Monday, February 05, 2007

Hotel Dusk – Final Impressions

I blogged about the then upcoming Hotel Dusk a month ago and its release has come and gone. Although the game appears to have a limit print run, I was able to snag a copy at my local EB in late January.

Hotel Dusk Room 215, is in a word, brilliant. It is a classic noir tale spun into a masterfully designed DS game. The game isn’t perfect. Sprinkled throughout are a series of puzzles each with their own DS-specific ‘touch screen’ interface. They are quite literally mini-touch games in of themselves without hints as to how to control them. This ultimately leads to a lot of trial and error that can be frustrating.

The game’s strengths however is in its story telling and writing. Each of the more than 10 characters in the game has their own personality. The amount of text in this game is truly staggering. There are branching conversation paths, objects that can be examined and conversations with Kyle (the protagonist)’s home office which drives the story forward and keep the various disparate threads together.

Hotel Dusk takes place in the span of less than 10 hours inside on run-down hotel, and in this context, the scale of the game is quite huge. The hotel is slowly unlocked room to room and the chapter system breaks down the game narrative into hour long or half-hour long chunks. It truly is a lot like a ‘24’ style game, albeit players can spend as much time as they need on a chapter.

Although Kyle Hyde’s drive to find the partner he shot 3 years ago (Bradley) is what kicks off the story, he and the player must ultimately unravel the secrets within the Hotel Dusk to complete the game. The writers managed to weave a tale so compelling that with few exceptions, each secret unraveled leads the player (and Kyle) one step closer to solving the mystery behind Bradley and his involvement with a shady art-theft ring called Nile.

The game also features a very impressive visual style. The visuals are a mixture of watercolor studies reminiscent of architectural or industrial design and pencil on paper sketchpad animation. There’s also a fairly sturdy 3-D engine representing the entirety of the hotel environment players can explore. The 3-D environments themselves are textured in a watercolor look with the colors fading into white on the edges of a surface. The walls and floors also feature a distinctive gradient look as if painted over repeatedly by an unseen artist trying to create lighting through darker and softer tones of a hue.

The game’s graphical star however is the character animations. Oft referred to as being inspired by A-HA music video, I prefer to describe them as being animated sketchpad drawings. The ‘sketch’ look and the twitchy wavy lines lends the character life, even as the characters are standing still. Each of the characters also have a full repertoire of animated expressions, from glee, sadness, anger, denial among others which aids in characterization and makes this fairly 'old school' way of doing things superior to 3-D facial models or other more advanced techniques. The nuances that an animated character portrait allows for makes this game's characters seem authentic.

Hotel Dusk is a fantastic mystery novel in game form and it’s well worth its low price. Grab this game when you find it in stores. It probably won’t be very plentiful in used stores in the future given its apparent limited availability. If you want to know more about this game, check out its official website.

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