Delaware St. John Vol.1: The Curse of Midnight Manor


Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    BigTime Games & Bryan Wiegele

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   Pentium 600 or better, 256MB Memory, 16x CD ROM, SVGA Graphics Card, DirectX 9





by nickie




Are you ready for a scare?

There are some truly pulse pounding moments in this game that caught me utterly off guard. When I first began scratching off notes for this review as I played the game, I noted how much it reminded me of the Nancy Drew series. You have a youthful protagonist and an unseen sidekick that assists with clues, and there is never even a hint of the salty or salacious. The main character enunciates his words for goodness sake.  I let the pen scribble about how this game is to be congratulated for being a family friendly experience, when there are so few games that fit that bill, and how you wouldn’t have to worry about explaining sexual terms or cringing as curse words fill the screen. That is still true. But, don’t have the kids do as I did, that is, wear headphones and play this at night in the dark. Just as I was lulled into writing the game off as a sweet and gentle experience into the paranormal, the game swept me into flight from an unseen monster, passing exquisitely rendered decaying walls at breakneck speed, and tensing as I fumbled for a key with sweaty hands to allow me to escape the hot breath of the evil entity that I could feel just behind me.

The beauty of this game is that it seeps into your subconscious, and it may even play better the second time you play it, when you know how to complete the puzzles and are instead able to savor the experience as if you were actually inside the manor, without being reminded it is just a game. Immersive? Oh yes! There is an abundance of detail to make those crumbling walls come alive, and poignancy about the earth fettered spirits that makes you care about helping them. There is a sense of desolation, isolation and indeed even jubilation when you can contact your partner and hear a friendly human voice.

“ Kelly? If I didn’t know better I would think you were thrilled a hell beast is chasing me!”

Delaware St. John is an unlikely hero into the foray with the world beyond the grave. He seems an ordinary guy, smart and good looking with a self deprecating wit. However, since childhood he has been isolated from his peers by his extrasensory visions of the dead. Since childhood Delaware has heard a cacophony of voices from beyond, at first tentative whispers, but rising in urgency as he grows older. Bewildered about why he has been singled out and what he needs to do to make these voices cease their bombardment of pleas, he has a fortuitous meeting with Kelly Bradford, part time paranormal investigator. She’s smart, technically savvy, and knows how to direct and ease the maelstrom within Delaware.

In this first game of a planned series of ten, Delaware awakens to insistent pleas for help from the spirit world, and his senses guide him to a dilapidated mansion known as Midnight Manor. Kelly has replaced his cell phone with a voice imagery communication device, a neat little gadget that allows Delaware to be tracked, photograph or record supernatural data for analysis by Kelly, and also, lucky for us, a way to receive hints. She berates him for leaving her behind, and gently admonishes him for going into the field without proper equipment, namely a working flashlight.

“Oh sure! I can see the future, but I can’t see when my flashlight is going to go out? That’s fair!”

 As Delaware walks through the eerie halls, he is almost immediately greeted by the chilling vision of a little girl who intones a nursery rhyme which reeks of menace. As he investigates further, spirits appear with regularity, aiding him in his mission to uncover his purpose there. Not only are there the visions of recently departed teenagers in their ill advised party at the manor, but also appearing are much older spirits that hint at being involved in the origin of the evil that overtook this location. There is a sense of spirits that are essentially benevolent in nature desperately trying to help Delaware to help them, and there is also a sense of a lurking elemental horror that awaits Delaware around every corner, evil and determined to protect the secrets that make the mansion alive. Through it all, Delaware retains his sense of humor and sense of purpose, and while we hear the vulnerability in his voice, we also see the inner steel that compels him to solve the mystery and ease the tortured souls from their earthbound existence.

“Disappearing people? Check! Voices from beyond? Check! I think this place just might be haunted!”

Promising interesting episodes in the future, Kelly and Delaware banter back and forth in an amusing fashion, and it is clear to us, if not to them, that in the future there will be romance. They are two sides to the coin; she is practical and organized, with a technical know how to make sense of things unseen, and he is none of that. But he is the gifted one, with a kind, stubborn nature and formidable courage that may be the reason the spirits have chosen him for the task.



“No one knows what happened to all those people years ago. It kind of feels like part of them is still around here. Something evil here does not want us to leave” – from Heather’s journal

This first person game’s movement is point and click by accessing directional arrows, with an eyeball icon to indicate a closer observation is available or an interaction possible. There is also a hand icon for obtaining an item or performing an action. On all but one occasion this performed without glitch. In one instance I had some trouble having the eyeball appear to obtain a necessary inventory item, but the malfunction may have been mine by being too speedy in swiping over the area. There were also two occasions when a closed fist appeared, indicating an item could be struck forcefully. Since I had no idea that this sort of action would appear, I spent time looking for an inventory item instead. Written directions would be helpful in this regard. There is a tutorial that can be played from the main screen, but also does not indicate that an action such as that is possible. Otherwise, the tutorial will help even the most newbie of players get a quick grasp on how to play the game.

The inventory panel and the voice imagery communicator are part of your main screen, and it is a simple matter to access inventory items with a click and transfer them to the main screen, where a red glow will indicate an item can be placed.

The voice imagery communicator is clever, and I found myself clicking pictures at will. I had to laugh when Kelly’s voice told me to only take pictures of items I felt might have paranormal value and to quit wasting the batteries. It is particularly clever as it acts as an in-game hint system. Several puzzle solutions can be assisted in this way by clicking a picture of the directions for a puzzle, whereupon Kelly will fire back a hint, and secondly, a solution. There were a few occasions when I felt the pictures should register as paranormal but did not, such as the shadow upon the bed.

The movement is adequate, but sometimes it was awkward with the slideshow presentation, and it is fairly simple to lose direction, or to overlook a necessary item.

Puzzles are generally inventory related, but there are a couple that require a bit of thinking to reach a solution. There is a dreaded maze, and I confess it can be confounding, until you realize the trick to it. There are several times in the game when you must speedily reach a destination. If your navigational skills are intact, as in, you remember your way around the manor, this will pose no problem. If you are unsuccessful, the game places you back in the place you were before you had to move hurriedly, and allow you as many tries as necessary. Also there is a time when you have to click hurriedly on objects to progress through a room. Again, if you do not succeed, you are given all the second chance tries you need.

As I mentioned previously, written directions would be nice to have for this game. One of the biggest reasons is that after you play the first story, you may not be aware that a second story has been unlocked for you. If you play only the first story, you are certainly going to think the game short with unanswered questions. The second story was far more interesting to my point of view, and answered most of those questions posed in the first story.  Except that I may be dense, but why did the room on the third floor have no door? The second story is accessed by clicking on “new game” in the main menu after you finish the first story.

You may save the game at any time when a cut scene is not playing; there are five save blocks, and must be overwritten to save more. These indicate a time, and it would be even better if they could include a picture to better remind you of the save location.  Load and save are a simple ESC key away on the main screen. The options are minimal, for voice and music volume control. The disk must be in the computer drive to play. Trying to play without the disk caused my computer to crash.

The graphics are crisp and clear, and lovingly rendered in many hued shades. The 2D graphics are lifelike in their detail. You can almost feel the peeling wallpaper in the decaying halls, it is that good. The graphics portray the mood intended, and it is an excellent effort in this regard. I also enjoyed the visions of the spirits, especially the scene where numerous ghosts are gathered to watch a magic act. Brilliant detail makes this scene one to savor. The only time I felt let down by the graphics was one scene at the end when facing evil. Of course, no easy task to make elemental evil have a face, I’m sure.

Ambient sounds are appropriate, and especially enjoyable were the sloshing of water in the basement, and the footsteps by an unseen entity that carry across the screen.

The voice acting is above average, but my preference would be to have Delaware speak with less precision, which made me think he was worried more about his elocution than the task at hand.  Picayune, I know.

The musical score is tremendous, nostalgic and bittersweet, promising untold stories from beyond the grave, of past tragedy, of playful spirits, of elemental forces that lurk just beneath a calm. The music changes as different locations are entered, and I was at times tempted to turn it down as it added to the pulse pounding tension with gusto as I hurried to evade the hunter.  That was in no way a negative! The main theme is hauntingly pretty in an old fashioned manner, and I enjoyed it very much.


So sum it up already

“Furniture moving by itself…yep, it’s a real party here!”

From the excellent graphics and musical score to the intriguing storyline, it is well worth playing this game. It is an exciting adventure of an everyday person into the realm of the spirits, told in a convincing and playful manner, yet with so much detail that one tenses and sweats along with the main character. As the first in a proposed series of ten, I am looking with great anticipation to the next story to come out by this very talented independent developer, Bryan Wiegele and Big Time Games.


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