What a conveniently good time to suddenly develop super powers.
I must confess, I’m not a major fan of the TV show Heroes. In fact, even though I watched the original series, I can’t really remember much about it other than there were sudden John Q. Public heroes and villains, a slew of actors that I enjoyed from other, better TV series (Kristen Bell, I love you… CALL ME), and you had to save the cheerleader to save the world. Well, that’s not entirely true. I also remember enjoying the first season. So much so that I even bought it on the now defunct HD-DVD format. Yes, I backed it. There’s no shame in that (right?). So when NBC announced the sequel series, I thought it odd that they’d try to piggy-back off the success of 24: Live Another Day, especially with a series that fizzled out so damn quickly, and that I wouldn’t even bother. And I haven’t. I know almost nothing about what the show has done and I don’t really intend for that to change any time soon. However, that won’t stop me from playing a game set in the same universe that somehow ties into the show. You never know, maybe it will spark some interest again.
In the game you play as college student Cassandra, who is searching for answers on what happened to her family. As you’d expect, this kind of grass roots espionage requires a close friend’s assistance, and this is where Alex comes in. He’s done most of the legwork and has set you guys up for a pretty easy day to get what you’re looking for. Well, that is until you actually get there and, shocker, your day just got a whole hell of a lot harder. It’s at this point where Alex gets captured and you not only still want the answers you came for, but also need to rescue your friend. If only your university had a course for this kind of thing. Well, lucky for her, this is where her past comes in handy. Cassie suddenly awakens her time travel ability and that is a major coup, because it’s exactly what she needs to save the day and get what she’s been searching for. 2 birds, 1 stone. More on that in a bit.
I’ve got to give credit where it’s due and that starts with this game’s HUD. Right from the start Alex hooks you up with some nifty smart glasses and initially I thought this was pretty cool. That thought lasted the whole game. I really enjoyed the way it wove that simple device into the way text came on screen for character interactions, health, which time period you were in, and way points. It even cleverly used the battery life to indicate just how much more game you had left to expect. Some games have HUDs that get annoying over time, having to stare at the same thing over and over throughout a game, being too cluttered, etc., sometimes making you ignore something you probably shouldn’t in an effort to enjoy what you’re doing, but I never felt this here. It’s easy on the eyes and made sense story-wise. Good HUDs rarely get applauded, so I appreciate the effort that went into this one.
Graphically this game isn’t going to melt your face off, but it isn’t ugly, either. It’s running on Unreal 4 and you can see it in the particle effects and powers moments. The environments are decent enough, but overall the locations just felt underwhelming. The tight corridors, hidden access points, and secret underground facility tropes were all there. If you’re looking for innovation in this area, you’re looking in the wrong place. For what this game is, it doesn’t really hurt the experience. That said, it doesn’t make it shine, either. And being as this is a video game, the graphical glitches are not something this game is immune to. You can fall through the world. When I heard there was on the fly time travel this was my concern immediately. How often would this happen? Luckily for me, it only happened once. I teleported and suddenly there I was, free falling into a world encompassing black void, watching my way point distance tick higher and higher. I let it get to about 5000+m before I finally decided to give up on seeing how far down I could fall. Luckily again, the checkpoint system is pretty player friendly. I didn’t have too far to go to get back to where I was. Kudos for that as well. The same thing goes for getting stuck in or on a wall. Only happened once, albeit no time travel caused it. Just your typical jump on something and get stuck between that and the wall scenario. Reload checkpoint and be pretty much right back to it. Thumbs up. Sometimes the powers physics could get a little wonky, but overall, everything on that end worked pretty well. There were other small things that happened, but, nothing ever really ruined what was going on, so, I’ll leave those out. It’s the typical gaming stuff you’d expect. The frame rate, whether locked at 30 or 60 isn’t going to win any awards. I played various parts of the game in both states, and randomly, whether something was going on or not, there’d be some noticeable drops, but honestly, unless you’re crazy anal about that (and believe me, some people can get crazy insane over this issue – I don’t), it never got in the way of what I was doing and it never detracted from any fun I was having. Of course, if you do play on PC, I’m guessing what you’re running will either help or hurt you, but for what I have to work with here, it’s well above average (the game defaulted to max settings upon boot up). I’m only talking about it because people seem to care so deeply now. Personally, unless the frame rate actually breaks the game, I don’t really feel like it deserves more than a mention, and even that sometimes is too much, but, it’s on PC, so, now you have your moment, Master Race guys. And the game never locked up or crashed, so, take that for what you will.
The sounds of the game are a mixed bag. The game’s writing does its job. It conveys the story and gives you everything you need to know what’s going on. Some lines fall flat and feel out of place or odd, but there’s nothing here that’s done that brings it anywhere other than the middle of the road. The voice acting for the most part is actually pretty decent, especially from Cassie. Again, some lines fall flat, whether it be due to the acting itself or just because the line itself doesn’t lend itself to be voiced brilliantly, I don’t know, but overall, you’ve got above average acting for most of the game, especially at the beginning. The music is mostly forgettable, ambient sounds and musical undertones throughout. The sound effects are exactly what you’d expect. Nothing outstanding, but they don’t need to be. They work for what they are there for. One thing I didn’t like was the ambient sounds not changing when swapping time periods. If a distant animal or the wind was making noise in 2014 throughout a destroyed building and you took that split second to travel to 2008 where the building is intact and occupied, the sound file never changed, never even skipped a beat. That wolf must have traveled with you. It’s a nitpick, for sure, and I’m definitely known for that, but it’s still something that exists. It’s not necessarily very jarring and it doesn’t hurt what’s going on in any meaningful way, but if you’re even slightly paying attention, you’ll notice it every time. And since time travel is the crux of the game, it happens – every time.
So now let’s get into what you really care about here – what kind of super powers do we have and how does the game play? Well, on top of the ability to time jump from 2014 to 2008 (only to one specific day), you eventually end up with the ability to slow down time, scout out the other time period through a window without having to put yourself in an unstable situation, telekinesis, and a telekinesis projectile. They all work well, which is a good thing, because in a game that is kind of like Portal meets Dying Light (for the limited platforming – I never played Mirror’s Edge, so I can’t assume that’s a better comparison) meets Psi-Ops (sans guns – remember Psi-Ops? Man, that was a fun game…), you need them to work well, and in this game, you also need to combine them. You can use your telekinesis to stop bullets. You can Tele-grab an object and Time Jump to use it there. You can (and should) Time Slow and use your Telekinesis to redirect the bullets at the enemy. There’s plenty to get a hang of and once you do, it feels really good. I had a lot of fun unleashing the arsenal that Cassie is afforded. When you Time Slow, you can (essentially) speed through an area and with that also comes a super jump, which you’ll definitely need to master at certain points of the game, and when I did, I felt accomplished and satisfied upon landing. It was fun to do. Time Slow is also a good mechanic to get around firefights. Stealth is your friend in this game – to a point. Eventually most situations will require you to take out the enemies to progress. But, if you mess up and get caught and end up in a hail of gunfire with no gun for yourself, Time Slow will allow you to get out of Dodge quickly to regroup. It also has the added affect of getting enemies to briefly lose you even if you’re standing right in front of them. That’s helpful, because even though your powers have a stamina bar, they regenerate pretty quickly, so that second of enemy confusion is just enough time to be able to recoup some TK power or even Scout for a location to Jump to the other side for a breather. And you’ll be using Time Scout a lot. It’s not only the basis for most puzzles, but as I said, it’s helpful in battle as well. You not only grab items and Jump with them, but you can do the same with enemies, too. Very helpful to divide and conquer should that be your strategy. I did have a gripe with doing that, though. Enemies never flinched after Jumping. They never acknowledged what happened in the slightest, and, while I know that is a little bit of a nitpick, it does get very noticeable when you Jump a couple times to have one (or 3 in my case) end up locked away in a cell, not breaking stride in standing there shooting at you into bulletproof glass.
Another issue I had was with the first person jumping/climbing sections. While not terribly frustrating, there were times where Cassie just didn’t do what needed to be done, even if you were doing what needed to be done. I know, this isn’t a game like Dying Light where parkour was a major part of the game, and thankfully, these sections aren’t all over the place, but in the parts of the game that focused on the jumping, sometimes it was a chore to get where you needed to go. I think a little more attention to this aspect was needed, but as it stands, it at least works.
I don’t mind telling you how much of a blast I had with using Cassie’s powers, and in this game, you HAVE to use them. Constantly. So it’s a really good thing they’re fun to use. Just like any game, doing the same thing over and over again can get repetitive, and this one is no different. The game is repetitive. However, I never got to a point where I felt burnt out. Time Slow was in major rotation, even if I didn’t absolutely need to use it. Maybe it’s the Max Payne fan in me, maybe it’s the fact I love to take my time with everything, maybe it’s Maybelline. I don’t know and I didn’t care. Slowing down time while using Telekinesis to grab a barrel, throw it at a dude’s face, then off the rebound grabbing it in mid air to toss it right back at said dude’s face plate was never not fun. It sustained, and I don’t know about you, but in my book, that’s a positive. Another positive is using the environment to kill enemies. In certain areas there are fans, or electrical boxes, ledges, etc., that you can use to eliminate foes, and every time, again, it was fun. Which is a word I keep finding myself coming back to when I think about the time I spent here. I had fun.
This game was not created with a major cinematic vibe like The Last of Us, Metal Gear, and some others are. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean this doesn’t have elements to that, it just doesn’t make it the emphasis. It’s a game first, at it’s core. Puzzles and almost arcade-like FPS action sequences throughout. I won’t get too much into the story other than to say that it’s pretty unremarkable. It’s very cliched and predictable, and if you’e paying attention at all in the first few minutes you can probably figure out some major story beats long before they happen. The way you get your powers is layered with the story, so progression is there for that. There is crossover with Heroes: Reborn proper, but depending on your involvement in that show, you may or may not be disappointed. It’s hard for me to say not having seen it. What we get is 16 chapters in what I can assume is a prequel lead in to the show, but, I may be off not having any context. As an outsider, that kind of stuff was just there. Nods to the original show are littered throughout, mostly through collectibles. You’ll have to decide if that’s something worth exploring on your own. I’m always a fan of that kind of stuff, and if you are as well, keep an eye out. Just don’t be too upset if you’re underwhelmed by what you find. Most of what you get from the story and collectibles is forgettable. One bit of praise I’ll give this area is that you’re never lost. The game, whether in story moments or in-game direction, never makes you confused to what you need to do. I doubt you’ll need a guide for anything but collecting things here.
At $15 for a 3-5 hour experience, only you can truly judge whether that’s too high a price for what the package offers. I think it’s a little too high, but, I’m not oblivious to the ins and outs of what goes into pricing these days. If you go into the game with the right expectations, have an idea of the value your dollar wields in regards to download-only games, put on the right mindset, and enjoy just farting around from A to B with time-based super powers, you’ll likely end up having a brief, but good time, especially if you’re looking for a smaller, lower budget game to cleanse your pallet after you’ve just run through a few big budget, open world, and/or AAA games. You’ll probably get more mileage out of it if you’re a major fan of the Heroes universe and enjoy collecting things to search out for those Easter eggs, too. How much? Well, I can’t rightly say, but it’s certainly more than a non-fan. The bottom line here is there are plenty of shortcomings and middle of the road game play executions, but, I still had fun, and isn’t that what really matters? Plus, I killed a guy by throwing a Port-a-Potty at him in slow-mo. I can’t really ask for much more than that.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn is available now on Xbox One and Steam for $14.99. The PlayStation 4 version should be available soon. A Steam code was provided by the publisher for this review.