Let's start by looking at the things that Hotel Dusk does right:
- It has little to no violence, even though it is basically an homage
to noir. The only time a gun is fired is in flashbacks to the
protagonist's police career.
- The characterizations really are excellent. The writing might not
quite be as good as Chandler, but it's better than most pulp. For a video
game, that's really rather impressive.
- The art backs up the writing. There's some sort of filter on the 3D
that makes the hotel agreeably grungy and run-down, and the shaky
pencil-sketch style for each character is impressionistic while still
capturing a lot of subtleties.
- Its plot, which revolves around art theft and family reconciliation,
is a step above the average video game, most of which aspire mainly to the
heady heights of Saturday morning cartoons.
Is it a perfect game? I'm not even sure it's a game, technically. What
little amount of puzzle-solving and inventory management exists is
basically just a way of moving the narrative forward. In fact, there are
several points where the interactive segments don't really serve any
purpose except to liven things up a bit--a bowling mini-game, for example,
where you won't even make it through a full set. There's no real reason
for you to have to go bowling. They could have just written "Kyle rolls
the ball toward the pins." But it's like they thought "hey, while you're
reading, wouldn't it be fun if you could be a little more involved?" They
weren't really making a more book-like game, just a more game-like book.
This is a long way of saying that you will only enjoy Hotel Dusk if
you actually enjoy reading. It is, as critics have alleged, a very verbose
piece of software, and the text does take its sweet time making it across
the screen. The fact that the writing is very good seems to have only made
a cursory impact. For people who don't actually relish the experience of
reading, the kind of people who don't list it as one of their hobbies when
someone asks, the problems with text speed and clumsy puzzle design no
doubt loom large. I would again protest that Hotel Dusk is
certainly no more tedious or overladen with narrative than your average
Squaresoft RPG, it simply does not hide that behind slick CGI.
Maybe I was just willing to forgive a lot. And it's possible that I'm the
only person who feels this way, or that it's a game that caught me in one
of my book-intensive phases. But moving from Hotel Dusk to
Lunar Knights, a game that has been much applauded for its
mechanics but in content embodies the most spastic tendencies of a
marketing-driven anime, has been eye-opening. When I play a game
like Lunar Knights that's been clearly aimed at children or
short-attention-span adults, I find that my attention span likewise
wanders quickly. Hotel Dusk may be long-winded, but it was not
talking down to me, and I appreciate that.