A film-noir style mystery with excellent writing and characters.
If you're even reading about Hotel Dusk then there's probably a good chance that you're at least a little bit familiar with what Hotel Dusk actually is. It's worth noting that Hotel Dusk is not so much a game as it is a novel; think of it as an interactive book. With that in mind, Hotel Dusk is definitely geared towards a specific audience, and is definitely not for everyone. Hotel Dusk is essentially a combination of a mystery novel, an old-school point and click PC adventure game, and a distinct film-noir art style. If that doesn't bore you to tears, then this might be one hotel where you'll want to stay the night.
Enter ex-cop turned salesman Kyle Hyde, who in recent years has found himself drowning his troubles in alcohol. The mood of Hotel Dusk is set right away in New York City, 1976, where Kyle Hyde is seen shooting his ex-partner Bradley, who in turn, quickly takes a dive into the Hudson River. It's three years later in Las Vegas, Nevada, 1979, and Kyle Hyde has given up his badge and instead, taken up the job of a salesman. His true motive however, is to find the whereabouts of his presumed dead, ex-comrade Bradley.
Staying true to the notion of being like a novel, Hotel Dusk is played by holding the DS sideways as if you were reading a book. The stylus is then used to control the action by using the touch screen; and there's nothing to worry about for all you lefties out there, since there is an option which allows you to play the game left handed. You'll have a first person view of your surroundings on the left screen, with an overhead view of the area on the touch screen. Moving around is a cinch; you simply drag and drop the stylus around the touch screen to move Kyle Hyde to where you want to go. There's a menu at the bottom of the screen that gives you several actions, and will also notify you when you are near something you can interact with. By examining an area, you'll switch to a first person view on the touch screen with a slider bar at the bottom, which you can then use to rotate the view to look under every nook and cranny for hidden objects or clues. The left side of the screen is used to display Kyle Hyde, where he is portrayed in an awesomely detailed, film-noir rough sketch art style. Interacting with characters is similar, they will appear on the touch screen with Hyde on the left, and you can watch each character's reactions to the conversation. During conversations the touch screen can be used to interrupt characters to pursue something they mentioned further, or to show them items from your inventory. You can even open your notebook during conversations to jot things down that may be important for later on.
The reason why Hotel Dusk is best described as an interactive novel rather than a conventional game, is because the majority of the gameplay consists of the player using the touch screen to examine objects in the environment in order to advance the story, which is essentially, the main aspect of the game. There are many notable sequences however, which make interesting use of the touch screen to solve puzzles. These sequences are definitely a welcome addition when the game may start to feel a little monotonous, and there are even a few unique uses of the DS that may very well briefly flat-out stump some players.
Hotel Dusk's story takes place over the course of one night, and is separated into chapters, each taking place within a certain amount of time. However, time only passes in the game when significant plot advancement and discoveries have been made. Therefore, it is entirely possible to spend a large majority of time wandering around aimlessly while you try and figure out what it is that you are supposed to be doing. Another issue is that there are times where the hotel will appear as if it is strangely empty and devoid of life. While it generally is not that big of a deal, it feels a bit strange when there are moments when everyone in the Hotel seems to have disappeared into thin air.
In light of any gameplay shortcomings, the characters in Hotel Dusk are exceptionally well realized. Each character has their own hidden agenda and/or secret they are hiding that you will have to unearth over the course of the game. The characters are made even more expressive by the wonderful art design. The way in which they are portrayed during conversations allows them to show many different types of emotions and they even give off the vibe as if they are living, breathing people, despite the fact that they are in fact, black and white sketches. The writing in Hotel Dusk is also exceptionally good, this is a top-notch translation job and the dialogue is full of funny, witty, and exceptionally sharp writing. A huge tip of the hat goes off to the translation team behind the localization of Hotel Dusk, as this is easily one of the most intelligently written games I have ever played.
The sound design of Hotel Dusk is also well done, featuring a good selection of different audio tunes that fit every type of situation of the game. Although, it is worth noting that the main lobby music can get a bit grating on the ears when you find yourself stuck, aimlessly wandering around trying to figure out your next objective. The sound effects are also well done, with a variety of chimes and other sound effects that add an aura of mystery to the puzzles and epiphanies that occur throughout the story.
Hotel Dusk really feels like a game that was specifically targeted for a certain audience of people. If you find yourself the type of player who has little patience for text-heavy games, then this is most likely not your type of game. If you are however, someone who enjoys games for their plot and characters, and you don't mind trudging through occasional periods of not knowing what to do, you will most likely get absorbed in Hotel Dusk's intriguing plot and intelligent writing. This is a game that is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys mystery and film-noir, just go in knowing that Hotel Dusk is a bit more of an interactive novel than a game, and you will more than likely enjoy your stay.