Delaware St John Vol 1: The Curse of Midnight Manor
Delaware St John and his partner, Kelly Bradford, are investigators of the psychic type. Armed with some gadgets and fuelled by his visions, Delaware finds himself at Morrisville Manor, aka Midnight Manor, having heeded the call for help that has recently intruded into his dreams. After receiving some background info from Kelly via his Voice Imagery Communicator (VIC), it's off to get the lights turned on to see what all the fuss is about. Pretty soon it's clear that hauntings are a big part of the problem.
If this reminds you a little of a Nancy Drew episode, well I'm with you on that one. It felt a fair bit like an episode as well.
Having said that, I think Nancy Drew is a more polished product all round, but this is the first outing for this character, and the title suggests there are more planned, so it will no doubt build on this foundation. There is lot to like at Midnight Manor, and Delaware and Kelly should certainly go round again.
When they do, I expect that the rough edges will have been polished, some things will have been changed, other aspects will be tweaked. Nancy evolved and I expect Delaware St John to do the same.
I read that this was a game for all the family and whilst that is certainly true I thought that Midnight Manor tried to fit a little of everything and a little for everyone in, and as a result was a little unbalanced. Some very easy puzzles, a couple that were much harder, some running and being chased, a little ghoulish click-fest, a "boo" but not a scare. Whilst variety can be a good thing, the game was too short to fit all those things in and still be a truly satisfying whole.
Even the instructions were a little hit and miss: an excellent in game tutorial sets even the most novice player on their way, but nowhere are you told how to save your game. It's not hard to work out for experienced players, but a readme file would helped the inexperienced.
What else would I change? The maze for one. I confess a mild allergy to anything maze-like, most being filler and little else. A haunted house should behave a little strangely, so finding yourself in an unending series of rooms and halls where once there was but a short walk is at least explicable. Perhaps the house was fighting back, not wanting you to uncover its secrets? But in the end to me it remains filler. The maze lovers amongst you can beg to differ.
So too I would not make you read the credits each time you start the game, and I would let you re-read the journal that you find page by page as you go.
The characters, though, need no tweaking. Both Delaware and Kelly are appealing personas, and are both very well voiced. You don't get to see Kelly, but she is very much a part of the investigations. You play Delaware, and you can take pictures and recordings with your VIC and Kelly will analyse them and tell you if there is anything special or unusual about them. She will also contact Delaware as she researches the events that unfold, and you can contact Kelly for help at any time. Indeed, she functions like an in game help menu for some of the puzzles.
The writing too is a strength, and Midnight Manor is a well scripted game. It retains a teen adventure feel throughout and the dialogue is well suited to its protagonists. It pokes a little fun at itself, knows when it is being a little silly, and remains upbeat to the end despite its, at times, downbeat and even sad story.
As befits a game of paranormal investigations, there are creepy goings on and things that go bump. The ghosts want help, and if you give it to them, they will help you. Follow the path they point you along, and run when they tell you to. Really! If you don't, a large cat like entity called the Hunter will end your investigation. If he does, don't panic, as you get returned to the game just prior to his "appearance". Simply run faster next time!
These are the chase sequences I referred to, and whilst you might not know where to run at first, once you do there is plenty of time, so super fast reflexes are not required.
What of the other puzzles? Quite a few involve doing what is necessary to set the spirits free from Midnight Manor; most of these involve uncovering the truth. There are a few self contained puzzles, the pick of which (and the most difficult) is getting the elevator to work. As noted, Kelly can usually help with these.
The entire game takes place inside the Manor, and you will go back and forth as you move through the game. There are a limited number of items to be found and used, although you won't be able to find some of them until you have reached the appropriate part of the game, regardless of whether you look in the right place or not. Remember that the ghosts are leaving you clues, and helping you along, so some things might not be there the first time you look.
Delaware St John Vol 1: The Curse of Midnight Manor utilises pre-rendered graphics and looks rather good. It uses a point and click interface, with a small range of cursors activated by hotspots. It will be familiar to most gamers, and easily accessible to newcomers. It might provide a fright or two, and the heart might beat a little faster in the chase scenes as the beast gets closer. The musical score will help in that regard.
Whilst some of the ghosts are there because they met an untimely end, this isn't a gory game. Nor is it overly long, and it plays in two parts, each being a different tale but being sequential in game play (ie things you have done in part 1 such as getting the lights turned on remain done in part 2). 4 hours should see you through, depending upon how long you take with the maze.
You can purchase this game on-line from the Delaware St John website.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2005.
All rights reserved.