Telltale’s episodic take on Robert Kirkman’s zombie horror The Walking Dead has been rightly lauded for its writing this year, albeit to a degree I’m not entirely comfortable with. Is the quality of its fiction really a cut above all others? I’m not quite as convinced as others seem to be. Perhaps that’s because some view The Walking Dead as a contemporary spin on the point-and-click adventure, whereas I see it more as a natural evolution of the visual novel: a genre that often boasts excellent writing, but which sadly is all too often ignored by critics and gamers alike.
As absorbing as I found The Walking Dead to be, my mind occasionally wandered as I thought back to Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, sequel to DS visual novel Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and the final game released by Japanese developer CiNG. It, too, is very much a character-driven tale, set in a world equally unfamiliar to many modern gamers: the 1980s.
The similarities don’t end there. One is a post-apocalyptic survival tale, the other a slow-burning noir mystery – but what ties them together is their humanity. Both games take the time to populate their worlds with characters that feel real, and then flesh them out through nothing more sophisticated than well-written dialogue.
Perhaps it was also the looming horror of the festive season that lured me back. Last Window is set in the run-up to Christmas, as detective turned salesman Kyle Hyde finds himself and the other residents of the Cape West apartment complex about to be evicted. A more mundane dilemma than a zombie apocalypse, granted, but it’s a rather more identifiable example of being forced from one’s home.
As with The Walking Dead, conversations drive the narrative forward as much as action, and while there are plenty of moments where you’re merely following a linear story, others’ reactions to you are dictated by your responses. Interactions are rather more banal but no less meaningful in making you feel a part of its world. Instead of hacking off an infected limb, you’re opening a fire door. Instead of deciding which mouths to feed with a limited supply of rations, you’re completing a crossword to enter a prize draw.
Now, CiNG’s games have always had a melancholy, reflective streak running through them. In DS cult favourite Another Code and its little-played Wii follow-up Another Code: R – A Journey Into Lost Memories, the writers ladle on the emotions too thickly, covering these slight tales in a treacly layer of sentimentality. What saves Last Window from a similar fate is its hero.
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