Cing, the development team behind Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk: Room 215, paved the way for interactive storytelling on the DS with the aid of a publishing deal with Nintendo. Hotel Dusk in particular gained a cult following for its intriguing storyline and attractive hand-drawn art style. Unfortunately Again, published by Tecmo, offers neither.
In Cing’s latest outing we learn about a string of unsolved murders that took place in the small East Coast town of Clockford 19 years ago. The only common thread among each crime scene is an “Eye of Providence” clipped from dollar bills left next to each of the bodies. In present-day Clockford, a similar string of Providence murders start to make headlines, and it’s up to you to point and click your way through hours of boring text and uninspired puzzles to close the case.
FBI special agent Jonathan “J” Weaver is tasked to find a connection between past and present Providence murders. This requires interviews with a variety of sources including other investigators and witnesses, which results in 15 hours of reading with the occasional puzzle break. Again is pegged as an “Interactive Crime Novel,” thus loads of dialogue is expected. However, this title is far from a literary masterpiece. It’s just one huge snoozefest that can only be consumed in small doses. To add insult to injury, exchanges between characters are depicted by photographed actors performing live action poses to convey emotions that can be both humorous and jarring. During these conversations you’re less likely to pay attention to the plot and more likely to wonder who was responsible for casting.
After hours of dialogue players are presented with access to a crime scene for investigation. Weaver has the inexplicable ability to see the past and present simultaneously during puzzle sequences, which is where the DS tech comes in. The DS is held vertically like a book, which presents a mirror image of the past and present on the left and right screen. Your main task is to tediously examine both images and figure out what subtle changes took place since the crime occurred in order to recreate the past scene in the present. Sometimes the solution is obvious (knock over a chair to match the crime scene in the past), other times it takes a closer look (figure out which keys need to be played on a piano with the help of surrounding photos to unveil a safe), and most of the time it’s just hit-or-miss. In some situations you may overlook a key item altogether such as a small key or old cigarette because it blends with the background all too well. Solving a puzzle in Again is like finding a needle in a haystack, if the haystack were blurry and pixilated.
As Again progressed I hoped the bland dialogue and puzzles would lead to some huge twist and grand finale as a reward for patience. Far from it. In fact, the conclusion to Again’s unusual crime tale was made painfully obvious halfway through. Cing’s latest blend of game and novel could’ve been an intriguing “whodunit” if streamlined into a more digestible package. Instead, the glacial pace of weak plot development and the few poke-around puzzles in between left much to be desired.