Using our abilities to see the past and present at the same time, we try to solve the mystery behind the Eye of Providence.
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Again is an interactive crime novel, similar to Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory, which were also created by developer Cing. You play as FBI agent Jonathan Weaver, also known as J, who is trying to discover the identity of a serial killer known as Providence, who consistently leaves behind the "Eye of Providence" cut out from a dollar bill next to the victims. Like in other adventure games that are heavy on the reading, you'll spend a majority of your time tapping through lines of text and moving from one location to another to question witnesses, gather evidence, and, in this particular case, see into the past. We had an opportunity to play a preview build of the game and were easily engrossed by the unsolved mysteries surrounding the murder cases.
J and his new partner, Kate, have been assigned to investigate a recent murder, which has striking similarities to a series of murders that happened 19 years ago in the town of Clockford. What's even more bizarre is that a letter that was supposedly written by the killer has been sent addressed to J, reminding him of the events that happened almost two decades ago. After receiving the letter, J decides to check out the crime scene of the first murder that took place: room 315 at Hotel Miranda. On the floor of the dingy hotel room, he finds a bloody wrench and the Eye of Providence. As he picks up the cutout, J stumbles around and his vision splits, giving him a view of the hotel room in the past as well as the hotel room in the present. Because of his unique gift, which seems to be activated by the Eye of Providence, J is able to slowly piece together the events of the past by making the two rooms match one another. So he and Kate decide to reopen the investigation of the Providence murders 19 years ago in hopes of finding the killer before he or she strikes again.
From what we've played so far, trying to replicate the original crime scene is the most interactive part of the game. When you walk onto the scene, broken fragments will appear on the left screen, indicating how many pieces of the puzzle you'll have to put together. You'll be holding the DS sideways so that when you're in this vision mode, you'll see the present room on the right screen and the room from 19 years ago on the left. By investigating peculiar areas, you can learn more about the details of the crime. Using the stylus, you can tap to examine objects, and if you hold the stylus down, it's like focusing all your energy on a significant piece of evidence to see into the past. There's a penalty if you hold the stylus down on the wrong thing, so you have to choose carefully. A bar at the top of the screen indicates how many tries you have, and it is game over if you deplete it. Once you've uncovered all the pieces of the puzzle, you have to tap the events or visions in order, and the truth will be revealed.
When you're in vision mode, it's like playing a game of finding the differences between two pictures, except you have the freedom to move around in a 3D environment with the D pad and the stylus. The game does a good job of pointing you in the right direction so you're not randomly going to the list of locations that are available to try to move the story forward. There isn't much of a challenge in terms of deciding what to do next, because it's usually spelled out, but the focus seems to be on the story and watching it unfold like an episode of your favorite crime drama.
Photos of the characters and backgrounds are used to set up this interactive crime novel, and it can be somewhat amusing to see the repeated gestures that the characters use when they're conversing with one another. They show up like cardboard cutouts, and each has a fixed expression depending on the dialogue. It's an interesting look, and it's different from the usual animated graphics, but it can come across as a cheesy cop show.
One nice feature is that you can save frequently and go back and look at the dialogue's history in case you skipped over the conversation. It's a slower-paced game for those who are looking for story-driven games without too many mechanics to worry about. Even though there are a lot of details and evidence to go over, you can easily start up where you left off and jump right back into the mystery without missing a beat, because the game will bring you up to speed. It really is like reading a mystery book, except that you can make a few decisions for the characters and pretend that you have some input toward the outcome. Crime sleuths take note that Again will be released sometime in March.