Delaware St John Vol 2: The Town With No Name
Delaware St. John doesn't need to go looking for cases, they come looking for him. In this sequel to The Curse of Midnight Manor, Delaware is helping his partner, Kelly Bradford, to tidy up the back room of the bookshop when an atlas simply falls open at his feet. As he looks at the page the outline of a town appears where no town is thought to exist and Delaware is immediately drawn to explore the location. What he finds in a clearing in a heavily wooded area is a town, abandoned since 1983, where all references to the name have been removed or defaced.
This volume contains two stories: The Big Picture and Home of the Damned, and they should be played in that order as they are not so much separate stories as two acts in your investigation of The Town With No Name. In the first part you get an inkling of what has gone on in the town but it is in the second part where the true malevolence is revealed. I won't say more about the plot as I don't want to spoil anything.
For those of you who haven't played the first game in this series, Delaware St. John is a young man who is haunted by strange dreams and visions. He is driven to investigate the paranormal and is aided by Kelly who carries out the research for him. Delaware is able to communicate with Kelly through his Voice Imagery Communicator (VIC). He can take photographs and record sounds which are automatically sent to Kelly where she will analyse them and report back on her findings. Kelly can also help with the investigation by providing hints or outright solutions to some conundrums. I thought that more use could have been made of the VIC because, strangely, you are not able to use it when the major apparitions appear and I thought that these would make great material for Kelly to analyse
The game is played from a first person perspective in what is sometimes called 'side-show' mode. The cursor changes to a green arrow at the edge of the screen and clicking here enables you to turn 90 degrees. A downward pointing arrow near the bottom of the screen allows you to turn 180 degrees. Navigation is easy though I did find that the direction arrows sometimes interfered with the searching, especially near the bottom of the screen. Many a time I went to click on a door handle and, missing the hotspot slightly, the cursor changed to the downward pointing arrow and I was suddenly facing the wrong way. This is no big deal but as you will attempt to open a lot of doors in the game this can happen a lot if you are not careful with your pointing and clicking.
Your inventory and VIC are situated beneath the game window. The inventory has four visible slots and will scroll if you are carrying more items. This is perfectly adequate as you will rarely be carrying more than four items at a time. Between the inventory and VIC is a small panel that enables access to a menu for saving your game, adjusting sound options and quitting to the main menu. Only ten save game slots are provided which is sufficient but I would have preferred more. From the main menu you can start a new game, load a previously saved game, or access the tutorial. The tutorial is useful, especially for new players, as there is no manual.
There are an awful lot of locked doors in this game and you won't be able to open all of them. Some require keys and some you will 'force' open while other locations will become accessible by solving puzzles. As with the first game you will encounter 'ghosts' who may help you if you help them, and on two occasions you will also need to run from the 'hunter'. The hunter is the manifestation of a malevolent force which will pursue you until you reach relative safety. These sequences aren't really timed but relate to the number of 'moves' you make to reach safety. So if you make a wrong turning you will likely be caught but then the game simply restores you to the start of the sequence to try again.
The puzzles include finding and using inventory items and carrying out various other 'tasks' such as solving a crossword or sorting books. These puzzles are generally fairly easy to solve and make sense in the context of the story, but I would have liked a bit more of a challenge. What held me up the longest was initially missing two crucial hotspots, one in each act, so I spent a lot of time re-searching accessible locations and trying locked doors again. There is a positive to this as I quickly learned to find my way around and once I moved on I made good progress again.
This Delaware St. John series is evolving nicely and The Town With No Name is a more substantial offering than the first game. It is altogether better designed in terms of integrating the puzzles and overall refinement. The investigation starts off slowly and seems at first glance to be a standard 'haunted house' mystery but the story really develops in the second part. It is here where the quality of the writing really comes to the fore and an unexpected twist sets us up for a further game to come. The tension created as the game nears its climax is palpable and I would have run away earlier had the main doors not been stuck.
Many factors come together to build up the atmosphere including the muted graphics where locations are illuminated by Delaware's torch beam, the creaks and moans of old buildings, and the pervading sense that you are not alone. The music is very good, subtle but appropriate as highlighted by the mournful tolling of a solitary bell.
The voice acting, too, is generally good though some of the distorting effects used when the apparitions speak can make it hard to understand what is being said. There are no subtitles and these would have helped in some of the scenes.
I enjoyed playing The Town With No Name and though I thought it could have included a few more intricate puzzles to increase the challenge it is still eminently playable and especially good for those who are new to adventuring.
You can purchase this game on-line from the Delaware St John website.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2005.
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