Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hotel Dusk: Room 125 Playthrough

I got a hankering to read a book. And I'm a binge reader, so I can't just start a book and read a half hour a day until it's done, let alone put it down for weeks only to finish up months later.

So I didn't want to start a book. But I really wanted something with a plot.

I looked at one of my bookshelves, which does double duty holding not only the majority of my books, but also all my Nintendo DS games, and I spied Hotel Dusk: Room 215. I first played through Hotel Dusk three years ago as something to do while on a long car trip to an out of town wedding.

I liked the game, if you could call it that. It was 80% reading text and 20% running around doing everything else. If you hate text in a video game you'll hate Hotel Dusk, with its gobs of dialogue and complicated chronology of events, but if you love mysteries, if you can keep a good internal checklist of what you know and don't know and where you still need to investigate, then Hotel Dusk is a basket of candy with your favorite treats (and probably a few of the bad ones mixed in for those moments where you get stumped).

I decided to play Hotel Dusk again because I didn't get the best ending last time and there are a few new scenes when playing a starred game (basically New Game+ when you continue off your old end game save). I still remembered a lot of the plot and the hardest of the puzzles, so my most recent playthrough took me about ten hours versus the seventeen the first time.

Arguably the most fun in playing or reading a mystery is that you don't know everything. When I first played through Hotel Dusk I wasn't sure if there were any supernatural elements to the game (there's a rumor about a ghost haunting the hotel) or what the whole story was.

All I knew was the premise. The main character Kyle Hyde was an NYPD detective three years before the start of the game, and his undercover partner went turnout and sold out the police to the smuggling ring they were investigating. Now Kyle works as a door-to-door salesman for a friend of his deceased father, with an illicit side job of finding objects that don't want to be found.

It's the side job that takes him to Hotel Dusk, a rundown hotel on the outskirts of Los Angeles on December 28, 1979 (yes, this is a period piece).

Hotel Dusk takes place over the course of a single evening and, barring the opening and ending scenes, entirely within the confines of the hotel. It makes for a hugely condensed plot, which is divided into ten chapters which last anywhere from a half hour to two hours of plot time.

As a writer, I love the story for its structure, because it is so contained by the nature of being a single night in a hotel. All the information and the back story has to come through the characters (the staff and the other guests) and the few noteworthy items that Kyle finds, and it really is enough to unravel the mystery of Hotel Dusk, his partner's defection, and still provide a realistically satisfying conclusion.

Playing through a second time made things a little interesting as there were times where I knew I needed to do something before I would actually be able to do it. Initially Kyle can only visit the public areas of the hotel and his own room, but as the game progresses more and more of the hotel becomes accessible.

Kyle is a fantastic character and I certainly did not mind sticking with him for another go around. It's not often the main character is a down-on-his-luck ex-cop driving a shabby car and traveling with a battered suitcase handed down from his dad. But it really fits the noir-ish feel to the game.

The characters frequently talk in hardboiled crime slang, with Kyle referring to money as "cabbage" or "scratch" depending on context. A character wasn't just murdered, but "plugged." A gun is a "piece."

The translation team did a marvelous job with the dialogue (despite the game being set in L.A., the game was originally released in Japan), with multiple characters exhibiting their own speech patterns. You can practically hear Dunning Smith's cranky old voice and it fits perfectly for a man that Kyle describes as an "piece of leather."

Depending on how the player goes through the game, there are two extra scenes in the end, with one of the extras being a little longer if things are done correctly on a second playthrough. I had gotten one of the extra scenes my first time playing through the game, but missed the second because I had gotten several Game Overs. (Let's just say that my first time through the game, Kyle Hyde was very clumsy and got himself thrown out of the hotel a lot.)

This time around I got both the scenes and the extension. I'm not sure they alone were worth the second playthrough, but as I probably would have played through again anyway they were a nice bonus.

The no Game Over bonus scene, by the way, is unrealistic. The writer in me has some trouble with suspension of disbelief, but because this is the bonus scene for doing everything perfectly I'm a little more forgiving and it does allow for something closer to a happy ending for one of the characters.

Unfortunately the developer behind Hotel Dusk, Cing, has closed up shop, but the game itself is still easy to find for purchase online, and the price is low since it's now an older game.