Hands-on: Again

CING's Again (once known as Again: Eye of Providence) is just the latest in a surprising bumper crop of DS mystery adventure games, joining peers like the Phoenix Wright series, Jake Hunter, Miami Law, and the developer's own Hotel Dusk. The Tecmo-published Again brings a couple of unique quirks to the genre, while not straying too far from the sort of "visual novel" gameplay we've come to expect from these titles.

Again stars a pair of FBI investigators, Jonathan "J" Weaver and Kate Hathaway, as they investigate an apparent serial killer. The murders they are looking into happen to share characteristics with an unsolved serial killer case from 19 years ago, with which J was also involved -- as seen in subtle clues like the note written to J telling him that what happened 19 years ago is going to happen again. Most law enforcement officials would probably call an agent's personal involvement in a case a conflict of interest -- CING would call it drama.
%Gallery-79767% All of the characters in Again, from the gruff local police chief to the obsequious but genuinely helpful reporter, are played by real people, digitized for that mid-'90s/Mortal Kombat look, though with thick outlines and accents of the pencil sketch effect used in Hotel Dusk. Whenever someone speaks, it's preceded by roughly three frames of animation in which they emote -- smiling, shaking their heads, furrowing their brows, etc. Let's just say that even from these split-second gestures, it's not hard to evaluate the actors' skills.

The digitized graphics are one of the game's distinguishing gimmicks. The other is that, in certain segments, J is able to see the past and the present simultaneously. In the early portion of the game, this involves a hotel room that is the scene of a previous murder. Upon seeing the Eye of Providence, the cutout pyramid emblem from a dollar bill that serves as the "Providence Killer's" trademark, J is struck by a headache and then experiences double vision. For us, that means that the left screen (the DS is held "book-style" for this game, like Brain Age) displays the past in sepia tone, and the right screen displays the present, both in first-person 3D. You then navigate through the room, tapping on items that show a discrepancy between the present and the past.

In the first pass through the room, J merely identifies differences between the present and past by tapping on them, which triggers a short "vision" of past events. He can "focus" on elements of the room by holding the stylus on them -- but if they're incorrectly identified as different, a life bar decrements (like objecting to the wrong statement in Phoenix Wright). Later, after several hours of interviews and investigation, J returns and has to recreate the look of the hotel room before, replacing furniture and trash that had been moved to make the room seem just as it was -- which, again (again!) triggers flashes of past events. And then, once he's got the room just so, the game asks you to put the events in the order in which they occurred.

These "past vision" segments are few and far between, at least in the first two "days" of game time. The vast majority of the time is spent going from location to location, talking to people like your basic adventure game. In other words, the "past vision" gimmick isn't going to be the focus of the gameplay, but rather an interesting break from all the dialogue.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.