Attempting to make a scary adventure game is a tricky proposition: the genre tends to be devoid of action, which makes it hard to create much in the way of tension. Delaware St. John: The Curse of Midnight Manor attempts to combat this with spooky visuals and sound, but a short play time and underwhelming story keep it from being entirely successful.
The game starts off by telling the brief story of the titular lead character, who has psychic abilities and can hear voices from the dead. After a long and unskippable credit sequence, Delaware finds himself alone in Midnight Manor, an abandoned hotel that just so happens to be crawling with ghosts. With a little help from his partner in paranormal investigation Kelly, who gives Delaware hints and tips over the phone, he attempts to solve the mysteries of the hotel. The story unfolds through conversations between Delaware and Kelly, as well as the occasional wayward spirit who decides to share his or her secrets.
Right from the beginning the game sets off a spooky tone: Delaware is stuck in the dark with nothing but a dying flash light and Kelly’s voice to guide him. The atmosphere is made even spookier by the sound design, with its eerie musical score and disturbing disembodied ghost voices. Unfortunately, much of this mood is ruined once the lights come back on, which happens fairly early on in the game.
For the most part the game consists of searching around the hotel and finding clues to help the ghosts trapped within. This involves exploring the hotel’s many hallways and rooms; though the majority of the hotel rooms are locked, and stay that way, for the entire game. Events unfold from a first-person perspective, as players see through Delaware’s eyes and navigate by clicking in the direction they want to go. There isn’t much in the way of interaction in the environment, aside from the occasional item that be picked up or examined, or the odd keypad in need of a password.
Every once in a while though, the game tries to switch things up, giving players something to do besides searching the dilapidated building. Sometimes you are being chased by a mysterious creature and have to get to a designated room as quickly as possible. Other times you will have to ward of evil zombie ghosts with a voodoo doll. For the most part these distractions work and help add some much needed variety. There is, however, one notable exception: an incredibly frustrating maze sequence where the in-game hints don’t tell you everything you need to know. Most players will probably have to consult a walkthrough to get through this sequence.
But aside from that one annoying maze, The Curse of Midnight Manor is surprisingly easy. Since there are so few items and objects to interact with, figuring out what to do isn’t very hard. The game almost always tells you what you should be doing next, sometimes subtlety, sometimes not so much. But if you do get stuck, Kelly is never more than a phone call away, and she is usually quite helpful.
Where things really falter though, is with the story. While the premise is promising, overall the plot is needlessly confusing and convoluted. The two chapters tackle two different events that happened in the hotel’s past, but they feel very unconnected. It’s also inconsistent. In the first chapter Delaware can only hear ghosts, but in the second he can also talk to and interact with them. Throw in an abrupt ending and you have a story that is nowhere as interesting as it should be.
Delaware St. John: The Curse of Midnight Manor starts off promising, but ultimately it’s too short and too shallow. There really isn’t enough to do in the game, and unfortunately the story doesn’t make up for the gameplay shortcomings. If you’re looking for a quick spooky romp you may want to give it a try, but if not, there are much more engaging (and scarier) adventure games out there.
For similar games, try The Blackwell Convergence, Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy, and Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery.