|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Cing||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Tecmo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 30, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
Usually when I have the opportunity to review a noir-ish detective mystery, I jump at the chance, if only for the lack of genre entries on just about any console system, past or present. Again's reputation, or rather that of its developer, Cinq, also precedes itself, with previous forays into the niche "interactive detective novel" genre that's made its home almost exclusively on the DS over the past several years. In any case, I've been a fan of Cinq's work since playing their beautifully stylized Hotel Dusk (it's criminal that the game's sequel, Lost Window, probably won't be making a trip stateside), and even with its more realistic art style, Again had the potential to be an interesting prospect.
Sadly, Again is, first and foremost, not noir, but more of a standard police procedural with a little bit of psychic 'flair' thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure when people started confusing the conventions of noir mysteries-namely stylized presentation and aesthetic coupled with certain genre elements and (usually) heightened period dialogue-with standard police drama, but these days it seems like almost anything that has to do with murder, criminal investigations, or crime solving is often incorrectly relegated to that specific generic definition. Hell, even Hotel Dusk wasn't entirely noir, though its stylized approach was much appreciated. Needless to say, upon learning that Again was an effort far-flung from actual noir, I was a bit disappointed.
This became apparent fairly quickly when I started playing the game. The protagonist, FBI agent Jonathan Weaver (or J, as almost everyone in the game calls him) certainly looks the part of a noir lead, affecting a style very similar to Hotel Dusk's own Kyle Hyde, but with the key difference that J is played by a real actor with a Photoshop sketch filter applied over his image. The game's voice over narration is a good start, but soon it's replaced by regular, everyday dialogue. Lots of it. In this regard, Again is pretty similar to Hotel Dusk; however, the writing here is often stilted or dry, and try as they might, Cinq wasn't able to really make the game's characters very interesting (the live-action actors don't help matters). God knows why they decided to go with this particularly outdated approach, but it doesn't help the game's credibility much.
Although it has your typical crime show twists, Again's plot is pretty pedestrian. The game revolves around a series of seemingly copycat murders that mimic those of a serial killer, Providence, who committed a string of killings in the same town, 19 years prior. Shortly after the start of the game, J and his partner, Kate Hathaway, reopen the unsolved Providence Killings in order to bring Providence, or whoever is committing the murders, to justice. The game's slight supernatural twist comes from J's psychic power-a newfound, innate ability to view the past wherever crimes have been committed. From a design standpoint, this is an interesting idea, and Cinq makes good use of the DS's dual screens to simultaneously give you a first-person view of past and present, provided you're at a crime scene.
Again likes to shoot itself in the foot, however, and this part of the game proves no exception. As new murders occur, J goes to each old crime scene in order to try and piece together what really happened there 19 years ago. But to do so, he has to stage the scene in the present so that it looks like the past, according to J's vision of it (the idea is a little ridiculous, but I guess Cinq had to drag out some gameplay somehow). Regardless, if the crime scene in J's mind has a knocked over lamp or a discarded cigarette on the ground, so too must the present scene.