Monday, April 23, 2007

Hotel Dusk is a HORRIBLE game.

Once upon a time - specifically, the time of the US launch of the Nintendo DS - there was a cool little game called Trace Memory. It was a game in the same vein as those PC text adventures; but, the puzzles very creatively used the DS to make very original puzzles and solutions. The story was a pretty simple mystery, and, while pretty effective, the biggest complaint that could be launched against the game was that the story was a bit underwhelming and ended abruptly.

"Aw, hell. Sounds like as good a time as
any to give up.I'm sure my dad will be just fine."

All things considered, the game was good, though.

Fast forward late January, 2007. The same development team - Cing - released another game called Hotel Dusk: Room 215. The game was in a similar vein as Trace Memory, but with less of an emphasis on puzzles and WAY more on the story and the mystery. The end result was a surprisingly engaging story. The dialogue was very well-written, the mystery was intriguing, and it was interesting to see all the different stories develop, and how they all were related to the main plot. The ambiance of the game was very well-complemented by the graphics and music.

Now, notice the keywords I used, there? Good story. Good dialogue. Good mystery. Good ambiance. These are the things that Hotel Dusk did well. There's one thing that Hotel Dusk completely messed up though: the part of the game that's, well, the GAME. Quite frankly, the gameplay in Hotel Dusk is awful; more of a hurdle or a necessary evil than an actual supplement to the game's fun factor. In the end, it does more harm than good, and that's why Hotel Dusk makes for a really bad game.

Think you're gonna get to shoot that gun
while yelling random Japanese words?
Then, you might be disappointed when you
play Hotel Dusk: Room 215.

In Hotel Dusk, you play as Kyle Hyde, and ex-cop who is searching for his ex-partner, who betrayed the force (and of course, Kyle) three years ago. Kyle's investigation leads him to Hotel Dusk, where he stays in (!!) Room 215. The game takes place over the course of the day, while Kyle's new job - a salesman - and his interaction with the other people staying at the Hotel brings him closer and closer to solving the mystery behind the motives of Kyle's ex-partner, and what kind of shady dealings he was involved in.

That being said, I can unfortunately say that the game itself is not as engaging as the story itself - not even close.

You don't even get to drive that car.
See how lame this game is?

Hotel Dusk plays out like an interactive novel - in fact, to further drive the point home, you hold the DS sideways to play it. From the moment you can control Kyle until the end of the game, you are just walking around, engaging in conversations with other people in the hotel, and trying to find random things for one reason or another. There are hardly any puzzles that use any brains - it's often just a 'puzzle' where you have to use the stylus to move an object on the screen; for example, there is one 'puzzle' where Kyle suspects something might be in a basket in the laundry room, so you use the stylus to grab and toss the sheets out of the basket. Sound pretty stupid? That's because it is.

In fact, most of the 'gameplay' elements feel completely unnecessary. Beyond there being a lot of puzzles like the one I just described, the game, just to make you use the stylus more, requires you to manually open doors. Let me try and explain...first, a picture:

Oh snap! This picture is relevant
to my case, for once!

Refer to the picture above: This is the basic interface of Hotel Dusk when you're walking around, looking at stuff. See the magnifying glass icon? It lights up when you get near something that you can examine. While examining part of a room, you're taken to a slightly different-looking, zoomed-in screen...

It doesn't get more intense than this...
at least, not at Hotel Dusk. You should
have gone to the Hotel California if
you wanted to live it up.

On this screen, you double click things with the stylus to examine them. This used in some decent ways, but they use it for a lot of pointless things too. One example is for when you are opening a door: to open a door, you press the door icon (refer to the previous photo), where it takes you to a screen similar to the above photo. You then double click on the doorknob with the stylus. I present this question to you, Hotel Dusk: Why? What's the point? Especially when you DIDN'T do that with some doors, like the door to your room? This might seem like a trivial thing; however, this example underscores a notable amount of trivial things that were thrown in to try and allow Cing to justify making you pay thirty dollars for this game when it could have been a twelve dollar paperback novel that would have been more accessible to people on EARTH - many whom do not own the $130 piece of hardware that serves as a medium for enjoying Hotel Dusk.

And for all of its trouble, you don't get much non-linearity out of the story. When you talk to people, you have two choices that you can make for a question to ask. Very often, if you pick the wrong one, the game will end. Not only does this suck, because it can happen very far into a conversation, causing you to have to redo the whole conversation (and perhaps more), but it's pointless! There's only two choices, and when the the wrong one bears such dire consequences, why even put it in the game? Is this Cing's idea of 'challenge' in a game? It's not like you don't immediately figure out the right choice after you mess up the first time - you never get more than two choices at once!

Really, now...if you're going to make the story your main focus in a video game, and COMPLETELY flub on the gameplay, why would you make the game's story so very, very linear? Why wouldn't you take advantage of the STRENGTHS that video games lend to a story as a medium for literature? Let's face it: With the game's ugly interface, still-graphics (stylish as they are), and Linearity with a capital L, it really DOESN'T. Now, granted, there are 'multiple endings', but they're all just minor variations on the main ending, which really doesn't change at all. This is hardly non-linear.

So, to Cing, I present the following question: Why is Hotel Dusk even a game?

Honestly, I am a HUGE advocate of video game appreciation - as games, as competitive sports, and as literature. Make no mistake about that! But, Hotel Dusk has no place being a game. It takes no advantage of what video games lend to literature as strengths, but in fact seems to use them all to its DISADVANTAGE. All the gameplay really gets in the way of what's good about Hotel Dusk, and being a video game makes it very inaccessible to TONS of people that might have had the pleasure of enjoying this fine Mystery story, had it not carried (technically) a $160 pricetag.

If you're going to try and push your video game as a piece of literature, it's important to do one of two things:

1. Use the 'game' aspect to supplement your story (i.e. Metal Gear Solid series, Ace Attorney series, early Resident Evil games)

2. Allow the game to be engaging and fun without getting in the way of the story (i.e. most RPGs).

My final thoughts:

Personally, I think that the idea behind this game is great, but if it's so linear, and there are no real gameplay aspects to this GAME...then, there's no reason they couldn't just make it a movie (or, in this case, since it's long, a novel). I'd be willing to bet that it would do so-so as a novel, though...not because the story is bad, but because it's slow-paced, and there are likely better mystery novels out there.

Game reviews are heralding this game as having an AMAZING story. It's GOOD, no doubt...and I'm glad that there are games out like this that are SHOWING that video games are capable of being a valid form of literature; however, just because this is the best that gamers can fathom from a game does not make it good. Because so much literature exists in different mediums already, we KNOW that we're capable of doing better. Hell - I'd dare say that we've ALREADY DONE better in the realm of video games.

The end result of Hotel Dusk, unfortunately, is a great story, but a terrible GAME, and for this reason, I can see nothing but cons to the fact that it it was released as a video game.