Picture the scene. A secluded room at the H.Q. of Cateia Games in Croatia, tables strewn with empty coke cans and half-eaten donuts. A group of hollow-eyed writers gather to brainstorm ideas for a new casual adventure game. "What’s it about?" asks one of them.
"Egyptian mysticism, magical artifacts, the afterlife," replies the lead writer, "that sort of thing. Come on, guys, let’s hear your thoughts."
And the diverse ideas tumble onto the table; Knights Templar, Holy Grail, King Arthur, Avalon, Excalibur, Egyptian Mummies, tomb artefacts, Antony and Cleopatra, immortality and, of course, death; in one form or another. "Ah, but which of these subjects shall we use?" is the question posed by one of the group.
"All of ‘em," answers the lead writer.
And that’s exactly what they do; everything bar the kitchen sink goes into the mix, which, surprisingly, results in a very playable 3rd person point-and-click game entitled Hotel.
The hotel in question is the exclusive Bellevue, situated in a converted medieval castle in France. Despite the grandeur and elegance of the surroundings there is a problem; a crime has been committed. A thief has stolen a valuable necklace and left the victim in a coma. Most of the guests, spooked by the robbery, have checked out, leaving the place deserted. The hotel’s moody resident detective, Jean Matisse, investigates the crime, but makes little headway.
He would never admit it, but he needs help.
And help arrives in the shapely form of Bridget ‘Biggi’ Brightstone, NYPD detective and FBI dropout, who has been seconded to the hotel to investigate the robbery. Bridget was on vacation, sunning herself on a French beach after a successful conclusion to her last case, when her boss called. After some gentle persuasion, she now finds herself standing outside the impressive gates of the Bellevue. And that’s her first problem; how does she actually get into the hotel?
Ingenuity and positive thinking always helps. This is 2010, utilize the technology, there’s plenty of it in this game. Once inside the hotel, and having spoken to the butler, Bridget quickly realizes a couple of things. Firstly, resident detective Jean Matisse is doing his best to impede Bridget’s investigation; he has marked off the crime scene denying her access, and he is also holding back vital information. And secondly, there seems to be much more involved here than just a simple robbery.
During the first day Bridget will check into her own room, explore the castle courtyard and fountain, the crime scene, the intimidating corridors and, if she can find the key, she will also attempt to discover the secrets that lurk down in the basement. There is also a fax machine to repair, emails to send, axes, wrenches and forklifts to utilize, not to mention a secret passage to uncover. Bridget will also meet with Mister Greenleaf, the hotel owner, who may, or may not, tell her the truth. And at the end of the day, not even sleep is a comfort; Bridget dreams of ghosts and glowing-eyed statutes.
But where do dreams end? Where does reality begin?
Day two finds Bridget following the clues through a cellar and an office where she has to solve a series of puzzles, which in turn lead her to Egyptian artifacts and the statue with the glowing eyes. Slowly, but surely, the secrets of the Bellevue hotel are being uncovered ... and not everybody is happy.
Day three and the clues lead to the hotel restaurant, where Bridget meets the mysterious Mrs Atia Greenleaf, who is not what she appears to be. There is also a library, a boiler room and another secret passage to explore. All these puzzles and clues contained in the various locations lead inexorably in one direction - the discovery of an Egyptian mummy. Why is such an artifact here, in this place? What purpose will it serve?
Many questions ... few answers.
And as the investigation becomes more convoluted Bridget must use the available digital technology in order to make progress. She must examine everything, interpret the clues, as nothing is as it seems. With dogged determination, she slowly begins to uncover the various clandestine plots hidden within the walls of the Bellevue hotel and in the adjoining village. She also realizes that this is no longer about solving a jewel robbery; it is much deeper, much more involved. It is now a matter of life and death, unraveling an ancient conspiracy and restoring the balance of time.
She can solve this mystery, but she will need the help of some very strange characters who require careful handling, King Arthur of Camelot and Cleopatra among them. And there is also something else. Wisdom, truth and love; three things she has to discover by traveling through time portals located in the village. Who said life was easy for a NYPD detective?
The photo-realistic backgrounds and the excellent animation of Bridget, as she sashays around the various locations, enhance the drama immensely. Graphics should complement the narrative and drive it forward, and in this particular game the subtle nuances of light and shade work well within the confines of the hotel, showing every nook and cranny with perfect clarity. At one point, Bridget uses a torch in the darkness and the cursor follows the light source around the screen, adding to the realism and sense of being involved in the storyline.
Outside the hotel, the scenes in the village and various other outdoor locations use direct sunlight and shadows to great effect. Some of the puzzles in the later part of the game rely solely on the use of light and shade, moving beams of light across symbols to create moveable objects. There is also a grainy effect used in the cut scenes and headers which older gamers will remember from the Sierra On-Line adventures of the eighties and nineties.
Unlike earlier adventure games, the music used today is far more accomplished and certainly more entertaining. The music underlying most of the scenes in Hotel matches the action perfectly, stretching the tension when necessary or adding a calming influence when needed. At no time did I feel the music becoming intrusive. The use of ambient sounds includes footsteps, doors creaking, panels opening and a realistic burst of thunder and lightning. My one complaint is the lack of voice acting; reading extensive lines of dialogue on screen can become very tiring and repetitive and it is possible to miss vital clues.
It is also possible to miss clues in the abundance of sliding block puzzles which incorporate maps, symbols and graphics; there is even an Egyptian water lock puzzle, something I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately, in order to make progress you must manipulate the different combination of puzzles in a specific order, and they have to be completed, which can lead to a certain amount of frustration. There are no easy solutions here, as most of the puzzles require a trial and error approach.
Apart from the sliding blocks, everything else is inventory-based. Collect and use any items you find, sometimes in conjunction with other items. Thankfully, this is not a pixel hunt as every item fits logically into a location and makes perfect sense within the game world. One thing that does not make sense is the use of multiple objects. At one point, a set of screws need removing, and that requires four visits to the inventory, once for each screw, which is not logical. And, at times, a suspension of disbelief is required, especially when Bridget slips a full-length ladder into the back pocket of her skin-tight jeans, bearing in mind that there wasn’t much room in there anyway because she’d just acquired a full-size forklift truck, which also went into her back pocket.
Some jeans. Some gal.
The interface is elegant but uncomplicated, with most functions controlled by the mouse. Left click controls actions; right click calls up the inventory. Pressing the spacebar moves Bridget at running pace, which seems somewhat redundant when you can simply double click on any exit and instantly transport her to the next location. Clicking on an object brings up either a magnify glass to view the item, or a hand to move it to the inventory.
There is also a Hint icon at the bottom of the screen which is useful in some situations without being overly informative and ruining the game. The Collector’s Edition of Hotel contains a strategy guide which certainly is intrusive as it makes it so easy to give up on a complicated scenario and seek out the answers. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, this is by no means an easy game to solve and it does stretch the imagination. There are two very good walkthroughs available at the moment, which I suspect some gamers may wish to peek at when stuck in an unforgiving basement or cellar.
The writing in this game is crisp and concise which is probably just as well because there are some lengthy tracts of dialogue to get through. Having said that, at no time did the exchange between the various characters become boring or stilted, which takes a deft hand to achieve when the narrative is as complicated as this one. And that did lead to one problem. I felt the writers’ tried to pack in too much detail and thus left the story feeling slightly underdeveloped. It certainly wasn’t a disaster and the game did reach an obvious and logical conclusion, but the ending felt rushed and could have concluded at a much more sedate pace, bringing together all the elements of the plot which would have created a more satisfactory ending.
Hotel is a very good game and one that is easy to recommend. More than fifty detailed locations, a raft of logical puzzles, a cast list of historical figures and a very good story line will keep most gamers intrigued and involved for the four or five hours it takes to complete this game. There is also a Collector’s Edition of Hotel which contains the Strategy Guide, character’s biographies, some artwork used in the game, a selection of wallpapers and six music tracks. All in all, a good add-on to the original game.
The developers didn’t get everything right, but perfect games are few and far between and Cateia Games have certainly created a niche for themselves in the casual game market, and well deserved, too. Hotel will never be a classic addition to the adventure genre, but it’s certainly worth playing.
Visit Rob's personal site for more of his writing and to find out more information about his novels.