Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora is a game that I had looked forward to for a while. I first took note of it back in 2013 after its developer, Glass Bottom Games, managed to rake in $25,000 for its development on Kickstarter. So, when a review copy landed in my inbox a little over a week ago, I was excited to dive into its film noir inspired world. Except, things didn’t go exactly to plan. Instead of being enthralled by the dimly lit city of Tin Roof, I quickly found myself overcome by the dark shadow of disappointment. Hot Tin Roof is not a bad game, so allow me to elaborate.
After being laid off from her job at a fire station, Emma Jones turned to private investigation work with her sidekick Franky the wise-cracking, fedora wearing cat. The pair are asked to investigate a case involving a death, a break in and a missing will. What follows is a dark, humorous and often dull investigation involving rats, pigeons and lots and lots of cats.
The city is a large fully 3D world that, in an interesting design choice, you will be exploring as a sidescroller.There are loads of different characters to meet, whom Emma seems to have a bit of a history with, and in true film noire style a lot of the dialogue with these characters will leave you scratching your head. Conversations with certain characters often feel like you’ve joined in with no frame of reference of what was said prior to your involvement, and rather than being intriguing they become tiresome, instead.
In fact, dialogue is a bit hit and miss. Frankie will often chime in during conversations, making remarks with her tongue lodged firmly in her cheek, but for the most part I found myself eager to blast through reams of text due to how inconsistent its quality was. Most conversations have a branching structure meaning you can quiz people about different things, but, again, it’s all a bit of a chore. Lines of investigation you have already exhausted aren’t removed meaning it is easy to click on them again, leaving you to trudge through conversations you’ve already read through. And you can’t even jump from one topic to another, instead you need to finish up one line of questioning, close the conversation and start over again, sometimes enduring long-winded text sequences for the second, third or fourth time.
There’s more to Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora than conversations though. It often feels like a classic point and click adventure game, in a way, due to the myriad of different locations you visit. Such film noir standards as the diner on the corner and the police depot are highlighted by other shady locations like the rat’s underground base at the dump, and the crumbling ruins of an old apartment complex. To their credit Glass Bottom Games has crafted an interesting city filled with detail and, with stylish lighting included, it’s pretty gorgeous, too. There’s just one problem, it is exceedingly easy to get lost in. As I mentioned before, despite playing like a 2D sidescroller, Tin Roof is actually fully 3D and this poses a problem. The developers obviously want you to explore the world at great depth, and root out all the clues to help you in your investigation, but they neglected to include a map! Each section of the city loads up in separate chunks, and not one large city that you can explore at your leisure. With all the corners you will be turning and buildings you will be seeing, it is easy to become disoriented. My enjoyment of the game would have increased many times over had I known exactly where I had been and where I was going.
Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora doesn’t exactly play to its strengths, when I wasn’t getting lost or looking for clues I was playing through arduous plaforming sequences, which were made that much worse by how loose Emma controls. The game takes a pretty fun and unique approach to puzzles though, so it isn’t all bad news.
Puzzle solving, which uses Emma’s gun, is the game’s saving grace. Different kinds of ammo solve different problems, so bubble rounds, for example, show hidden platforms and levers to help you reach new areas, there are also fire rounds that can burn select flammable materials, and rounds that act as grappling hooks to help you reach higher platforms. I just wish that the developers had taken the same inspired approach to the rest of the game, rather than making stylistic decisions that are harmful to the overall experience. As I said, this is not a bad game, it’s probably even a great one, but it is wrapped up in a series of poor design choices.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on Hot Tin Roof, but it has its problems. Little problems. Little problems that stacked up and grated on me over time, until I couldn’t stand to play the game any more. The biggest issue, for me, is the lack of a map or even a mini map for each location you visit. I can deal with finding clues and examining each area carefully, but if I don’t know where I am or where I have to go it is difficult to become immersed in the city around me. If you are an old school gamer that enjoyed the Lucasarts point and click games you will probably love Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora, and its lack of a map or handholding will do little to faze you, but If you have a low threshold for running around in circles, you had best sit this one out.