LAST WINDOW: THE SECRET OF CAPE WEST – Review
Mysteries pile up, crimes may occur, but Kyle Hyde is always ready! Ready to sell cleaning products, do the crosswords, play pool and, of course, hear about all your life’s problems!
LAST WINDOW: THE SECRET OF CAPE WEST is a videogame developed by Cing, published by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS. It was directed by TAISUKE KANASAKI.
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West may just be how books will be translated into games in the near future when paper is outlawed by environmentalist legislators and tablets start a Skynet uprising that will surely destroy the human race’s tablet market. That will be the day we will experience Hemingway as it should be experienced: as a first-person walking simulator. Just how life is.
Ultimately, that’s essentially what Last Window is: a walking simulator. You hold you DS sideways, point the little plastic stick (The stylus! Such an awesome name for such a silly thing) at some position on the map and you will rhythmically walk in that direction, with the sound of elevator music and your footsteps.
These feet belong to Kyle Hyde, protagonist of Hotel Dusk: Room 215, a game that, according to Brendan Lee, was fucking trying (as if one should reward intent rather than result). The problem of Last Window is that it is trying again. It’s trying to tell me the exact same story. The nuances are a bit better, sure. Or rather: at least they are better. Characters are more wary of confiding in that stranger called Kyle Hyde, who, in turn, is less willing to act as a psychiatrist for anyone standing in the hallway. There is also a slight amount of tension – though it only lasts about 3 lines of dialogue. Best of all: there are no kids in the plot this time around.
On the other hand, the novelty of the graphic style wore off.
Here’s the main thrust: one year after the last game, Hyde has just lost his job. He is the sort of gloomy guy that looks at the beer bottles on his kitchen sink and says “These bottles used to have booze in them, but now they are empty. Just how life is.” Some old, wiser reviewers called him hard-boiled. I’m pretty sure that was just the black and white talking. From my experience, guys like Hyde are called emo nowadays. In fact, the greatest sense of achievement in this game, as well as in Hotel Dusk, is when you get a smile out of Hyde. Not a smirk. A full smile.
I bet these are the same reviewers who called Hotel Dusk a noir game, just because it had a detective and it was in black and white. Only if Cing invented a new kind of noir, perhaps; some sort of new oneiric noir, where characters’ worries and troubles are lifted by the nice man Hyde, instead of bringing them down to perdition. Hyde’s own “Hard-boiled” cynicism is barely skin deep. The guy can’t see someone standing still without rhythmically walking towards them to hear what the problem is.
Not only has Hyde lost his job, but he is now facing eviction: the apartment building he lives in, Cape West, is closing its down. But instead of looking for a new place, he is trying to solve the mystery of the Scarlet Scar: a jewel long missing from that very building. The reason is because an anonymous letter told him to. Such is the power of anonymity.
Maybe my tone is giving the impression this game is horrible. Trust me, this isn’t my intention. Last Window is schlock, yes, but only because it shares basically the same plot of Hotel Dusk: a web of mysteries woven by the incredible coincidence of every tenant being involved somehow in it – and I have already played Hotel Dusk countless (three, actually) times. Last Window hasn’t learned anything. What aggravates the situation is that we are not talking about random hotel guest this time, but the actual neighbors of Kyle Hyde – and yet the game asks me to believe he isn’t familiar with most of them!
Most of the joy in Last Window, however, derives from that weird unfamiliarity with Cape West. The game has its share of puzzles, sure. They are all topical and ranging from the retardedly easy to the obtuse. Still, unlike other adventure games like Phoenix Wright and The Secret of Monkey Island, solving them never makes you feel smart. Instead, this game excels in spatial exploration. As the game progresses and Hyde’s morning rituals become more comforting, you start building a relationship with that virtual world. Slowly, you will feel like the king of Cape West. You will start to know where everyone lives and how their room is arranged to match their styles. When someone moved an object from its rightful place, that object becomes evident as it is not where it was supposed to be, which is crazy! The player becomes so drawn into that place that suddenly the location of the objects around you start to matter. I previously mentioned that books could be translated this way in a somewhat scornful manner, but frankly, the potential that is in there makes me giddy! Imagine experiencing Crime and Punishment in this fourth-walled medium! Hearing Raskolnikov’s footstpes as if they were my own!
Alas, that potential is left untapped by Last Window. Sometimes it almost feels like the story was over before the game begun, as Hyde will be usually just talking about things that have already happened. As the geographical scope of the game is limited to Cape West, most revelations are delivered to you by Hyde’s friends via telephone. Other times, you play a Q&A test with the other tenants and they will tell you what you need to know. If you fail, you get a Game Over screen, meaning that Hyde curiosity wasn’t quenched. This is a very unique failure status when you think about it. Shouldn’t that frustration itself be the real punishment, instead of merely making the player restart the game?
There were also interludes, during which Hyde will take walks, go to the movies and enjoy other activities that shows he is not the indoor shut-in he actually is. But the gamer doesn’t partake in those either. It’s like Hyde felt bored and decided to leave the player alone for a while. Sure, neither of these activities advances the plot. They are not exactly storytelling. But this is the video game bullshit games have to endure due to their interactive nature in order to preserve immersion.
All those points together are very disconcerting. All of the sudden, I don’t feel I am Kyle Hyde anymore, despite the first person perspective. I don’t feel like I’m the hero of my own story. In fact, I don’t even feel the Hyde is living the game’s story – but merely hearing it from other people. In Metal Gear Solid 2, Hideo Kojima managed to pull a prank on all of us, by forcing us to take control of an avatar we didn’t want to and forcing us to see the character we desired to be only from a distance (he later tried that again in Metal Gear Solid 4, but wasn’t so successful). In Last Window I am the guy I wanted to be (read: the only ex-cop in the premises) but it still feels like I’m watching him from afar.
There are two new additions Last Window has over Hotel Dusk and they are so peculiar, I cannot resist mentioning it.
The first one is a book – an actual book – of the game’s plot. That is exactly as you’ve read: a book that tells the same story you have just played. Just like Farmville rewards its players with the ability to play less Farmville, so does Last Window: next time you feel like relieving the mystery of the Scarlet Star, you wonâ’t need to poke with your stylus around useless trash and hear Hyde compare his empty beer bottles to life. The backfire is evident as reading the book makes it clear Last Window is the story of a story being told.
The second one is a much needed “ignore” feature, which allows players to simply – and thankfully – ignore (read, save) characters from Hyde’s question-making impulses . Too bad it is barely used. Only once I got a Game Over for not ignoring someone. On the other hand, if you choose ignore something, chances are Hyde will stop and think to himself that yes, maybe he should have inquired over that one particular line he ignored after all – then proceeding to void your decision.
In the end, if you are sad you weren’t able to get a copy of Last Window because it wasn’t released over the Americas, don’t be. The secret of Cape West is a very interesting one. Too bad the gamer never take an active part into its revelation.
But then again: