The standard rap against "interactive fiction" says that the more gimmicky the presentation, the weaker the story behind it. But Hotel Dusk: Room 215 doesn't suffer from that problem: This time, the story and the game are both duds. Set in a noir-inspired 1979 California, it casts you as an ex-cop searching for his old partner. An unrelated job lands you at a fleabag hotel where all the guests have secrets of their own.
It's a tantalizing setup for a mystery, and the stylized art and memorable characters make a great first impression. But as the hours drag, Hotel Dusk's charm wears thin. The scrolling dialogue lingers over every predictable exchange and crime-story cliché, as you oh-so-slowly get to know everyone in the hotel. And while a mystery should keep you alert for clues and misstatements, Hotel Dusk slaps you in the forehead with every new piece of evidence, then patronizes you with reading-comprehension quizzes after every chapter. But the atmosphere is the fatal flaw. The writers seem to have gleaned their knowledge of noir from cartoons and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and the chirpy score doesn't exactly evoke cool jazz. While it's fun to watch all the story threads come together, the game never sells the setting, or justifies its pacing.
Beyond the game: While Hotel Dusk has been pegged as a point-and-click adventure, the handful of puzzles are short and simple. And while it's nice to use the stylus to interact with the hotel, the game goes too far when it asks you to break out the stylus just to flick a switch or open the back of a toilet.
Worth playing for: The black-and-white line art is instantly engaging, and the illustrations serve the characters much better than their dialogue.
Frustration sets in when: Some of the conversations offer multiple paths, but there seem to be as many dead ends as interesting choices. And if you get tired of the dialogue, there's no way to speed-read through it.
Final judgment: Save your time and money for some real L.A. crime novels.