Gemini: Heroes Reborn comes at an odd time, Heroes Reborn is bringing the curtain down on its 13 episode run and is seemingly cancelled, as NBC move to make it clear it was only ever intended as an event series. It also arrives on the back of developers Phosphor's failed Kickstarter for a game called Awakening that showed off super-powered humans who would not have looked out of place in the Heroes universe.
By all indications, Gemini: Heroes Reborn could have been an absolute disaster - in fact, some would expect it to be. However, Phosphor have delivered a game that packs a lot into it's roughly five-hour playing time and is not the catastrophe one would expect from a budget TV tie in. They've doubled down on the technical showcase they previously created with Unreal Engine 4, as well. There aren't too many stand out games using UE4 on Xbox One, so it's nice to see a developer demonstrating how the engine can be used.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn doesn't have you playing as any of the series mainstays. Instead, you assume the role of Cassandra, an everyday college student who embarks on a journey to find her lost family in an old abandoned facility. The game's opening has a distinctly horror-like feel to it as Cassandra and her best friend Alex creep into the facility. Things slowly turn from bad to worse when the place turns out to be very much manned and Alex is taken captive. Cassandra herself is thrown back through time to 2008 when the facility was still fully up and running.
After an initial tutorial, the game quickly introduces you to an array of powers which are introduced at breakneck speed. The first of these is Time Scout, which allows you to see events occurring in the opposite timezone. It's through this mechanic that the player realizes that they've been hurtled back through time, but are still able to track where Alex is being taken to in the modern day. Time Scout gives you a neat insight into what's occuring in both areas and no sooner have you got to grips with this, but Time Shift is introduced - an ability that allows Cassandra to actively jump between the two periods of time.
These two abilities open up a great loop of working your way through an environment, reaching a dead end, and then being able to shift to - for example - when some rubble didn't exist, or a locked door wasn't there. It also adds a nice stealth element to combat, since you can scout out an area and shift to catch a guard by surprise and even carry items from one time to the other to use as makeshift weapons. The game's best puzzles (which are unfortunately few and far between) centre around clever manipulation of items from the past and present, coupled with slowing down time to get through - again, for example - an automatic door that has no electricity.
A downside to the rapid procurement of powers is that it's detrimental to Cassandra's arc as a character. It is somewhat unbelievable that no sooner has she been thrust back through time and acquired two powers, she's then injecting herself with a third because it suits the game and she needs a third power to help her kill an enemy guard. Cassandra kills with no emotion at all, either, other than saying "Okay, this...is extremely useful" when using her new powers for the first time.
As previously mentioned, the game's best puzzles are few and far between and unfortunately the game does somewhat limit your time travel shenanigans in a frustrating manner. Players can only jump between areas that exist within both timezones. Sometimes, areas in the present day just don't exist in the past and rooms that were previously there have been replaced by copious amounts of rubble. This leads to a more-frustrating-than-it-needs-to-be middle section, where you're having to constantly find keys. Sometimes, they're just on a table, while other times you kill an enemy and are just told you have now acquired a key. This tends to mean an endless slog of combat in uninteresting areas where there's little scope for a creative approach. There are sections that allow for clever use of the environment, but there just aren't enough of these. While the game rightfully allows you to pick up fallen foe's weapons, a late game power up effectively takes the role of gun and feels like a wild misstep. There are clear comparisons to be drawn with the plasmids of the Bioshock games and even the teleportations found in something like Portal, but despite there being fun to be had, the game doesn't come close to hitting the highs of either of those titles.
It would be remiss to not mention some of the game's technical faults. Whilst Gemini undoubtedly looks great - especially considering it's a budget Unreal Engine 4 game and not a multi-million dollar AAA release - it does have some technical flaws. Upon loading into each of the game's chapters, there's a large amount of texture and asset pop in. Walls will be bland and entire structures may just be outright missing. This also occurs upon a reload following a death and can really take you out of the experience, as everything looks ugly. Some of the animation is also not great, with some of the work being extremely janky. In terms of other issues, the game prevents progression early on during the tutorial as when instructed to look up at the moon with the right stick, no amount of looking at it from any conceivable angle seems to allow things to continue until the game just decides that you can. A similar issue arose later in the game during our playthrough, when an enemy seemingly couldn't see Cassandra stood in front of them and no amount of moving around would reset the character pathfinding to help us complete the task.
The lack of actual Heroes content in Gemini: Heroes Reborn can be taken two ways. It's not caught up in the increasingly complicated timelines of the franchise and aside from a few collectibles and a one line mention of a plot point, there isn't enough to keep fans hooked solely on their love for the show. It does manage to pack a lot of surprises into a short game with its interesting mix of powers but excellence is prevented as it gets bogged down in not allowing its own mechanics to properly flourish.