May 19, 2010

The team behind past DS titles like Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory have brought another “interactive novel” to the handheld, this time with a modern crime theme. Like Hotel Dusk, Again has you hold the DS sideways like a book, with the touch screen providing text interfaces while the other screen shows you character reactions and other scenery. The presentaion is very similar to CING’s previous work, and although Again uses actual photographs of actors rather than Hotel Dusk‘s sketch-like portraits, the overall effect is pretty much the same.

In Again, you take on the role of FBI Special Agent Jonathan “J” Weaver as he and his partner Kate Hathaway reopen the unsolved “Providence” killings that took place 19 years ago — and which are now seemingly happening once more. J’s family were the final victims of the original killer, and he receives a mysterious letter telling him to “go back to where it all began” shortly before the new murders begin. Shortly after entering the scene of the original murder, J experiences a vision of the same scene 19 years ago, which is the main focus of the actual gameplay in this title.

When experiencing a vision, the touch screen represents the present day, which J can explore; the past is displayed on the other screen at the same time. When J discovers a significant difference he can focus on it to gain further insight, but if he focuses on the wrong aspects it drains some of his strength; too many of these misses are the only way to earn a Game Over (that I discovered, at any rate), although his strength returns to full at the beginning of each new day. Oddly, this mechanic has more in common with the Konami game Time Hollow than with CING’s other titles, which are more traditional puzzle-adventures. There are a few puzzles in Again, but mostly it’s just a 3D version of “spot the differences.” As J matches the present to the past, he eventually pieces together a vision of what went down nearly 20 years ago. The idea is that by figuring out the original murders, the identity of the “Providence” killer can be determined before he — or a copycat — can recreate the entire spree in the present.

The rest of the gameplay is J and Kate driving all over town and asking various questions to witnesses, local law enforcement, and other notable characters involved in both cases. There aren’t a lot of branches in these dialogue trees, and answering incorrectly at the very few times it is possible to do so earns you nothing more than a “that’s not right…” from Kate and the opportunity to submit the correct answer. You rarely even need to use your inventory, despite having the ability to show all kinds of photos and case files at your disposal. It’s really kind of boring, gameplay-wise, although at least the narrative is interesting enough to hold your attention. 

And that’s all there is to it, frankly. Outside of the few past visions there isn’t a hell of a lot to do other than read. One could argue that a game billing itself as an “interactive novel” is supposed to have lots of text, but I felt that Hotel Dusk had much more of the “interactive” part than Again, which made for a better game overall . I blew through Again in a single day (~10 hours of play) mostly because I was engaged in the plot. Sadly, I thought that the resolution kind of fell apart towards the end, as the motive for the present-day killings seemed awkward, and the identity of the killer should become obvious to the player well before J and Kate put everything together. Discovering the truth behind the past killings was much more interesting, with the intersection of the two sprees  feeling a little forced but not entirely unreasonable.

In the end, the lack of interaction and decent puzzles is what keeps Again from reaching the heights of its noir-inspired predecessor Hotel Dusk. It’s worth a look if you’re not opposed to more reading than usual, and I’d put it roughly on par with the similarly-themed Time Hollow.

Plays like: Hotel Dusk without as many puzzles (or as solid characters).

Pros: Decent enough story, fairly original concept

Cons: Too much “novel,” not nearly enough “interactive”.


Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.