Adventure Gamers Awards
In March 2010, Japanese developer Cing filed for bankruptcy. A studio that championed adventure games on consoles with releases like Another Code / Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk on the Nintendo DS, Cing has created a handful of unique, unapologetically story-centric games infused with imaginative console-specific gameplay. Their most recent localized title, and possibly their last in English, has many of the same principles as their earlier games—this time with a distinctly western slant. Again is similar to Hotel Dusk in many ways, but the premise, visuals, and gameplay feel more like a cross between CSI and Cold Case than Cing’s usual artsy style.
Again’s protagonist is Jonathan Weaver, a brooding FBI agent who goes by the look-how-cool-I-am nickname “J.” Together with his partner, a perky blonde named Kate Hathaway, J is tasked with reinvestigating a 19-year-old string of murders attributed to Providence, an unidentified serial killer who left an “Eye of Providence” (the graphic of an eye floating above a pyramid that’s featured on American dollar bills) beside each of his victims. For J, this investigation isn’t simply another day at the office; it’s personal. He has a strong connection to the original murders, and as the game opens, Providence has just contacted him to let him know that history is on the verge of repeating. Then a new murder is committed under the exact same circumstances as the first one so many years before. Now J and Kate need to figure out who the killer is—and how to stop him—before the gory killing spree happens all over again.
Each of Cing’s DS games has had distinct artwork, and Again is no exception, although at a glance it appears much more mainstream than the company’s previous titles. Like in Hotel Dusk, the characters sport thick white outlines, subtle hand-drawn hatch marks, and a handful of key expressions, but Again’s characters are portrayed by live actors. The effect is a cross between comical and creepy. Gestures are often over-the-top in a way that’s harder to forgive of a real person than an animated character, but at least they’re more expressive than the static images employed in many other DS games. The use of real actors is part of what makes this game feel much like a television show, and though their overacting can be irritating, it was a bold choice that makes the game stand out for its realism. The environments themselves are presented in 3D and are generally well rendered, considering the DS’s limitations, while the game’s gritty artwork and occasional FMV cutscenes are supplemented by stylish touches like a silhouetted J walking across the width of both screens as a new location sweeps into view.
While playing Again, you hold the DS vertically, with the top screen on the left and the touch screen on the right (if you’re right-handed; the game accommodates lefties as well). Locations are freely explored in first-person perspective using the +Control pad or buttons. The direct control navigation works pretty well, but I frequently encountered problems investigating small or awkwardly-placed items—J would say I needed to get closer to see an item, but attempting to draw closer would only result in moving it off the bottom or side of the screen. The camera can be repositioned somewhat by dragging the stylus, but the combination of controls is not always fluid.
Although J and Kate do briefly look into the new Providence murders with help from the police department, their main task is to dig into the long-unsolved cases to uncover any overlooked details that might help them identify the killer. As such, the game plays like an episode of Cold Case, with J and Kate interviewing old witnesses and visiting past crime scenes to look for new evidence. The Providence killer has eluded justice for two decades, but the FBI has a leg up this time around, thanks to J’s supernatural powers. Upon visiting a location where a crime has occurred, J sees glimpses of the past, and by manipulating crime scenes in the present to match how they once looked, he can coax out visions of what went down 19 years ago. This is the twist that makes Again more than just another CSI knock-off—and it’s a good thing, because the gameplay associated with J’s psychic abilities is by far Again’s most compelling feature.
J’s father has recollections of him “seeing” past crimes while he was growing up, but this is the FBI agent’s first real brush with his sixth sense, so the player gets to learn how it works along with him. The game’s initial scene is a tutorial that lays out the basics. During J’s visions, the past and present appear in a split screen, with the past on one screen in sepia tones and the present in full color on the other (the touch screen). You can tap the stylus on items you wish to look at and J will comment on them, sometimes tipping you off to significant areas that relate to the murder in the past.
During these segments, you must pay special attention to the differences between the past and present. For example, in one scene there’s a bloodstain on the floor in the past, but the floor has been cleaned up in the present. It stands to reason that the events leading up to the spilling of blood would be useful for J to “see” if he’s going to piece together what happened during the murder, so this is an area worthy of investigation, even though there’s nothing there in the present day. Holding down the stylus on such areas triggers J’s vision of the past, but in most cases you need to do something to the environment to mimic how it used to look before J can see what happened. This might mean using the stylus to nudge a shower curtain from its closed position to open, or taking an item from your inventory and setting it down in a strategic location. The logic doesn’t always quite work—sometimes the scene needs to be exactly like it was in the past before J’s vision will kick in, while in other cases the requirements aren’t as strict—but I quickly got the hang of what the game wanted me to do, and found these the most imaginative and intriguing gameplay segments.
The past visions are shown as grainy movies, with the faces of victims and the killer only coming into view as J pieces together the relevant details. After you have unlocked all of the visions in a particular area, you must order the events correctly so J can review the entire scene and surmise what originally happened. This part is a bit repetitive, since you’re forced to sit through the same clips a second time, but at this point J generally draws a new conclusion about the murders that moves the story forward, so watching the clips again does provide a payoff.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Again
Posted by TimovieMan on Sep 23, 2013
A great premise and some good gameplay, but story problems make this a mixed bag.
Again is very much like Cing's other games Hotel Dusk and Last Window, yet very different. You hold the DS sideways again, the dialogue system is similar, there's a recap pop quiz at the end of every chapter, moving around is similar, etc., but the animation...