☆ Review: The Norwood Suite "A Hotel that would have mixed reviews on TripAdvisor" ☆ #IndieGame #GameDev

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When I first read about The Norwood Suite video game, the premise of a mystery protagonist arriving at a secluded hotel to solve a mystery had more than a touch of ‘The 7th Guest’ about it.

The Norwood Suite is light years away from the 90’s Trilobyte classic (and its dodgy sequel) in a tonal sense but has a lighthearted style all of its own.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the gameplay to back up its audio and visual aesthetic.

As briefly mentioned above, the story that opens The Norwood Suite is that you, as the unnamed protagonist get dropped off outside The Norwood Hotel, which was previously owned and lived in by the great musician Peter Norwood who has long since vanished, leaving the hotel to be opened to the public. This has resulted in several long-term residents, attracted to the Norwood mythology.

The Norwood Suite is played in a first-person adventure style, with all elements controlled by the left mouse button. The puzzles in the game come from an inventory-based system. The first things that grip you in the game are the vivid visuals and the use of music. The hotel is set up in quite a labyrinthine way, filled with secret passages that lead the way through various tableaus which give an insight into the history of the enigmatic Peter Norwood. 

The graphics are colourful and stylised with minimal animation in the game. Most characters are static, with only their head moving during conversations and as you move from room to room, the lighting fades behind you and brightens up in the next room as you approach giving a staged feel to the game. Accompanying the rich visuals is a pumping jazz fusion soundtrack. Music features heavily in the game which isn’t surprising as The Norwood Suite was developed by a musician named Cosmo D (the game also features a companion soundtrack on Bandcamp which can be streamed for free or purchased as a CD/download). Speakers are spread throughout the hotel and the music blaring through them is constant, even the characters in the game have instruments in places of voice-acting, the instrument and tones are used to reflect their character and voice which is a really nice touch.

As I wandered the hotel, I had a weird flashback to the tone of Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, the games aren’t in any way similar (apart from the fact that both are 3D games with an adventure element) but I couldn’t shake the feeling of similarity that was evoked, perhaps it was the mid 2000’s style character models and richness of location.

You’ll meet several characters as you make your way through the Norwood Hotel who have various tasks for you and it’s here that I began to have reservations about the game's design. In comparison to the surrealist surroundings, pounding soundtrack and the quirkiness evident throughout the game, the actual gameplay itself is really flat and puzzles never get beyond basic fetch quests. For example, one of the first quests is bumping into someone in the car park who talks for a while (another issue I had was the basic, uninspired dialogue in the game which seemed contrary to the effort used in the rest of the game. Most characters have nothing of value to say and idly chat before telling you what they want which will be in a white text so as to stand out) before stating that he wants a six-pack of energy drinks.

I walked up some stairs to the entrance of the hotel and spoke to the receptionist who said that when you check in…..you get a free six-pack of energy drinks. After some other point, A-B fetch quests which were quite generic (making a sandwich, turning the computer on, turning on the Wi-Fi hub, etc.) I gave the guy his energy drinks. This continues throughout the game’s short running time. There are other puzzles in the game which require switches to be pressed and the like but all puzzles are VERY easily solvable and the concierge literally tells you what to do next if you get stuck, although I doubt you’ll need his assistance.

I completed The Norwood Suite in one sitting that lasted just under two hours and in that time I unlocked 16 of the 17 achievements available, so I saw pretty much all the game has to offer. There were a couple of creepy moments in the game but the tone the game mostly goes for is surrealism and sadly, this only comes through particularly strongly in the location and music of the game. The characters all seem under-developed and their motives are plain and boring. A band on tour, energy drinks reps that are at the hotel for a conference, a world-class DJ playing an exclusive show in the basement and as you progress through the game, nothing really changes. Characters may appear in different locations, but once you have completed their particular quest, they just repeat dialogue that has no effect on the game.

The Norwood Suite does have a charm of its own, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the game; it’s just that it has no real depth to it. There are numerous books to be found in drawers with strange symbols and titles, but none can be read. Conversations are mostly tedious affairs that are clicked through until you find out what that person needs you to get for them. 

The best parts of the game for me were flicking switches in the hotel rooms and wandering the secret tunnels, viewing the tableaus hidden behind walls and book-cases. The game has some nice ideas but almost all of these belong in the graphics and sound departments with gameplay feeling basic all the way through to the ending sequence, which I’ll let you discover for yourself.

The fact that every aspect of the game was created by one person is quite a feat, although I do think that maybe a second individual dealing with the puzzle and especially dialogue elements could have lifted this to a really memorable indie classic.

Try the free prequel; Off-Peak by Cosmo D to see if this is for you as the games are quite similar.

Whilst the game is only £6.99 on Steam, the fact that it is only 1-2 hours long and the main draw is the tone of the game, I would definitely suggest trying out Off-Peak first to see if The Norwood Suite is for you, as I can’t imagine it would be a game that everyone would enjoy.

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Just Falls Short Of Greatness)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Game Link: Steam
Dev Link: Cosmo D

Review By Britt

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