It’s not often that I want to finish a game rather than having to finish it for purposes of writing a review, but Again turned out to be that rare exception.
Again is being marketed as an ‘interactive crime novel’ and was developed by Cing Inc., a small, independent development company from Fukuoka, Japan that previously released the excellent Hotel Dusk Room 215 and Trace Memory. That’s the good news; the bad news is that shortly before the North American release of Again, Cing Inc. filed for bankruptcy (though Last Window, a sequel to Hotel Dusk, was released in Japan in early 2010 and will hopefully be translated for release in North America).
Again is about the return of Providence, a killer who leaves an Eye of Providence cut from a dollar bill next to each of his victims. It has been nineteen years since his last known murder, so it is not yet know if the new victims have been targeted by the real Providence or a copy-cat killer. This is where you, FBI Agent Jonathan Weaver (nicknamed J.) and his partner Kate Hathaway, enter the case.
Actual gameplay is pretty simple through the use of an Action Selection screen from where you can make phone calls, check inventory items and case files, reread previous conversations, travel to new locations and save your game.
The left, non-interactive screen is used to show the people you are speaking to – and there is an impressively large cast – and when past events are referenced they appear either as a sepia-tone or a ghostly full-motion-video. And as past events are really the focus of the game, it is important that these segments shine, and they do.
The gimmick of the game is that Jonathan has the special ability of ‘Past Vision’ which allows him to see rooms from the past as they actually appeared during a crime (why and how he has this ability I’m not telling as it is one of the neat plot twists, but for some asinine reason the publishers reveal the twist in one of the trailers for the game). So on the left screen will be a room as it looked nineteen years ago in sepia-tone, while the right screen will show the room as it looks today. Basically, you must spot the differences between the rooms and then make the present day scene duplicate the past vision. For example, if a lamp has been knocked to the floor on the left screen, then you must knock the lamp on the right screen to the floor. Once you have recreated the entire crime scene, you can then watch a spooky-looking full-motion-video that details past events. The ‘Past Visions’ are done very effectively and, honestly, are the game’s selling point, especially as they increase not only in difficulty but also as a way to open new leads as the game progresses. While some may be put off by the game’s linearity which prohibits any exploration or outside-of-the-box thinking, I think it was necessary to keep the game on track and also so that none of the intensity of the ‘Past Visions’ were diluted.
The cast of characters are portrayed by real actors who appear in a stuttering full-motion-video. While none of them are particularly outstanding, the care the developers took to create such a diverse cast is appreciated. There are also quite a few inventory and logic puzzles, though it would have been much appreciated if the main character didn’t often offer puzzle solutions in his thoughts to himself. There was a nifty puzzle involving some encyclopedias that would have taken me a little longer to solve if J. hadn’t exclaimed, “Hey, when I put those books back they… (I won’t spoil it for you!). Transitions between scenes are impressive as J. strolls from the right to the left screen to slowly unfold a new location and the music, as in previous Cing games, builds upon a variation of the main melody.
There are though two major faults with the game, with the first being the actual amount of gameplay. While I did find the story interesting, there are just too many long stretches of time between the actual investigations of crime scenes. What really exacerbates this monotony though is the game’s largest fault: a profusion of monotonous, insipid dialogue that at times borders on the absurd. To make matters worse, each line of dialogue must be clicked on in order to advance to the next line of dialogue. If you have ever taken a critical writing course, then you know that the most difficult thing to write is believable dialogue. The trick is to write dialogue that sounds believable when read, but would not be believable in ‘real life.’ If dialogue were to be written exactly as it sounds in real life, it would be mundane and boring or much like this excerpt from an actual conversation between the game’s two main characters:
Kate > Any ideas?
J. > …
Kate > J.?
J. > …
Kate > …J!
J. > What?
Kate > You kinda spaced out there. You Okay?
J. > Yeah.
Kate > Hey…
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…oh sorry, fell asleep there for a moment. While there are still numerous instances of more such dialogue exchanges, they do mercifully improve in both ease of patter and intensity as the game moves forward which is important when you consider that you will be putting in anywhere between 12-14 hours of playtime to finish this adventure.
For all its faults, Again is an innovative adventure game worth playing and a sequel – which is hinted at – would be more than welcome.
Final Grade: B