Hotel Dusk: Room 215 Reader Review
Which is something you won't really be saying a great deal of at any point during this game. Puzzle game that it tries to be, it ultimately becomes an interactive story book with tasks hindering your page-turning. And there's certainly a good story here, but the fact that there are times when you try to turn the page but can't, it really can frustrate a little too much than it should.
Hotel Dusk is the place where everything takes place, where ex-detective Kyle Hyde finds himself at the start of his journey, and where a number of strange, coincidental happenings occur. When you start, there's only one question on your mind; what really did happen out there in the docks with your ex-partner Bradley and why did you, as Hyde, shot Bradley? Just what was Hyde's past all about? And as you explore Hotel Dusk and its occupants' past and present, a number of other oddities pop up. Why are these people secretive; what's the hotelier holding back; what is so special about Room 215? All you want to do is talk and uncover the truths, but for Hyde it's no longer possible for him to flash his badge of honour and demand answers. Now a salesman of household items on a task by his boss, what authority does Hyde have? Seems like he's going to have to use his old detective skills to get people talking.
Hyde's short and to-the-point manner with the residents gives you the feeling that he is quite a bitter man, quite cynical about the world around him, and doesn't leave much up to chance. And similarly, it's easy to determine the frame of mind of the other characters staying at Hotel Dusk, each with some sort of individuality and story to tell. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into this game, determining the roles of everyone so that the game flows properly. Meeting them throughout the game and learning something more about each one makes Hotel Dusk a well-paced game, giving each one time to explain and time to breathe, never pushing one character onto you more than should be allowed or to the point of boredom.
And it is now when it becomes apparant how very much like an interactive story book this game is. Holding the DS sideways, tapping the screen solely for the basic means of navigating the hotel and menus, appropriate background music for reading, and having to read lots and lots of text. Endless amounts. That's how much like a book this is. And for a book, it's well-presented indeed. Simple yet nice 3D render of the hotel juxtaposed with the top-down hotel map on the touchscreen, awaiting your direction for guide Hyde. There's good use of the detective aspect to let you scrawl in your notebook, and an inspired interaction by having you touch the appropriate part of the screen to pick-up, move and examine items. It's good, really; a monologue running through your head as you walk down the corridor, read the label on the door, try the handle, find it opens and then...
And, of course, there's the rather fancy and artistic character animation, surely taking a leaf out of a-ha's 'Take On Me'. It's absolutely lovely to watch and I didn't tire of any of it, even with the limited number of animations per character. The variety is enough to convey practically all the conversations that the characters have, from anger to humour, excitement and bemusement. It just goes to show that concentrating on the little aspects that actually mean something, rather than trying to make lots of unimportant things look good, produces better results. It's so much more emotional, creating a stronger connection between you and the characters, and understanding their stance on the current situation. The residents of Hotel Dusk you meet on your journey add more to the game than anything else.
Each characters has a story to tell and you are pretty much forced into finding out what their past is and, although you probably don't want to, you'll eventually help to solve their problems. As for Hyde's story, that's a different matter. You'll try to proceed with it but you'll get (what seems like) needlessly sidetracked by the aforementioned characters' stories. It's initially quite annoying, but all becomes clear half-way through. Ending up at Hotel Dusk with these others was no coincidence, and once you release that the stories relate that's when the whole thing gets going. You can see it in the way Hyde and his long-lost 'friend', Louis, increase the pace of story by splitting up and covering multiple angles in solving continually occuring questions. These questions come from your conversations with the other residents; some answerable within the same conversation, some answered by others.
The unfortunate thing is that Hotel Dusk doesn't tax you in remembering the questions as you usually have to go through each option before you can proceed with the game. Sure, there has to be some restriction to the way gamers play but just asking everything available doesn't really seem right. Put this together with the classic graphic-adventure problem of making sure you play the game correctly and don't jump the gun - where blatantly obvious and, no doubt, useful items can't be taken until the right time - and you start to really feel constrained. It's a real shame that this should happen and set in so early into the game. Just as you become familar with its stylisation and motion, you also become too familary with the mandatory 'ask every question' conversations that come up. As for the comments about the 'Game Over' screen occuring from your choice of conversational topic, well, there are times when it should be obvious you are heckling and pushing your luck a little too much. But equally so, there are times when some characters have a really short fuse and don't tolerate any shit from your at all. Many a time the 'Game Over' screen came across the screen and so it turns into a bit trial and error - not really the sort of thing we should be seeing.
But for all the times when the game and story flow wonderfully, moving you through chapter after chapter, it is the issue of the design constraints that really put me off and forced me to consider Hotel Dusk as just a fairly good game, as opposed to being a true wonder with continual peaks of excellence. Telling me that some particular item isn't useful but being able to see that it will be, or having to find the exact right location to trigger the next sequence of events is just frustrating beyond belief. It's more so the latter than the former; fair enough that Hyde might fully comprehend that he's actually tied in with the strange goings-on of an adventure (which is something we know before we even start the game), but there's no excuse for making you scour every room, nook and cranny for the next event. Once, maybe, but at least two or three times is a big no-no. Kind of knowing where you should be going or looking for but not being able to find what the developer want is just plain bad design - even providing a little more scope for accidentally triggering the events would have alleviated this frustration.
It's a shame to leave Hotel Dusk in such poor light; for everything that it does right, there's a slight snagging that pulls it back, stopping you from turning the page. Characters, styling, story, modelling, puzzles, conversations, setting - all fantastic, but infuriating let down by design and play constraints. Maybe you'll remember or spot things I didn't, maybe the mechanics won't matter afterall. Overlook these faults and prepare to dig into a game that actually has some sustenance; for the story alone with its twists and turns, you absolutely have to experience this game.