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February 25, 2007

Filed under: gaming»software»hotel_dusk

Darkness Falls

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.

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