What plays like Trace Memory, is set out akin to a series of "24", and has characters that appear as if they came straight from the set of A-Ha's "Take on Me"? Hotel Dusk: Room 215. The "plays like Trace Memory" (Another Code in the UK) factor isn't surprising given it has been produced by the same developer, Cing, who have built upon the foundation of the first game to deliver another intriguing and gripping point-and-click experience. The major question remains whether it has eliminated some of the original flaws.
In part, yes it has; Hotel Dusk is certainly a longer (roughly 15 hours), more fulfilling, suspense-laden game by comparison. On the flip side however, it is still completely scripted in that doing A leads onto B, then C and then D. Not being able to solve a particular step, be it completing a puzzle, finding someone to talk to, or discovering an object, brings the game to a halt until it is overcome. Hotel Dusk can be considered an interactive novel for the way it plays out its action and its plotline, and this style is either going to grab players by way of its story or put them off due to the amount of reading involved.
The same criticisms have similarly been levelled at the Phoenix Wright series. Like Capcom's courtroom masterpieces, Hotel Dusk is primarily about the storyline and the characters encompassed within it, with the actual gameplay coming second. The year is 1979 and the location is somewhere just outside LA. You play as Kyle Hyde, a washed-up ex-New York police officer who has come to Hotel Dusk in the guise of a travelling salesman, but is really there to continue his search for his ex-partner Brian Bradley whom Hyde believes betrayed him in a case three years previous. Despite shooting him, no body was ever found and Hyde believes Bradley to be still alive.
The story itself plays out in a noir theme and, even as a piece of prose on its own merits, is outstandingly well-written, composed, thought-through and rendered. To spend more time going into detail on it would be tantamount to spoiling the experience, except to say that there are twists and turns aplenty. As it rumbles along the player may start forming their own theories about what will happen but very little is predictable even unto the end.
Similarly the characters Hyde meets at the hotel, from owner Dunning Smith, to the strange writer Martin Summer, the aloof Iris, and even the pickpocket he knew back in NY Louis DeNonno, are all three dimensional creations with their own histories, backstories, personalities and emotions. They have layers to unpeel and discover, with the dialogue between Hyde and them seeming almost natural and realistic, rather than mere text on the screen. If you didn't know better, you would almost think of them as real. Each person present at the hotel has some connection or information, however big or small, to Hyde's quest which merely adds to the intrigue and nature of why he is there. Compared to the unremarkable, almost perfunctory hotel graphics, the character portraits are sublime, seemingly hand-drawn black and white animations that ooze emotion and life. If the aim was to make them stand out and be noticed then mission accomplished; they are a sight to behold and marvel.
The whole "mystery thriller novel" aspect is added to further by having the player orientate the DS portrait-style during the game, like reading a book. The normal screen displays the immediate surroundings in three dimensions or the person Hyde is talking to currently, with the touch screen used for moving about in real time, selecting objects to use or searching the visible area for clues or information as per the usual rules for point-and-click adventures.
The puzzles present in the game are sometimes easy and sometimes challenging, though overall not quite as difficult as Trace Memory but still rewarding to actually crack. Anyone playing the earlier title will also have a slight head start in solving a few of them as Cing have once again taken advantage of all the DS’s features. Assisting in keeping track of all the clues is a handy notebook feature, allowing the player to write down anything that they come across and perhaps remember for later. It's an inclusion that works so well in this context and yet seems so overlooked in other games of this ilk.
Another book-like aspect is the division into time segmented chapters, with each section getting Hyde one step closer to the truth and having a neat little storyline recap quiz at the end of each in case you've forgotten something. However unlike a book, Hotel Dusk does have a level of variance within despite the scripted nature of the action. Whilst talking to someone, Hyde will often have a choice of two possible answers to continue the conversation, usually divergent in attitude, and how you act towards a person will affect how they treat you in the future. Being overly rude to certain people or causing trouble can lead to being thrown out of the hotel (and game over) so care must be taken to think before continuing. Likewise, this can affect the ending, of which there are at least five possibles discovered so far.
Coupled with a locked room that can only be opened upon a second play, the variance in possible conversations and the range of endings mean Hotel Dusk can warrant a second play through, or even a third, in order to see everything that is available. And like many a good book, revisiting the earlier chapters and rereading the conversations in light of knowing the ending can often spark realisation to what was being hinted at.
Hotel Dusk is not a game that will appeal to all due its placement in a niche genre, although it offers a lot of promise and delivers as much out of it as you put it in. Those consentual to its charms will find an engrossing tale of deceit and mystery that drags you in entirely, with the fact the gameplay is a little lacking not being as important a concern as it may initially seem. To that end, the game itself is compulsive and addictive until the point at which it sadly has to conclude.