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Delaware St. John
Volume 1 - The Curse of Midnight Manor
Release date: 06/2005
Developer/publisher: Bigtime Games
Game language: English
No age rating
A review by André 6th August 2005
"Delaware St. John - The Curse of Midnight Manor" is a premiere, because this game is the first part, quasi the pilot game of a horror adventure series. The developers yet plan much for the future, because "Curse of Midnight Manor" is (quote): "The first of a long series of planned adventure games". I mean to have read that altogether ten (!) parts are planned.
When starting the game for the first time, comparisons to Dark Fall quickly arise, because Delaware St. John not only plays in ego perspective, but the title character also has got a special equipment, with which he can - as well as in Dark Fall (and Amber too) - record ghost voices using a special micro as well as visualize the spirits by photo. Not least the game can compare to Dark Fall in quality, since it's likewise a born and bred independent adventure game, thus a game, which was created, self-directed like most Indies, with much idealism and small budget. Who now has become curious whether Delaware is equal in fun and thrill and whether the creepiness comes across just as subtly, will find out in this review.
Delaware St. John - that's the name of the game and that's also the name of our protagonist. He is a kind of junior Gabriel Knight. Like all junior Gabriel Knights he is hearing voices since his childhood and is haunted by strange nightmares. And like Gabe has found his Grace, Delaware has found a companion in Katie too, who supports him during his investigations.
Tonight Delaware wants to fathom one of his dreams and for this reason enters an old hotel, which is actually existing in reality outside his dream. A group of young people has visited the house before and disappeared in an unexplainable way. The front door closes and from now on Delaware is all by himself, only armed with his Voice Imaginary Communicator - Del affectionately calls it Vic. From the start Delaware can communicate with this equipment to his perky assistent at least acoustically, what adds some liveliness to the game, while he explores the building all by himself. Besides he can take photos and record ghost sounds with this gadget and send everything directly to Katie to analyze it.
Curse of Midnight Manor is divided into two episodes and if we have finished the first, we gain access to the second, which seemlessly follow on to the hotel episode. Both episodes are very short and even if one sums up both playing times, one unfortunately won't spend more than perhaps two to three short gaming nights with Delaware.
At the beginning the game makes more than a good impression already. The installation runs smoothly and after the start we can open a tutorial, to make familiar with the functions. You hardly find such a practical and charming introduction in a commercial adventure game.
Strictly speaking this game has another point&click control, well proven in similar form in most adventure games - extended by the three special functions of Vic.
In Delaware you can adjust music and voices separately, what is unfortunately not yet standard in all adventure games. However there are no sub-titles, which would have contributed to a better understanding. There's always a good sound quality and very well articulated but sometimes very fast spoken text, as the speakers of course didn't consider German or other foreign players with mediocre English language skills. Unfortunately I could hardly understand the ghost voices sometimes, because of the reverberation which was added to them. Apart from this, the speakers did a great job and the sympathetic voices of Delaware and his companion were a very good selection. Not so good however that one cannot skip dialogues, although in some situations always the same text was droned. Del's favourite sentences are "The door is locked." or some modifications like "Surprise, surprise, the door is locked." which I've heard a hundred times.
The musical score however is really remarkable, not only for an Indie. Because the absolute professional pieces feed the uncanny atmosphere. You can hear dark, industrial tracks with a classic touch like stoic piano chords or inflaming sounds with bass drums and strings. In some places in the hotel you can also listen to smoothe bar-musik, which surely would have provided some atmosphere to lounges some times ago. But now it doesn't want to fit at this dead place any longer and sounds a bit strange though. And when suddenly some ghosts appeared, I inevitably had to think of the famous bar-scene in Shining, where Jack Nicholson boozes up with his imaginary guests.
During our search for the missing young people, we not only discover hints and clues, but also many a spook. It would be a mistake to consider yourself too safe. Because sometimes we switch from the role of the hunter into the hunted. Not every ghost is probably well disposed. In some situations we must turn tail and run, in others we had to assassinate the ghosts in a shooter-like sequence. Otherwise we end up in the land of the dead, rather than we wish to. However these few, really simple sequences don't make high demands on action-inexperienced adventure players. And if we couldn't cope with the situation immediately, there is kindly no Game Over, but a second chance to master the situation this time better.
By no means everything is logical in a haunted mansion and so it can happen, that the actually normal hallways of the hotel transform into a continuous labyrinth, until we find the correct exit. In addition there are a few decoding puzzles as well as the mandatory inventory puzzles. However we can only collect or use very few objects in each case. All things considered I found nearly all puzzles very well solvable.
The biggest difference to the big commercial games is the fact that there are actually no animated sequences. As intro e.g. you can watch a sequence of stills instead of a film scene. And instead of the otherwise usual cutscenes we find parts of a diary of one of the missing young people, which gives us additional information and so pushes the story ahead. The graphics consist of many fixed images, that you have to click for moving forward. It's comparable to other spooky adventure games such as Dark Fall, Amber or the Blackstone Chronicles by John Saul. From the quality point of view, Delaware needn't avoid comparisons with these and other games like the early episodes of the Nancy Drew series.
An uninhabited hotel with dark, partly rain-flooded cellar ducts is presented to us. The formerly inhabited rooms are orphaned and the furniture is in a desolate condition. They were partly devastated by the vandalism of past days and scrawled with graffitis. Somewhere else large numbers of crates and cardboards pile up in the allegedly abandoned building. A nice effect is created when the circular shine of a flashlight illuminates only a small part of the environment, while the rest can only be recognized dimly and thus makes your flesh creep. In a ticklish situation a sudden camera movement adds apparently dynamics to the game and makes clear to the players that they now should better do something and do it fast, in order not to go to the dogs.
To play such a game at noon with daylight would mean to cast pearls before swine. The German summer also was nice to me and suitably takes a break just when the game was released. Because if you play Delaware in the dark at night, the stormy wind, blowing through the curtains, and the rain outside support the creepy atmosphere very much. And Delaware has learned indeed from its models, even if I must say I wasn't scared as much as in the really morbid Dark Fall. While in Dark Fall the eerie consists of exactly the fact that the sinister remains unknown up to the very end, the first ghost in Delaware already appears after a few minutes.
They remind rather of the horror beeings, which can be found on the covers of pulp novels and add a whole portion of John-Sinclair-trash-flair. Overall the developers succeeded in creating an uncanny atmosphere which is particularly based on the sound effects. When using the ghost detector it reacts with a creepy crackle and the great music produces quite an ambience. The graphics succeeded either. They actually only differ from the big professional games by the fact that there are no movie sequences and rarely animated screens. For example there is not even a blazing candle. However some few, impressive surprises in suitable places provide dynamics and support the atmosphere in the great game environment converted graphically in dark brown tones. The bottom line is, that Delaware St. John 1 is a bit too short, but for an Indie done very professional. It has to offer a lot of fun and therefore doesn't need to hide behind the "big ones" of the genre. Expressed in per cent that means
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
- Win XP
- AMD Athlon XP 1800
- 512 MB RAM
- Graphic card Radeon 9200 series
Hard drive 60 GB