Last Window: The Secret of Cape West Review – A Room with No View 13/04/2011Posted by jspanero in Game Reviews.
Tags: hotel dusk, last window
Cing’s swansong adventure for the Nintendo DS starts as a study in the sublimation of idleness, with a protagonist haunted by introspection and plenty of wandering around empty corridors unraveling an improbable mystery. But is Cing trying to send out an S.O.S. or deliberately boring everyone, including themselves, to death?
Cing is a small Japanese studio founded in 1999 who, after publishing a handful of mobile games in their homeland, gained international notoriety with the release of the adventure game Another Code: Two Memories for the Nintendo DS in 2005. Another Code was a minor hit worldwide, and although it had an interesting premise and enough aplomb to pull off a story about dysfunctional parenthood in a +7 rated game, it sold well mainly because the DS catalogue was in its infancy back then. If ever a game was deserving of the cult hit tag, Another Code was it. Their follow up, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 didn’t exactly fight hard to dismiss this tag: a slow-burning interactive novel with a convoluted plot but a striking style (hand drawn visuals and jazzy codas), unlike anything else on the console.
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West is a sequel to Hotel Dusk and was released in early 2010 in Japan and in autumn of the same year in Europe. It also happens to be Cing’s last ever release, as the company filed for bankruptcy in March 2010. The game follows in the steps of Hotel Dusk, with the same artistic direction, the same interface (holding the DS book-style, with the touchscreen acting as a 2D navigational map and a shoddy 3D environment in the other screen), the same protagonist (Kyle Hyde, a retired cop with more skeletons in the closet than Montgomery Clift) and a very similar premise (an enclosed set with a buried secret).
This time, however, Cing have ramped up the sense of suffocating claustrophobia to the max – where Hotel Dusk presented us with a main character still battling his own demons (mainly an unresolved bromance with Kyle’s previous cop partner Bradley), in Last Window he is a defeated man with a ten day countdown before he has to move out of his apartment in Cape West, Los Angeles, as the building is being demolished at the end of Christmas 1980, when the game is set. This background mirrors the crumbling circumstances Cing found themselves in while the game was in development, trapped between a rock and a hard place finishing what they knew would be their last opus. This sense of resignation permeates the whole game, from the sombre, sketchy characters who hardly ever smile, down to the protagonist himself: on hearing the news that he will be kicked out by the end of the month, Kyle raises his eyebrows and moves onto the next puzzle: here is a man who has accepted his fate and is resigned to drift along until the end of the game.
For the initial two thirds of the ride, Cing seem hell-bent to prove they can construct an adventure game that lacks all sense of drama and is purposely mundane and repetitive, with characters that spend eternities discussing events from 25 years ago in drawn out dialogue. The frankly outlandish main storyline revolves around a stolen jewel and a crime syndicate to which practically every inhabitant of Cape West has some relation to (now really), and feels shoe-horned to pacify the publishers (the game is being sold as a detective interactive novel after all). The glacial pace at which new plot points are introduced in the first seven episodes and the improbability of it all make it look more like an afterthought to a mood piece about a character living out of a suitcase, watching daytime TV and drinking his life away in an empty café decorated with the saddest polygonal Christmas tree while he awaits his final solution. The feeling of impending doom is the game’s greatest achievement, with some passages holding an air of Woolf-esque sensibility in the detailed descriptions of the superfluous intermingled with bleak asides and inane meandering of corridors awaiting a phone call to trigger the next cutscene.
This hazy sense of despair is completely at odds with the grim revelations in the latter part of the game – from episode eight onwards, pulp cliché after cliché is thrown in the player’s way, with puzzles becoming less about scraping coins out of a jar to pay the rent and more of the safe-cracking and riddle-solving variety. It is to Cing’s credit that they manage to make the prosaic bits of Last Window more alluring than the mystery the back of the box is actually selling. Kyle is not a hero, not even an anti-hero – he’s a dead man walking, so it is fitting that his biggest challenge to get through the day is opening a jar of maple jam, not saving the planet. There is a bittersweet satisfaction in progressing through a game where not much happens, specially in the current interactive landscape where players are constantly lured with the promise of achieving the supernatural and beyond. If Cing had had the balls to go full Salinger right till the credits of their very last game instead of adding a cop-out motif to justify the price of admission, Last Window would have been a far more interesting affair.
As it stands, the game is unashamedly linear and full of puzzles that can be solved with one flick of the stylus or by remembering a numerical combination that was displayed onscreen two minutes ago. That it can be played with half the brain switched off is not a stroke of game design genius nor a concession to the grannies of the Touch! Generation. Last Window is an adventure game for the clinically depressed: life in Cape West is a tale made up of meaningless conversations with characters that really ought to get out more, full of text and pointless walks, signifying nothing.
BUT DOES IT HAVE A HEART: Comatose, awaiting resucitation.
RECOMMENDED FOR: Manic depressive types. Point ‘n’ clickers tired of spitting contest puzzles on Caribbean islands.Last Window came out in Europe in Autumn 2010 and is currently not scheduled for release in the US. Amazon still has copies of the European version for a reasonable price.