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Review: Hotel Dusk Room 215
By Julie
2009-04-29

*For the first time since the creation of this site, Chris and I have decided to post two separate reviews of the same game.  However, this time around  he hasn’t actually played the game all the way through yet.  So, based on my intimate knowledge of his free-time to doing-stuff ratio, and taking into consideration the fact that he only posts once a month, it may actually turn out that this is the only review of Hotel Dusk you’ll ever see on completionist.com.  The up side of this (at least for me), is that Chris isn’t going to read this post until after he writes his own, so I can make snide comments about him and he’ll likely never know!  The down side is that this review will probably have more typos than usual, as Chris and I generally edit each other’s pieces.*

I had never even heard of Hotel Dusk until Chris brought it home one day and said that he read about it somewhere.  His obsession with reading every single article on 1Up often pays off this way.  He went out of town for work and took it with him, but only managed to play on the plane.  He got about 15% through, and then moved on to other things, and by the time I had given up on Animal Crossing and was rooting through our DS bin for a new game to play, he’d basically forgotten everything about it, but recommended it to me anyways.

So, I popped it in, flipped on the DS, having zero expectations, since I had no idea what the game was like, or what it was about or anything.  When the title screen came up, I realized that the game was played by holding the DS book-style, with the touch screen on the right.  The only game I’d played this way before was Brain Age, which I don’t really count because it isn’t a game.  As it turns out, Hotel Dusk isn’t a game either.  It’s a book. Was it a good book?  Yes.  Was it a good game?  No.

In Hotel Dusk you “play” as a retired NYPD Detective named Kyle Hyde, and your new job as a traveling salesman leads you to Hotel Dusk on December 28th, 1979.  Surprise, you’re staying in Room 215.  The reason that you’re at this particular hotel is only vaguely explained, and even then it’s completely ridiculous.  Apparently in addition to your traveling salesman gig, you also do little “tasks” for your boss Ed, like finding things for people.  You’re at the Dusk looking for a magazine or something for one of his clients.  Stupid.  Anyway, after you check in, you run into a few of the other guests, and immediately get extremely suspicious, and start questioning everybody about what they’re doing there, and getting all into everyone’s business.  Guess it’s supposed to be your cop instincts kicking in, but it just ends up with you being a jerk and running around this hotel until all hours of the morning barging into rooms, and breaking into places, and giving everyone the third degree.

The mystery that unfolds, and the way that everyone is connected to you and your suspicious task, actually ends up being a pretty neat story.  It’s unfortunate that the only way to discover these extraordinary coincidences is by playing a game that should really have just been a crappy teen mystery novel.  It feels as if it was originally written as a book, with gamer interaction thrown in as an afterthought.  Almost the entire experience is comprised of lengthy discussions with hotel guests.  Your character’s face appears on the left screen and theirs on the right as you talk to eachother.  They talk and talk and talk, and occasionally something they say will appear in orange text, which makes Kyle cock his head to the side, and a question mark appears.  Then you are taken to the question screen where you can select the question, which Kyle then asks.  It’s like the game is playing itself, and sometimes you’re prompted “tap here to keep playing”.

Even less frequently, something a character says will cause an exclamation point to appear over them, and if you tap on it, you’ll be given a dialog option.  If you say the wrong thing, you could offend whoever you’re talking to, and either miss out on some information, or get a Game Over screen.  This might have had some merit as a gameplay mechanic if it: a) happened way more often, and b) actually gave you a choice you had to think about. For example, when talking to a child, she might ask you why her father is lying to her.  Would you say “because he hates you!” or “because he doesn’t want you to be sad”.  Would you then tell her that it’s all her fault her mother left, or say that it wasn’t her fault at all?  Throughout the entire game, I think I only chose wrong twice, and the first time it was because I didn’t realize that yelling at someone might have Game Over consequences.

Other than the dialog, which makes up about 95% of the game, there are also a few puzzles to solve, and some evidence to gather that you have to show to the guests you’re harassing to get them to tell you their secrets.  It’s possible that my opinion of these puzzles is shaded by the fact that I so recently was contemplating Sierra adventure games, and I know I have to take into account that the game is rated T, but the puzzles in Hotel Dusk seriously suck.  The few that are actually good are completely ruined by Kyle’s inner dialogue giving you the answer.  There were a few times I thought I was going to have to work on a cool puzzle, only to have the game basically tell me exactly what to do.

If that wasn’t annoying enough, Hotel Dusk has one of my most hated puzzle game elements.  When you know what you are supposed to do, and you’re trying to do it, but the game won’t let you because first you have to walk down the hall and knock on the door to an empty room.  Then, your character will muse to himself, “oh well, maybe I’ll go try doing X”.  This type of thing happens often in Hotel Dusk.  Many times I found myself trying to work out what I thought was a clever puzzle, only to find out that the game would give me the answer after I talked to somebody in another room.  The absolute worst instance of this in Hotel Dusk came when I was interrogating somebody who had broken into my room, and who I knew to be using a fake name.  When I showed him the duplicate key to my room that I found in his bag, and his student ID showing his picture and his real name, he just yelled at me and said “I don’t know what that is, that doesn’t mean anything!”.  The answer was to go back down to the lobby, and RE-READ a paper I had ALREADY READ, and then go talk to him again.  Then when I showed him the ID, he fessed up instantly.

Chris gets even more angry about things like that than I do, so I can’t wait to hear him cursing at the DS, trying to do the right thing but in the wrong way.

In short (okay, not really short, sorry), Hotel Dusk has an amazing story, with fun James Cagney/Humphrey Bogart gritty narration, but fails to deliver as far as gameplay is concerned.  When it isn’t totally playing itself, it’s busy ruining what could have been fun puzzles with in-your-face beat-you-over-the-head clues/giveaways.  I have more to say, but this post is turning into a bit of a novel itself, so I’ll leave the rest to Chris.  If he ever gets around to playing the game, and then gets around to writing a post.

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