Hotel Dusk 215
The adventure game renaissance continues on the DS, but is it really all it's cracked up to be?
Games like Phoenix Wright and Trace Memory signal not only the rebirth of adventure games, but also a move to a different platform: the Nintendo DS. While everyone was looking forward to the second Phoenix Wright game to be released in the states, the company who brought is Trace Memory has brought us another adventure game bound to be the next sleeper hit: Hotel Dusk.
While Hotel Dusk looks strikingly like old gumshoe noir movies our grandparents used to watch, the story actually takes place in the year 1979. Kyle Hyde, an ex-cop with a dark history (yeah, yeah, which ex-cop doesn't have a dark history?) has been sent to Hotel Dusk, a seemingly run down hotel on the side of a dirt road, by his boss to pick up a few things. Kyle meets a few characters, hears some strange stories about the room he's staying in, room 215, so naturally, he has to explore what's going on. Not surprisingly, something feels a bit off and not everything is as it seems.
I admit that I'm not the most rabid fan of adventure games. I don't have ScummVM DS installed on a flash cart and I never really got into Phoenix Wright. That being said, I was excited about Hotel Dusk as soon as I saw a screenshot of it. Characters are portrayed in line-art sketches juxtaposed against a 3D background. Because of these character sketches, movement and faces are incredibly expressive. If I were to pick one thing that distinguishes Hotel Dusk from other adventure games, the character sketches would be it.
As soon as I started playing the game, I was struck by the control scheme. The DS is held vertically, like a book. A top-down floor plan is displayed on the touch-screen while a 3D first person perspective of the room is shown on the top (left). By dragging an icon representing Kyle around on the touch screen, players can explore the room and see the movement in first person perspective on the left screen. Rooms have several hot spots which can be examined when the magnifying glass icon is active and touching certain objects will trigger events.
I was thrilled about the control and visuals but I can't say the same about dialog. Dialog between characters seemed very stilted and a lot of the conversation seemed superfluous. A typical interchange sounded like this:
Maid: "I'm also the cook in this joint."
Kyle: "You're the cook here?"
Maid: "I'm the cook here, that's what I said."
Kyle: "So you're the cook here?"
Repeat that three or four times each time Kyle has to talk to someone and you'll understand how annoyed I was about the conversation. I'm pretty sure technology is advanced enough now for dialog text to be displayed all at once, so I don't know why games with a lot of dialog won't give the option of having sentences display all at once instead of the one at a time type-writer style of display. Some of us here read fast and don't have the patience to wait for the next word to be displayed.
Despite my complaints about dialog pacing and text displays, the story in Hotel Dusk is still engaging. That's the main thing that's keeping me playing. It's like reading a good mystery book whose pages turn very, very slowly.
I think it's unfortunate that the game is so liberal with hints and hand holding. One of the best part of an adventure game is the sense of accomplishment after finally understanding some clue or solving a case. In Hotel Dusk, a lot of information is repeated over and over and the puzzles would be better if the game didn't tell me what to do before I had a chance to take a stab at it myself. What's even worse is the occasional quizzes that the game presents, where Kyle has to summarize his past findings and the player has to complete sentences in a multiple-choice manner. It's patronizing and insulting to be quizzed by a game on something that was repeated only five seconds ago.
For a game that's so intent on guiding you through the whole experience, it's surprising that there are ways to game over. Early on in the game, I made a wrong choice in how to answer a character and after talking to three or four more characters, a situation arose where I ended up being kicked out of the Hotel and gamed over. Luckily, I didn't have to start from the beginning of the game and the game just sent me back to the conversation where I made the wrong choice so I could rectify my mistake.
Overall, while the game is far from perfect, it's a good stab at the adventure game genre. They story is good enough to be in a book and if it weren't for the long-winded dialog, I would rate this game higher. I think if people treat Hotel Dusk more as an interactive novel than an actual game, they'll be less likely to be disappointed.
What's Hot: Expressive faces in character sketches. Exploration controls
What's Not: Lame dialog. Too much hand-holding