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And this is the key to the game’s strengths and its biggest weakness. The good news is that the game’s multiple storylines are genuinely involving, and its characters are genuinely interesting. Sure, they have secrets, but they also have well-grounded back stories and solid motivation, and uncovering why, say, famous author Martin Summer is so concerned with an ordinary notebook or why rich-kid Jeff Angel hates his dad is more compelling than the more obvious ‘puzzles’ like getting the broken lock open on your suitcase or ditching stolen goods.
You actually resent some of the more trivial mini-game puzzles just because, for example, completing a sixteen-piece jigsaw puzzle is a lot less interesting than finding out what happened to Melissa Woodward’s mum. Hotel Dusk is one of those rare games that actually makes you care about its characters, maybe not in the blubbing ‘I can’t Aeris is dead’ sense but certainly in the ‘I can’t wait to find out what’s going on’ sense. Like a good mystery novel or movie, what drags you through the game is your desire to get to the bottom of things and discover how and why everyone connects to you and your own private search. As a result of some good writing and the excellent presentation, that pull is very strong indeed.
The bad news is that it has to be. You might have noticed that I said ‘some good writing’, and the game’s biggest problem is that it’s hidden among an awful lot of dull, ponderous and over-elaborate text. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen a game this text heavy since the glory days of Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls, and a lot of the ten to fourteen hours you spend in front of it will be spent clicking on the ‘next’ button while someone witters on endlessly, often to reveal something you guessed some time before. There were at least two ‘confessions’ where I was the one crying ‘no more’, not the guy on the other end of my hostile interrogation. At times, Hotel Dusk seems less a talk ‘em up, and more a listen ‘em up, and as everyone who’s attended a dull presentation or a long church sermon will know, listening isn’t always that much fun.