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Last Window: The Secret of Cape West DS Review

26/01/2011 Thinking Microcosm Gamer Review
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Last Window: The Secret of Cape West DS

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West




Further reading:
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Heavy Rain
Ace Attorney

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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Story Gamer (DS)
Domestic Gamer (DS)
Dressup Gamer (DS)
Reporting Gamer (DS)

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West DS is a mystery about the burdens we all carry and the connections we share. After a slow start, I fell in love with Kyle Hyde's world all over again as I got to know the characters and share their stories.

Like the previous game in the series, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Last Window is strongly focused on time and place. It creates a microcosm where everything is infused with meaning. The environments often seem mundane on a surface level, but they have deep significance to the characters. People constantly connect emotion to their surroundings, such as a widow returning to the place where she originally met her husband.

Often, a place or an object might be the only connection someone feels they have to a loved one or treasured memory. Naturally, along with these positive connections there are also half-forgotten tragedies or dark secrets to uncover about a character's past and exactly why they are drawn to this place. Juicy gossip and hidden motives are the order of the day.

Personally, I don't have a lot of strong connections to places, but do link important events in my life to other things - songs, smells and personal objects. That gave me plenty in common with these melancholy characters, constantly looking back at the events that shaped their lives.

Given the importance of place to Kyle Hyde's world, the major disappointment in Last Window is that it recreates an environment so similar to Hotel Dusk. We've left a run-down hotel and moved to a run-down apartment building that used to be a hotel. It was a missed opportunity not to build on the original game instead of recreating it.

It creates a microcosm where everything is infused with meaning.

The layout of Cape West isn't completely identical to Hotel Dusk, but there are many elements in common, from the homey cafe to the vending machine advertising a chance to win prizes. It's actually similar enough to make some of the puzzles easier. For example, I already know the laundry is a good place to look for a lost object.

The other life issue here is aimlessness. In Hotel Dusk Kyle Hyde had a mission he was chasing, and at the finale was still determined to continue his quest. In Last Window Hyde seems to have given up. He's stuck at home and needs to find new motivation. Where distractions from other people used to be an irritation to him, now he seems grateful for some injection of purpose.

It's odd to see Hyde actually volunteer to solve a mystery or help his neighbour out. They have softened his rough edges a little here, it seems.

Sometimes, I like the inclusion of day-to-day elements in games, like having a meal or washing clothes rather than constant world-saving action. It adds a touch more reality, and somehow normally boring things can seem exciting in a virtual format. Heavy Rain's introduction was rather over-done -- creating a stereotypically perfect family in order to screw it up -- but I was still engrossed by setting the table or having a shower.

There is a kind of romance to this noir world, which connects character, time, place, and purpose in a very human way.

Um, maybe having a shower wasn't the best example, but the point is I'm okay with simple elements of life recreated in games. Still, even I have to admit, Last Window didn't always handle these well. That aimlessness made some tasks feel more like busy work rather than a natural activity.

Thankfully, it gets better though. The pace picks up a lot in the later chapters and we start to see more of what's going on. Hyde seems far less aimless when he finds a clear personal connection to follow instead of just a vague hint.

There is a kind of romance to this noir world, which connects character, time, place, and purpose in a very human way. Although the characters tend to be archetypes, they are loveable archetypes, as though someone really wanted us to believe in them anyway. They never descend into exaggerated jokes like, say, Ace Attorney characters.

But some things, like in real life, will forever remain a mystery.

The pencil-sketched art style suits this vibe perfectly, being both soft and half-real. The limited amount of animation is still enough to convey a lot of personality. It almost feels like deliberate restraint instead of a response to technical limitations. Either way, it works to give the series a distinctive look and make me wonder what's going on beneath the sketched surface of a character. It's a wonderfully appropriate animation style for hidden secrets.

After peeling back those layers and seeing the story to its conclusion, I'm only sorry that we are unlikely to see any more of Kyle Hyde's adventures in the future. In the end, Last Window becomes less about looking into the past, and more about what the future holds for all the characters preparing to move on. But some things, like in real life, will forever remain a mystery.

Written by Amber Gilmore

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Amber Gilmore writes the Microcosm Gamer column.

"Games provide me with a diverse range of miniature worlds to explore. I'm fascinated by the myriad of ways these microcosms recreate elements of reality. Even the most fantastical or abstract games stem from real world concepts when studied under the scope. Far from being mindless escapism, playing games prompts me to reflect on the concepts presented and how they inform my outlook."

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