to attack, almost in a BioShock manner. Were it built with more skill, with a greater flow of movement and one hell of a graphical upgrade, and then given a dose of writing that wasn’t horribly reminiscent of its sister show, this could have been quite the thing. And yet, I enjoyed myself at moments, before wearying of its weaknesses toward the end. Fascinating that it came this close.

Heroes: Reborn is out now for Windows and available from Steam.

29 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    I can’t believe that it’s a coincidence that this WIT comes the same day as a HYP for Psi-Ops (made by the same team) but neither feature references this fact.

    • Otterley says:

      It was in fact inevitable. There will be (or will have been) a comic by Isaac, of course ^^

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      It’s almost like they were written by different people!

  2. int says:

    I managed, I think, 10 or 11 episodes of the Heroes series before I started ejaculating blood from all of my bodily orifices. That was the sign to stop.

  3. X_kot says:

    Hey, you take that back about Isaac! Unlike Peter or Mohinder, he didn’t take up entire episodes with plodding dialogue. He just brooded, got high, and did the heavy lifting in the foreshadowing-and-framing department.

  4. AlexClockwork says:

    You exaggerate about the first season. It WAS quite good, if not a masterpiece. I’d say the opposite of what you described happens, the memory of the first one is worsened due to the following dreadful, horrible seasons. God, what a terrible loss of potential.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      No, no and of course, no.

    • AlexW says:

      I maintain that the first half season is great, but then it starts to get increasingly dumb and worse. I want to have words with whoever wrote/choreographed the first Peter vs Sylar fight. And as Delrue mentions below, Sylar is far more interesting a villain before they take away the mystery.

      • Jalan says:

        Everything was okay right until the finale of the first two chapters (or whatever they were called). I like to pretend the show ended there, with an uneven but entertaining amount of content.

      • AlexClockwork says:

        Yeah, I must admit that, even during the first season, you could already see it start to decline. But I wouldn’t say that the first season was bad. The ending, maybe, but I found the season as a whole quite enjoyable. Everything after that is an outright disaster.

  5. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Silar is one of the worst villains ever because his super power doesn’t make any goshdarn sense whatsoever. He looks at people’s brains and then gets their powers. Such writing.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      But remember at the start, when people were found in such terrifying poses, the tops of their heads removed, and it was all bleak and weird? Gosh, he seemed so interesting then. Pre-clocks.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Oh yeah, for sure. So much of what was good in that show was all crammed into the first few episodes.

        I also think the complete 180 that secret-agent-daddy makes was just as ludicrous. He goes from souless government agent to father-of-the-year in the span of an episode.

        I have not seen it, but Chronicle is supposed to be a lot of what made Heroes good only in a 2 hour movie.

        • Vandelay says:

          I had a lot of fun with Chronicles. Nothing spectacular, but it knows what it is and does it very well. Probably didn’t need to be of the found footage genre, but it wasn’t done in too painful a way.

          Have to agree mostly with John’s assessment of Heroes (at least the first series, of which I saw all bar the final episode or two.) He is incorrect about it looking good in retrospect, as a lot of people claimed it to be great at the time, but I never found it to be anything but ponderous and tedious. A series set in what appears to be the real world with a group of people who discover they have super powers teaming up sounded like a great idea, but Heroes was just 5 or 6 origin stories all happening at different ends of the US. Everyone must know that superhero origin stories are mind-numbing now!

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          John Walker says:

          Chronicle works really well. It’s a much more interesting film than I was expecting.

        • welverin says:

          Everything that was good in heroes was done better in Rising Stars and Watchmen.

        • picollo7 says:

          Chronicle was only decent because it was a complete ripoff of the classic anime Akira.

  6. iucounu says:

    I liked season one. I did. It had lots of crap in it, yes, but also lots of good stuff. It was dumb-but-fun.

    Season two was, by contrast, agonizingly stupid, but it came mid-WGA-strike, which crippled a bunch of other dumb-but-fun shows (notably Prison Break); and I started Season 3 thinking ‘surely it will pick up now that the writers are back.’ But it became very clear that it wasn’t going to, because maybe the writing was only ever accidentally good?

    They had a real opportunity, though. A superhero comic book that is going down the pan creatively is not an unknown problem in comic books: you change the creative team and reboot it. What they could have done is hire a really, really good creative team from actual comic books and let them write it. Imagine HEROES REBORN showrun by Warren Ellis (who has had bad luck with TV pilots, but is well up to the challenge of taking something faintly cheesy and illogical and making it tick over brilliantly.) I dunno. Plenty of possibilities.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      You say that, but they air-dropped in the Crowned King of Television, Bryan Fuller, and even he couldn’t turn that mess around.

      • iucounu says:

        Blimey, I didn’t know that. Well, I love Hannibal, but… I dunno.

  7. Darth Gangrel says:

    I watched two seasons of Heroes and then either my local channel didn’t air the other ones or I missed the other seasons. Guess I didn’t miss much if what people saying here is true. Although, with tv-shows (and actually almost anything) nothing is ever true. You’re wrong if you say that water isn’t a liquid, but you can’t be proven wrong if you say that you liked a show that others loathed. Season was good, season two was worse and I disliked that they went with the whole “stuff has happened between seasons that we won’t tell you about yet, so we can pretend that stuff is mysterious”. No, that’s not “mysterious” or exciting or whatever, that just evokes a “What? Urgh, whatever” response from me.

  8. Hideous says:

    The worst piece of writing in the original Heroes happened in one of the later seasons.

    Ando had just gotten his powers, and they realized when he touched other people, he made their powers stronger.

    Hiro was stuck some 19 years in the past, with no time travel powers.

    The solution was to have Ando boost the super speedy lady into FTL speeds, so that she would go backwards in time. Yes, okay, I can accept that.

    But after they appear 19 years back in time, say hello to Hiro, the next scene suddenly has them walking into a room in the present again, with no explanation as to how they traveled forward in time again. It was absurd.

  9. VisibleMachine says:

    That kid was definitely the most annoying character though

  10. TheAngriestHobo says:

    “…while clumsy and artistically weak, it’s a far too clever concept for this series to deserve. Playing as a teenage girl discovering her powers while attempting to investigate her parents’ disappearance, you quickly discover you have the ability to jump through time.”

    Reading this paragraph, my first thought was, “That’s not clever, that’s Life is Strange.”

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      I’d be pretty okay with more games exploring the possibilities of pausing and rewinding time.

  11. bill says:

    The game sounds fun.

    I only watched the first season of heroes and thought it started great but ended a bit poorly.
    Then i was warned to stop there, so I never watched the later shows.

    It can’t have faceplanted as spectacularly as Homeland Season 2/3 though. That was a show that went from one stunning season to being horrible in one amazing season jump.

  12. Oakreef says:

    This actually sounds really cool.

  13. BB Shockwave says:

    Did they really think the TV show was good enough to warrant a game tie-in? Seriously?
    I honestly, stopped watching the show 4 episodes in. With Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Grimm around, I have better superhero/mystical shows. And the new series seems to have NOT learned a thing from where the old Heroes has gone wrong, starting off by killing characters left and right before we could even get to know them.