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Delaware St. John Episode 1 & 2 Review

Delaware St. John pack shot
Developer:Bigtime Games
Publisher:Lighthouse
Genre:Point & Click Adventure
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.delawarestjohn.com/
Release Date:February 16th, 2007 (UK)
Reviewer:Duncan Lawson (sinna01)
 

Delaware St. John is supernatural detective in a series of games from Bigtime Games. They are what might be mostly kindly described as a traditional static screen point and click in the tradition of Myst or 7th Guest. Each adventure will see the outlandishly named Delaware answering the summons of restless spirits that have some great pain or unfinished business that must be salved of to grant them peace. This will involve the player clicking their way through a classic horror genre setting - say abandoned hotel or ghost town - finding clues to solve and the occasional puzzle.

The game interface itself is simple, and left mouse clicking will perform the context sensitive action. The inventory appear across the bottom right hand corner of the screen, and only has four slots, so item hoarding and esoteric combinations are not a problem. Item use is conducted simply by clicking on the inventory item, and then the screen area you hope something will happen.

Delaware St. John screenshot 1 Delaware St. John screenshot 2 Delaware St. John screenshot 4 Delaware St. John screenshot 4

In the right hand corner of the screen lies Delaware's little communicator suite. On each little adventure backup is provided in the form of remote assistance by a bookish sort who will fill in details that would otherwise be too tedious to tie into the plot. You will also be able to upload photos, and sample and send audio recordings for spectral analysis to detect any spook residue. Neither of these features is as fiddly as you might expect, as since the screens are static with very little in the way of animation there will not be any split second photography or paparazzi-style chasing of phantoms for a sound bite.

Each episode is itself fairly short, and will likely require no more than two or three game hours to complete, even by a novice gamer.

Delaware St. John screenshot 5 Delaware St. John screenshot 6 Delaware St. John screenshot 7 Delaware St. John screenshot 8

Right - that all seemed to be fairly professional and impartial, didn't it? I outline the key features of the game, gave some examples of previous similar titles, even gave an idea of the difficulty and interface. I feel now I can move on to the section of the review where I can give my semi-educated opinion.

Horrible, horrible, thrice horrible. Who is still making games like this? The technology and development of this game surely is decades old by now. The game play and subject material is itself similar to the old FMV rich adult adventures Phantasmagoria, Gabriel Knight II and 7th Guest. But these were released in 1995, came on up to 7 CD's per game, and were objectively pretty bad game play-wise even at the time. Delaware St. John would not have stood up to these titles even if it had been released at the time.

First is the nonexistent animation. Myst may be able to get away with playing the art card by making each and every one of its screens a thing of beauty, its stillness lending to the sense of surrealistic dreaminess that permeates the whole game. Here the screens are all poor paint shop constructions that lack atmosphere even in the most classic spooky setting. It is actually some feat to have the archetype creepy kid a la The Ring or The Shining or any other movie turn up, moan 'Its coming for you…', and for this still to be so crushingly tedious you really do hope It gets you, and soon.

Delaware St. John screenshot 9 Delaware St. John screenshot 10 Delaware St. John screenshot 11 Delaware St. John screenshot 12

Navigation is performed by clicking on screen top, left, right, or bottom. The cursor will change into the appropriate arrow, and will similarly change should stairs or ladders and so forth be an option. The DVD drive will access each time you do this, and the new screen will resolve in all its tedium. This method of navigating in a an adventure was vaguely annoying back when we were playing RPG on the Commodore Amiga in the heyday of Legend of Kyrandia, but in this day and age has no place on anyone's hard drive at all. I considered mounting the game to a virtual drive to see if this helped with the pace, but I decided any more of this on my PC was an unsavoury prospect.

Should anything be actually occurring on the screen you have just entered, for instance you have tripped some totally unrelated event-switch elsewhere, the DVD will whir and twitch just a fraction longer, pretty much obliterating any sort of tension than might accidentally have snuck in. I use the term animation loosely, as these events tend to be a single static overlay, as lumpen as the scenery, of some spectral event of the past. The unquiet soul of the jock who came up to Haunted Mansion and got spooked to death will fade in, deliver some voice over, and fade out. Oh, the horror.

The game does at least jolly the gamer through it fairly briskly. When your direction is not already blindingly obvious (such as a spectre appearing and writing 'Go to Room 206' in big letters on the wall- hmmm: a mystery) you can simply call up your operator / bookworm. This will either prompt her or Delaware to randomly intuit that you 'should maybe check out the Lounge', and away you click. This will be the only passably useful feature of the communicator device. The audio feature is nearly never used, and the photo upload device perhaps twice per chapter when it is obviously necessary to do so. Combined with the inventory bar, these tool bars consume about the bottom 20% of the whole screen, which would be intrusive if we actually for cared what was going on in the view anyway.

Delaware St. John screenshot 13 Delaware St. John screenshot 14 Delaware St. John screenshot 15 Delaware St. John screenshot 16

The puzzles themselves range between the painfully crammed in and the numbingly tedious. Number puzzles involving code words and positional co-ordinates on the keypad feel like coffee break mind teasers that you'd find in the back of an intellectual newspaper. Their inclusion is clumsy and unwelcome, but they are at least challenging compared to the fetch and carry objectives. Delaware, for his sins, seems to have the occasional psychic flash of important locations - usually just after someone tells him they want a key or an earring or other tat. This amazing gift, upon encountering locked door, will flash up a black and white image of the plant pot in the lobby. Guess where you have to go back to in order to get through the door?

Occasional peril will befall the adventurer in the shape of timed exercises. An example of this is in the first couple of chapters, where occasionally a large spectral shadow cat will pursue you from Point A to Point B. To escape said beast, you must simply go down two flights of stairs, take an elevator, and go through the Lounge door. This is not challenging in itself, and is simply an exercise in efficiently clicking on the screen parts. Should the beast get you, the screen blanks, and you find yourself having to start the pursuit over again. You don't actually get to see the beast, but every twenty seconds or so the view will cut to a chase cam zooming along the corridors behind you, and should this cam reach you, you get to do it all again.

These sections will make you ache with envy, as the damn chase cam is actually smoothly animated from location to location, zooming along like an early, crappy FPS. There is, of course, no tension whatsoever. Another 'action' sequence come towards the end of the first chapter, and involves on clicking on a spook as they materialise within time frame of a couple of seconds, otherwise they eat you, or whatever it is they are meant to do to you. Since every single sound effect and sprite is loaded from the CD, this means that if your DVD drive is feeling efficient and stops spinning between accesses, there will be a delay as it pulls up the graphics for the next attacking ghost. The game itself doesn't pause the clock, so until you change the drive settings or the disk gets the message, you will be killed and reset every time you reach a new ghost. Kill number 1, get killed by 2. Kill 1 and 2, get killed by 3. So on and so on. Again, once the glitches iron out, this section is easy and tedious. This is similar in concept then, but not even as good as Operation Wolf - and that's 1987, a full 20 years ago. And so go about two minutes of your life you could have been writing a poem, kissing a loved one, or doing practically anything else at all.

Summary

This game might have just about escaped the modern gamer's contempt if it ran flash-based in a window, free with MSN or Yahoo Messenger. In that case it might have been worth a small chuckle for 80's nostalgia value over your coffee and cigarette break in the morning. Actually putting this on a DVD and most amazingly of all charging people money to own this is nothing short of lunacy. The dialogue is cringingly awful and poorly acted, but does not stand out as being any worse than the plot, lack of animation, coding and overall production.

Plus, Delaware St.John sounds like the name of a drag queen.

The bottom line
3.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Early 90's point n' click nostalgia
  • Low system demands
  • Short

Not so good stuff

  • Less scary than Scooby Doo
  • Fails in every aspect important to enjoyable gaming
  • Due to the singular flow of space-time it can't be un-made


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