Again ReviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Apr 07, 2010
CiNG, the team behind cult hit Hotel Dusk, return with another murder mystery, but this one's an interactive crime novel better left on the shelf.
- Sleek aesthetic evokes prime-time crime dramas
- The past-present crime-solving mechanic is fun when it works intuitively
- Crime-solving usually feels clunky, dull, and unnecessarily convoluted
- Dialogue and plot are bland
- "Book-style" DS experience is far better executed elsewhere
Developer CiNG carved out a nice niche for itself before folding under bankruptcy a few months back. Cult hits such as Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 tapped into a completely different handheld experience than most were accustomed to playing on DS. The development team’s efforts have become synonymous with “book-style” DS games that forced you to play with your system turned sideways. The team’s latest project, Again, is one of the team’s final projects, and could very well be the last game of theirs to hit the US. While it offers many of the ideas and concepts that made games like Hotel Dusk so attractive, it falls far shorter in execution.
Like those other games, Again is an adventure game that plays out like a crime novel. You play as Jonathan “J” Weaver, an FBI agent who discovers that he has (or is it that he suffers from?) clairvoyant abilities to that allow him to simultaneously see past and present crimes. J and his partner Kate are in search of Providence, a serial killer who went on a short but brutal murder spree 19 years prior. Providence’s calling card was a cut-out Eye of Providence from dollar bills, which he was left at each murder scene. Nearly two decades later, a similar strain of murders -- seemingly directed at J -- are striking the city, which somehow is connected to his past., and they’re connected to the past.
Previously On Again…
Similar to Hotel Dusk, Again uses a stylized aesthetic to portray its crime-fighters. Though CiNG’s previous hit used pencil-drawn animation a la A-Ha’s “Take on Me” video to depict its noir-inspired world, Again uses real actors to provide a sense of TV-crime drama realism. Although it doesn’t always work -- characters have a limited number of stock animated gestures and the camera pans back and forth between them in a highly jarring fashion -- it gives the game a visual sense of CSI-esque urgency. Factor in a TV-stylelike recaps and five-secondbrief cinematic sequences in between chapters (or when re-loading a save file), and it begins to s best moments feel like you’re participating in a detective show.
Without spoiling the plot too much, each of Providence’s crime scenes is structured like a stage. As you discover the events of the past, a connection to the successive murder opens up. J’s psychic abilities are the main hook of Again. Once you’ve finished questioning witnesses and victims’ family members, you enter the location of the crime -- usually conveniently preserved since 1991 -- and through careful deduction, piece together the killing as it occurred. Mechanically, the deduction splits the action into the past (left screen) and present (right screen). Your mission is to scan the latter-day scene for psychic links to the old-time locale. It’s a unique idea in theory, and starts off with plenty of promise.
Psychic Powers Couldn’t See This Coming
Unfortunately, it becomes the root of Again’s issues. When crime investigations work well, they flow together in a relatively intriguing fashion that evokes the thrills of other great DS adventure games. But more often than not, I wandered the murder scene scanning for related clues, and the mechanics failed me more frequently than they aided. J can search a room, but if he mis-scans five items, he dies. While the game is lenient in allowing you to restart if you kill him, you’ll probably murder him more often than you’ll successfully execute a clue-unlocking puzzle.
The camera and movement around the 3D space feels clunky and unnecessarily complicated to maneuver. Although many handheld games in the adventure genre have the quirk of shoehorning you into solving a mystery on their terms (see: Ace Attorney), Again exacerbates those quirks to the point that it devolves into a bland exercise in “match the objects” at best and dysfunctional gameplay at worst. If the supporting experience were was stronger, it would make these troubling moments more tolerable. But as it stands, Again’s crime scenes are wildly uneven, which is a shame, since it’s the anchor of the experience.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game fails to prop up Again’s weak hook. Whether it can be attributed to bad localization or the original Japanese plot is being truly tepid, the game’s dialogue is dull as dishwater and does little to engage the player past an early eyebrow-raising plot revelation. The story progresses, but doesn't grip with nearly the level of tenacity seen in CiNG's prior games. When a genre that's known for slow burns delivers a game with all of the heat of rubbing two sticks together, there's a real issue. Despite the initially appealing aesthetic of the game, Again wears out its welcome within a few hours of play, and honestly, there’s little that’s engaging enough to bring you back to it.
After CiNG’s strong efforts in the genre, it’s sad to see that a game with the potential to deliver another distinctive handheld experience would flounder so much. While Again's sleek prime-time crime drama aesthetic is appealing and, the initial crime investigation moments show off potential, and an early plot twist show off lots of initially grand potential, the game goes on to squander it with dull dialogue that never picks up, choppy pacing, and misfiring mechanics. In this case, the shortcomings far outpace the best attributes of the experience. After several years of great adventure games on the DS, it’s truly shameful to see Again fall so short of great possibilities.