Hotel Dusk is still considered one of the most unique and fascinating DS games to come out in some time, so it was expected that fans would be eagerly anticipating the second outing from the same team. Again has been marred by several problems before it even released including the developer filing for bankruptcy, but still the game finally manages to make it to shelves. While Hotel Dusk managed to intrigue players with a myriad of interesting characters and superb writing Again feels like two steps backwards. The pacing is slow, the dialogue drags on and the characters are simply not that interesting. What we end up with is a disappointing end to a promising series of games that will unfortunately not likely see the light of day again.
When I first got into the game I will admit the story intrigued me. You basically follow two FBI agents as they attempt to track down a killer who is repeating crimes in the same fashion as a killer from 19 years ago. The idea is that he was never caught and thus has returned to finish his work. You play as J, and the killer has it personal for you as seen with the letter he sends you at the beginning of the game. While it may sound cookie-cutter on the surface it really does have potential to become extremely interesting once the concept takes swing. Unfortunately the pacing and ridiculous amounts of tedium quickly set in.
The first things you will notice, and become annoyed with are the dialogue sequences. Every minor quibble must be discussed between J and his partner Kate. Not to mention they are all represented by real-life people with wonky animations, but we will get to that in a minute. Every little piece of dialogue is thrown onto the screen in tiny bits so you are constantly tapping through conversations as opposed to playing. This wouldn’t be an issue if it was remotely interesting, but when you come across gems such as Kate telling J he passed out and he responds with “Damn!”, and it takes ten seconds to get through this sequence, you start to realize just how tedious the dialogue is.
The biggest problem with this concept is that Again ends up being what gamers feared Hotel Dusk might be when it was first announced. The experience is just so passive it ends up being not nearly as much fun as it could be. Clues are scarce and dialogue is heavy, it feels like reading a Stephen King novel with way too much detail and talking between the important parts. That is fine for storytelling, but when the core idea is supposed to be a game, it sort of falls flat. It also doesn’t help that none of it will really draw you into the world or make you care about the characters. Honestly I could care less whether anyone survived in the game, and some of the side characters were so poorly implemented, I would have been happy to see them go.
The premise of the gameplay is unique but ultimately wasted. J can use items in the environment to be able to see the crime scene in both the past and the present. This gives him the ability to figure out exactly what happened. While cool in concept the execution is terribly implemented. Most of the time it involves you walking into a room, scanning a few items until one works and watching more quirky cut scenes and dialogue. The integration between flashbacks and crime solving feels more like a catalyst to move to the next chunk of dialogue and thus making the major interactive part quite a bore.
Visually the game takes a different direction from its predecessor eliminating the stylish visuals with a more realistic flair. The characters are all modeled using real people with limited animation that ends up looking cheap and gaudy. The 3D environments are definitely the highlight of the package, but they are so infrequent that their use really doesn’t help the overall presentation. Playing on the DSi XL helps but still the words on screen are hard to read at times and switching between screens quickly feels like much of the rest of the game, a chore. The music is chock full of simple tunes that loop constantly over and over and fail to ever capture the mood of the experience.
Again is a staggering disappointment in most accounts due to its crawling pace and uninteresting concept. The dialogue drags on aimlessly until you don’t care anymore, and if you can manage to sit through the 10 hour experience, there is little satisfaction to be had. It is sad to see such a promising developer end their run with such a disappointing outing, and it makes me wonder if they kind of phoned it in towards the end. Fans of Hotel Dusk would be wise to steer clear of this one as it is only a shadow of its former self.
Review copy provided by publisher.