Review by EntropicLobo

Reviewed: 02/14/07

Game Noir

Sometimes a bit of clarity can be your deepest wish. Kyle Hyde has a troubled past, a missing partner, and a driving desire for the truth. An ex-cop, Kyle enters the Hotel Dusk on a job. Room 215, the room Mister Hyde is staying in, is said to grant wishes. Indeed, Hyde finds himself wrapped up in dark mystery and things start to make sense. The Hotel holds memories for a lot of people, it seems, and what Kyle discovers there won’t solely affect his search for his ex-partner. The truth hurts, Kyle, and it might not hurt just you.

Guide Hyde towards the truth using the stylus to move throughout the hotel. Try every function of the DS to solve puzzles, and mind what you say to people lest you be kicked out of the hotel.

Hotel Dusk is a largely character-driven game, through both the direct characterizations and through the story connections they hold. It’s interesting to see the coincidences pile up throughout the Chapters; some may say this is a tad unrealistic. But it’s a mystery story, and one told in a classic manner at that. You have to suspend your disbelief for a moment with material like this. The fact of the matter is Dusk’s a well written game holding many contrivances. These contrivances are something you come to expect from an old mystery. You know what you have to do? Just sit back and take the game in, let build upon itself and your suspicions.

And the game does make you suspicious. In 1979, as a former detective you don’t have a wealth of forensic equipment to solve your crimes. You have an old-fashioned know-how. Old habits die hard, Mr Hyde, and you’ll find yourself searching behind doors you aren’t supposed to and taking things that might be evidence. Suspicions are then a big part of the game. You can get a lot of proof, but there’s not much you can do in terms of proving things. What, you say just dust the hotel for prints? No, sorry. The manager doesn’t like cops or robbers. You’ve got to be subtle, and if you aren’t one of the characters will lead to an untimely Game Over.

And the characters really shine here. Dusk, as I said, is a character driven game and it is most often character interaction that advances the plot. Just on the staff, you have the hard-working and gregarious old maid Rosa, the lazy bellhop Louie who constantly hides from work, and the hard-assed manager Dunning. The characters have a lot of history, and you might just have history with one of them yourself. I’ll say no more on that, I’ll let you play the game and see.

But what makes these characters excel? It’s partly the writing. The game takes place in 1979, and the language often reflects this and prior eras that might come into play. But when the then-contemporary lingo isn’t being used, people are just believable in this game. I believe what I found refreshing was that the characters were “normal,” that is their dialogue was believable for the age and they just looked like someone you could imagine seeing somewhere – or know personally.

That’s not to say Dusk lacks a colourful rogue’s gallery. Each guest and worker at the hotel is an individual. That is, they are all distinct in look and attitude. They gain a certain momentum, however, that by the time they’re painted for who they really are you’ve learned enough over time that the maybe extraordinary circumstances surrounding this character are still believable.

The writing subscribes to an Adventure game fundamental in humour. They theme and progression of the game is, of course, dark, but it’s still packed with humour. Take a game like King’s Quest V where the narrator mocks Graham when he dies (and you die _a lot_ in that game, heh). It’s just something I’ve come to expect from games like this. And Hotel Dusk is one of a few games in recent history that made me laugh audibly in the last few years. From the playful dialogue of Louie to the responses to questions you might pose a little wrong it’s always great to see what someone has to say. But Hyde is just as good as all of the other characters in this respect. His sarcastic responses to people’s troubles, commentary on hotel furniture, or excuses when he gets caught are often so dry or extraordinary that I couldn’t help but laugh.

The writing isn’t all jokes and horseplay, however. The game does have a dark secret unfolding and people do become legitimately concerned, worried, or angry as you approach your goal. People change as they open up or clam up, and this dynamic creates new suspicions and answers old ones. When someone wants to sound serious, the writing reflects this. I mentioned momentum earlier. It applies largely to the player as well. As you play more and more, you want more answers from the story and you want the characters to spill their guts. So when they finally do, you become pretty intent on what they say. The game really captures you like that.

Of course, characters are also amplified through the art. Hotel Dusk has absolutely gorgeous art direction. The characters are usually monochrome or faded colour with linear texturing. This makes them look stylized sketch. There’s more of a gesture of depth here, so when real depth or vibrant colour is expressed it’s much more striking. The characters aren’t totally minimal, they certainly have detail. But they aren’t shaded to any great extent unless it’s necessary. The settings too are partly washed out, story scenes sometimes incomplete at the borders. This negative space is not stark; however, it’s a soft transition into the scene. This gives an ethereal or mysterious feeling to a scene regarding a story which works quite well within the context of the game. The hotel itself is washed out in a different way. Most of the colours fit a theme of old and worn. There’s not a whole lot new in here, so for the average rooms of the hotel an excess of vibrancy is not called for.

What does this mean for the characters? Their stylizing is sketchy and again the fading makes them seem worn. This gives them the look of an old serial or graphic novel. So it’s in fitting with the mystery theme. The stylized nature allows for a wide range of expressions too. Not that the expressions couldn’t be generated otherwise, a stylization allows an expression to take an instant effect on the player and it allows expressions to be embellished. The suggestion of an attitude may be just effective, such as when a character turns his head and buries his chin in his hand.

The art correlates with the writing; it brings substance to what the characters are saying. Of course, music sets the mood for this and is equally important. Each character has music that plays when you talk. When attitudes change, so does the music. It’s a change that you will notice more as you play. Besides the excellent execution of the music, it’s composed well. The main theme of the hotel is lobby music, and while a little cheesy in that respect it fits the vintage I suppose, heh. But the themes for areas like the bar are great and when you really grill people with your questions the dire theme fits the severity of the mood. You can go from light-hearted to dead serious, and the music brings this out.

The game is viewed like a book; that is you hold the DS on its side. Using the face buttons would be awkward, and while you can use them to accomplish simple tasks such as moving or progressing text, you can do all of that much more easily with stylus. The game is touted as an interactive mystery novel and while the way the DS is held might seem like an arbitrary move to make the novel reference work - kind of. If you aren’t already used to holding the DS like this, it doesn’t take long for it to feel natural. The advantage to having the game presented like this lies in artistic design.

If you’ve looked at the difference between people painted on a horizontally long canvas as compared to a vertical composition, you’d notice that verticality is less restrictive of height. The verticality of the screens in Hotel Dusk allows for a better presentation of the characters - they can be shown naturally – less has to be cut. This also lets the characters have more body to show for body language which really increases their expressiveness. Besides this, it doesn’t compromise your ability to search the hotel in first person.

You move around via the map of the hotel, which you can guide Kyle along using the stylus. The top screen, or in this case left screen, shows a first person view of the hotel. Icons on the touch screen show if you can interact with the environment either by viewing objects or talking with people. You’ll also have access to your notebook, where you can write notes and the menu where you can save or view information.

And save you must. A lot. This is an Adventure game, after all. You can screw up based on what you say, and especially late in the game questioning can be ruined by but one wrong move. Twenty minutes of work ruined is not something you want! You can’t get stuck, there are certain checkpoints in the game that you can retry from. But these are static, your saves are more valuable because you won’t lose so much work.

There’s another convention present here, you can get information on almost anything, and it pays to do so. I was quite pleased when my thoroughness began to be rewarded. It’s something you pick up in old adventures and rpgs, everything is suspect. So while you’ll pick up some useful info and items you also get to hear Kyle beef about the decor.

While much of the tasks you have to do are clear, sometimes activating the next event takes a lot of searching and experimentation. Which is where the puzzles shine here, figuring them out requires experimenting with the functions of the DS. And even this isn’t as mundane as “touch the screen or blow in the mic.” Think about everything the DS can do, and consider how you can manipulate something using these features.

But the game really is dialogue-heavy. Kyle Hyde is a sympathetic character; you want to see his goal through because you can pick up on his regrets, uncertainty, and determination. But the game is heavily focused on character, and this will influence how you take to it. You’re going to like certain characters more than others, and how satisfied you are with the ending depends on how many questions you had and how well you played the game.

The DS is really doing well with Adventure games, and Hotel Dusk is really a testament to how well the DS can render these games. The functions of the console seem especially suited for this. Hotel Dusk is set apart by its art and character direction. It’s a refreshing experience, certainly one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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