Review by sidebeard

Reviewed: 11/01/10 | Updated: 11/02/10

Imperfect but intriguing, a rewarding story but a game with limited appeal.

Formerly a detective with the N.Y.P.D., currently a salesman for the Red Crown company, Kyle Hyde is the unlikely hero of this mysterious tale. Kicked off the force for shooting his partner, a detective named Bradley who had betrayed the force, Hyde is tormented by the event and, despite handing in his badge, continues to investigate the circumstances of the betrayal in the hope of finding Bradley himself, whose body never surfaced. The latest assignment from Red Crown leads Hyde to the eponymous hotel, a run-down, faintly eerie place where, by a series of impossible coincidences, the fates of all the guests intersect on the night of the 28th December, 1969. Bradley is close at hand it seems....

As the Kyle Hyde trophy is the only one in Super Smash Bros. Brawl to be in any way animated, Hotel Dusk defined itself as a curiosity from the outset and its peculiarity extends to the orientation with which one holds the DS during game-play; portrait like a book rather than landscape. This quirk helps prepare the player for an experience that is considerably more mystery novel than video game (and heightens this sense). It is a neat gimmick and as the A, B, X, Y, buttons aren't used in the game it doesn't impinge on comfort.

Movement is achieved by using the touch screen and stylus. From a top-down view the player points in the direction he wishes to move and Kyle follows. As you navigate with the touch screen, the top screen (or left screen in this case) shows a third person view of the room or corridor you are in. If someone or something of interest is close-at-hand icons at the bottom of the screen flash, alerting the player and providing the option to talk or to take a closer look.

If the player elects to look more closely at his surroundings the touch screen transforms into a detailed view of the immediate area and allows the player to study and select any items present. It’s an intuitive set-up and not dissimilar to point-and-click adventures of the past. There are enough red-herrings to keep the player guessing but as the inventory is limitless the game never presents a dilemma over whether to take the screwdriver or the crowbar (for instance) and the use of items is very prescriptive; there are no two ways of achieving the same goal so, likely as not, the player will resort to simply clicking everything and picking up anything he is allowed to as the method of play. This serves to artificially extend the length of the game (20 hours or so) and whilst this click-happy approach is not uncommon in games of this type the unexceptional environment of Hotel Dusk make progress at times tedious (compared to the environs of, say, Monkey Island or Union City in Beneath a Steel Sky).

Communication is straightforward question and answer stuff with Hyde in the role of interrogator. The player is sometimes given the choice of two things to say, get it right and the conversation plays out advantageously, get it wrong and you will definitely upset the other person and, later in the game, probably get a ‘Game Over’ as well. It’s disappointingly depthless in a game where text is foremost and places Hotel Dusk firmly on rails. In this regard Hotel Dusk has a strange affinity with Killer7, not at all in content but in the sense that the player has been tasked with following a series of paths to see an intricate story through to its predetermined end. But it is a good story and this is its strongest hand. Once the player has progressed beyond the first couple of chapters determination to find the answers and tie the numerous, intriguing loose-ends together will keep you playing despite waning interest in the method of progress at times. Kyle’s friendship with Louis (a former convict from his New York days) and softening attitude towards the brash little girl Melissa are particularly meaningful.

One should note that this is not a puzzle game in the vein of the Professor Layton series. Problem-solving is meant in the over-arching sense of unearthing each character’s secrets and piecing together the mystery. The few puzzles, such as there are, make interesting use of the touch screen (and in a couple of cases the DS itself) but are infrequent and easily solved. Beyond this there is some item hunting and some judicious item giving. The inclusion of a notebook that the player may use to write down important clues is fun and allows for a more personal involvement in the story which is rather lacking in the dialogue paths.

Music in Hotel Dusk falls into two categories, either evoking mystery and conveying moods of danger, fear, and tension (such as at the denouement of chapters) or out-and-out Muzak (such as the theme that plays throughout the main corridors.) The latter becomes increasingly inappropriate and therefore annoying as the plot develops. In truth, the player is unlikely to have the sound on for large portions of the game as the sound-effect that plays almost every time a selection is made or an action undertaken is irritating beyond measure (sounding something like a feeble car horn). It is not possible to turn sound-effects off so it is likely that much of the music will be missed, the same being true for the better sound effects (such as the echoing sound of footsteps as you pace around in the basement). Fortunately there is a jukebox in the bar (accessible later on in the game) which allows the player to listen to any of the themes already encountered. This will be used but once out of curiosity but does at least allow the player to hear what they likely missed first time around.

Overall then, Hotel Dusk is a grown up adventure game-cum-mystery novel. It is a refreshing change of scene for a game published by Nintendo (shock-horror, the protagonist actually drinks) and it is pleasing to find a title that earns a teen certificate not from blood and guts but through difficult themes and suspense. It is clear that a lot of thought went into character development and it was doubtless a labour of love for developers Cing. The plot is unpredictable with plenty of twists and surprises that keep things ticking over despite the slow pace, resulting in a genuinely enchanting tale and a satisfying conclusion.

But perhaps the desire to tell a good story came at the expense of making a fun game. There are deficiencies in the scope of conversations and, combined with a necessarily restricted locale, this gives the game a rigid structure. Dialogue is at times protracted and game play formulaic leaving the player feeling at once tired with the pattern yet conflicted by his desire to find out what happens next. With some refinement (hopefully present in the sequel) Hotel Dusk could be very special indeed. The current game is a must for patient, imaginative types who like a good read but without improvements to game play, additional puzzles, and a little more action it remains a curiosity, never likely to appeal to the majority of gamers that, justifiably, expect a little more bang for their buck.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (EU, 04/13/07)

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