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!
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.