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Farewell to Hotel Dusk

Farewell to Hotel Dusk

It is two-thirty PM in New York City, or eight AM outside of Los Angeles. I am not really sure anymore, the game's world and my own are beginning to blur. As I leave the shady confines of Hotel Dusk behind, I take one final glance before hitting the open road. Though I may never return to this place again, I am certain the man that walked through its doorway just a day ago, and the man that transverses it now are not the same person. Some things are left behind, others taken, and everything has changed.

To call my experience with Hotel Dusk: Room 215 a fun distraction this past week, would be the understatement of the year. The game has been an experience, one that for better or worse changed my outlook on videogame narrative and storytelling in general. For those unfamiliar with this cult classic, let me offer a bit of an introduction.

The start of Hotel Dusk is a conventional one. The player takes the role of Kyle Hyde, a hard-liquor drinking ex-cop and Red Crown salesmen, whose life is consumed by a never ending quest to find his missing partner, Brian Bradley. On a client's request, he is sent to retrieve a few items from a rundown hotel on the outskirts of nowhere called Hotel Dusk. Along the way he meets an enigmatic cast of characters, the hotel's residents, who he must interact with (often against his own desires) to slowly but surely unravel the secrets of the hotel.

So far this seems like standard video game fare. Main character proceeds through linear storyline until all plotlines are resolved. Along the way he completes some puzzles, says a few witty lines, and gets roped into a few hair-raising situations. Premise aside though, the game reeks of originality, depth, and awesomeness.

Unlike most games that wow you with visual delights at every term, Hotel Dusk goes the route of Pleasantville. The characters are depicted in black and white with occasionally splashes of color used in conjunction with rotoscoping* to convey gestured movement. Even when color is added to a character, which is the case only about five present of the time, it is dull and monochromatic. On paper the visuals leave much to be desired, but the minimalist approach actually works well with the game's 1970s style noir writing, and it is certainly something unique to the DS platform.

The true strength of the art style is in its complementation of the characters themselves. No character seems over-the-top or archetypal, and it manages to add some initial dullness to some of the cast. This dullness not only makes the characters seem more human, but also makes the experience feel more human as well. You are not being asked by the game to instantly fall in love with its performers, but rather warm up to them in time as you would a normal person.

Where the art direction leaves off, the plot takes over. There is a natural, effortless progression in which you will begin to grow attached to the characters and the hotel itself, and at no point does the game ever feel like it is trying to make you do so. As Kyle and the player advance the narrative forward, things that once bother them become charming and quaint. The hotel that seems dreary and difficult to navigate, begins to feel homely. The characters that seem dull and uninspiring, become some of the deepest and well souls you will ever meet in a videogame. The fact Kyle begins warming up to the characters in an almost 1:1 ratio with the player is a testament to how much work the 29 man team at Cing put into the design of Hotel Dusk.

I digress however, I could go on all day about how well the game's elements manage to complement each other, but this is not a review of Hotel Dusk so much as it is a proper farewell. My biggest complaint has been that as great a job the game has done of sucking me in, it has done a poor job of letting me go. The more time that goes by since beating the game, the more I want to return to that world and continue playing. Luckily, I discovered Hotel Dusk late, and only have to wait another month before being able to import the sequel Last Window: The Secret of Cape West from the UK. Until then, thanks for the memories Hotel Dusk, I'll be sure to stay in 215 again.

*An technique common in 1990's animation. It involves animators drawing over live action sequences to depict a more realistic sense of movement. Hotel Dusk makes use of this technique when animating various character gestures.
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About chaos oracleone of us since 3:15 PM on 11.05.2009