I love losing myself in a good book. Sometimes nothing is better than reading a finely spun story and putting yourself in the shoes of the lead character while snuggled up in your favourite spot on the couch and savoring a pot of tea. Playing an interactive novel game is a real treat for bookworms, as it combines intriguing storyline with various puzzle elements and exercises your brain putting your reasoning skills to work.

Again is the second interactive novel experience from Cing Inc, who also brought Hotel Dusk to the Nintendo DS. In this story, you slip into the shoes of FBI Agent Jonathan Weaver who is investigating a string of serial murders mirroring a similar chain of events as the Providence killings from 19 years earlier. Agent Weaver has special “visions” – flashbacks of the past – which have been bringing new evidence to light as you and your partner Kate Hathaway retrace and re-investigate the original crimes.

Being an interactive novel adventure, Again is very reliant on the story-telling and dialogue. It is important that you exhaust all options in order to gain the most knowledge to help you in solving the case. Talking with one witness can unlock new text for another, which in turn might have you bothering the first witness once more. For the more interactive parts of dialogue, you will notice questions are presented in orange text and answers in white. For questioning people, select which lead you want to pursue until you have run through all of the available choices. Sometimes one set of questions will be replaced with a new one, depending on the answers received from the witness. When it comes to having Agent Weaver answer questions, you want to select the correct choice from the white text replies. If you choose the wrong answer it’s not a huge deal. After a brief comment from the person you are speaking with you can select another answer.

Once you have access to new crime scenes you will get to experience Past Visions and the Psyche Gauge. In these Past Visions, one screen of your DS turns into a past version of the room you are in. The touch screen side remains the current version of the room, and using this screen you will move about the room and compare the differences in each scene. You need to find the variances and make the present scene the same as your Past Vision. This usually entails looking for items that are out of place, searching the room for clues on opening hidden safes, maybe even just turning on a tap. The Psyche Gauge will drain if you Focus on an area or item that does not trigger a Past memory. Once you have drained the gauge, you’ll get a Game Over screen. You can Retry from this point, taking you back into the room. Just be sure to remember what you have failed to flash on so you can avoid draining too much from the meter.

There will be times when you will have to leave the crime scene without finding all of the segments needed to complete the Past Vision. Don’t be afraid to exit the area and head back out to visit witnesses in order to gain more knowledge or retrieve an item needed to recreate a memory. You will be able to return to the scene until you have uncovered all there is to know. I learned this the hard way while stuck on the second Providence murder, which stumped me for a good couple of hours. Also use some time away from the game to think about the clues or the room you are searching. Not only is it good to give your eyes a break, but stepping away can also make you see things differently when you go back. I recommend having a note pad near by so you can try to solve puzzles that aren’t as simple as others.

The only complaint I have with Again is in the “acting”. On the non-touch screen side of the DS you get to see the person who is speaking, and the cast is made of of real actors which is great. However, their movements are a series of photos mashed together in stop motion animation. My guess is for the lead characters about 15-20 poses exist, and much fewer for the lesser cast. My biggest pet peeve of all is with a blind character’s portrayal in the game. Blind people do not walk around with their eyes closed. I really wish that someone would have caught that before the game came out and had it corrected.

As I sit here and write up this review, my DS is charging as I have drained the battery a couple of times already during my quest for the truth. I’ve been sleuthing in the car, at GameStop, eating dinner, and the story has not let me down. Just when I think I might have figured something out, a new twist is thrown at me. However, as I get closer to the end of the adventure, there are things I am almost 100% sure are for certain. But like any good crime novel, I know there will be (or should be) a giant “Holy Carps!” moment sprung on me soon.

Currently I am on Day 8 of the investigation and sitting at 12 real time hours of game play. By the time this review goes live, I hope to have solved the case, which puts my estimate for the actual run time of the game somewhere around 15 hours. That of course depends on just how big of a last hurrah the game throws at me. Fifteen hours is very comparable to the time you might put into reading the latest Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson or Janet Evanovich hardcover. Add in the fact that you’ll get a little more out of Again based on the fact you actually do the detective work, and the $30 it costs to pick up Again is well worth it.

Review product was provided by Tecmo Koei, and does not affect the outcome of this review.

Reviewed for GamingAngels – Mar 30, 2010

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