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Last Window: The Secret of Cape West DS Review

06/12/2010 Thinking Story 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 (DS)
Another Code games

Support Mark, click to buy via us...

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

Further reading, films and books that create similar stories:

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West DS looks stylish, sounds atmospheric and has a great interface, but this mystery adventure squanders a promising premise with a fatal lack of momentum to its plot.

I haven't played Last Window's predecessor, the highly acclaimed Hotel Dusk (DS), but I have played both Another Code games from defunct developer Cing.

It's only with Last Window that I feel like I've really put my finger on what Cing's games lack: while they have all the right technical and aesthetic elements to make a great story based game, those stories are severely lacking in drama.

Drama is an intangible quality, but boy do you miss it when it's absent. Last Window has plenty of story, it has a lot of characters, it has mysteries, but none of these lock together into a dramatic story. There's no drive or energy to the game.

It's a shame, because it has an intriguing basic set-up, a former cop investigating the history and residents of the Cape West apartment building in Los Angeles in 1980, unearthing secrets and hidden crimes along the way.

Sounds good, doesn't it? A period noir adventure game. And, indeed, the sounds are good, with a smoky jazz soundtrack. The looks are good too, characters illustrated in a court-sketch style, pencil lines smudging and flickering in the excellent animation.

Rather than hit the ground running, Last Window just starts with a resigned slump.

There's the solid foundation for an adventure game here too, with simple controls that allow Kyle to explore the building, talk to characters, and interact with objects. It's a smooth system, pleasantly presented.

Shame the game does so little of interest with it. Rather than hit the ground running, Last Window just starts with a resigned slump, its morose hero shambling into the deeply tedious problems of Cape West's residents. There's a post box to empty, a missing ring, the rent is overdue...

The latter is perhaps the most maddeningly drab of the early tasks, as Kyle literally scrabbles for change in his apartment, shaking out every damn corner of the room. It's hard to think of anything more dispiriting than having to dredge coins together to pay the rent, so I've no idea why anyone thought it would make a fun task for a game. It's possibly the most depressing thing I've had to do in a game, and that includes drinking radioactive water from a filthy toilet in Fallout 3.

Cing seem to have misunderstood the idea of the beleaguered noir hero.

Cing seem to have misunderstood the idea of the beleaguered noir hero - yes, your downtrodden lead character can have money problems as part of his everyman appeal, but that should be a background to something actually happening, not the heart of the action.

They also, perhaps more fundamentally, seem to have not understood how to make their story engaging or their game fun. Even as more dynamic plot strands involving bugging devices and possible murders emerge, they're so tepidly introduced its hard to get excited about what happens next.

Last Window woefully fails to find the dramatic heart of its story, to find the narrative drive that makes for an unputdownable adventure game. A disappointing entry in an already sadly neglected genre.

Written by Mark Clapham

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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