The Delaware St. John series got off to a bit of a rough start. While the first two entries showed a lot of promise, the lack of scares and convoluted storyline made them frustratingly disappointing. Thankfully, the third and latest entry in the series, Delaware St. John: The Seacliff Tragedy, addresses some of the major issues of its predecessors, making it by far the best game in the series to date.
This time around our titular paranormal investigator has his sights set on a haunted amusement park, which was once the scene of a grisly accident. It’s now four years later and the place is teeming with ghosts. As Delaware and his team investigate, the tale soon becomes much more gruesome, and the game ends on a satisfying, although somewhat predictable, twist. In a nice change of pace Delaware isn’t the only one out in the field this time around, as his brainy side-kick Kelly sneaks along for the ride. Throughout the game you’ll be switching back and forth between the two, as they each investigate different areas of the park.
Like the previous games in the series, The Seacliff Tragedy is divided into two parts. But unlike the first two games, this time the parts are actually connected, forming a strong overall narrative. And while the game can stand on its own story wise, it also does a good job of expanding the Delaware St. John mythos. You’ll learn some new tidbits about Delaware himself as well as the series’ unique take on the paranormal, and the game also introduces a new character who it seems will be very important in future installments of the series.
The game plays identically to the rest of the series: it’s a point-and-click adventure that takes place from a first-person perspective. You navigate the environment by clicking arrows that appear at the edge of the screen as you scour the haunted park for clues and items you can use. For the most part you’re left to you’re own devices, which means you’ll have to very carefully scan your surroundings, since it’s easy both to miss important items as well as get lost. Occasionally the game will provide hints — your pal Simon will sometimes give useful information, while Delaware’s frequent visions often point out what you should be doing next — but generally you’re on your own.
Unfortunately this means that the game can be quite frustrating at times. It’s not always clear just what it is you need to do next and the lack of an in-game map makes it very easy to lose yourself in the park. And many of the clues and items you’ll need to find are quite small, making them very tough to pick out, especially considering the whole game takes place in the dark.
But while this leads to some frustration, the lack of lights means that The Seacliff Tragedy is also the spookiest game in the series so far. The entire game takes place at night, and, since the park has been abandoned, there are no working lights. This means that Delaware and Kelly are forced to navigate using only a flashlight. The setting is especially creepy thanks to a team of unsettling clown statues scattered around the park. There are also ghosts called shadow people that will occasionally pop up and try to attack you, and there’s yet another hunter to deal with, which results in a few tense chase sequences.
And though the game fixes a lot of what was wrong with the previous two games in the series, there are still some problems that won’t seem to go away. Once again the opening and closing credit sequences are both much too long and impossible to skip. The timed sequences make a return and, though they do add some good tension to the game, they don’t give you enough time to figure out exactly what you need to do, almost guaranteeing that you’ll have to play the same section at least a few times. There’s also some frustrating limitations in the game. For example, why exactly can Delaware break down some doors, but not others? This sort of lack of consistency is very annoying especially considering just how many locked doors you’ll encounter.
But, while it still retains some of the annoyances from the series’ first two outings, overallThe Seacliff Tragedy is a major improvement. The story is engaging, the environment is spooky, and the puzzles are challenging. Let’s just hope the next game continues with this forward momentum.