St. John Volume 1: Curse of Midnight Manor
Delaware St. John has paranormal powers: he can see spirits and communicate with them. He can walk into a place and see past events happen right before his eyes. One evening, he has a dream, and stumbles upon Morrisville Manor, otherwise known as Midnight Manor. It was once a hotel, but now has sadly fallen into a state of disrepair, reeking of vandalism and neglect. Once Del sets foot into the barren lobby of the hotel, he senses something very wrong happened here. He soon learns of the tragedies that occurred here, one older than the other. He must learn the evil that started it all, and survive the night. Together with his partner back home, Kelly Bradford, he will bring the wrongdoings here to light and put the spirits to rest.
Story 1: The Fate of the Vandals
He will learn through journal entries about Heather, one of the five teenagers to disappear one night when they came to party (illegally) at the hotel. What started out as a night of fun soon turned into a nightmare, as Heather and her friends desperately tried to find a way out, once they learned that they were trapped inside the place. Though they are all dead now, Heather will come back to guide Del on his journey, and hopefully put her and her friends at peace.
The first thing I liked about COMM was the environment. It has a great spooky feeling to it, and in no way is it overdone with unbelievable ghostly sound effects and unrealistic apparitions floating around in every hallway. No, this game has much more substance to it. I couldn’t find a single grammatical error among the many journal entries you will find left behind by the previous “visitors”. The story, like most horror games, evolves over the course of the game, and as you progress, you have more visions of past events, and begin to learn about the terrible things that happened here. The graphics are top-notch for an indie game. And, though not remarkable, the music was very suiting, and I will always associate it with the game. There is a soundtrack available, quite stunning for an independent company to produce one.
I loved how there were two different stories. The second one wraps up the first one. Once the first one is over, you think, that’s all?! Well, what a relief it was to find out that that was just the beginning and my investigation would continue with the second story, which was in some ways related to the first. I heard that a few people were unaware that there was a second part, as you have to go back to the main menu and click on New Game, and instead of choosing the first part of the story, you choose the second. Luckily, I didn’t have a problem with this, as I already knew, from reading reviews, that I was supposed to continue through the second story.
The interface is excellent. There was almost no confusion on my part: simple point-and-click, very easy to understand, didn’t take long to move around. No long pauses when opening doors or going to new rooms. There were no bugs or technical problems: the game loads very quickly (except that every time you play the “Install” window pops up, but quickly disappears), and doesn’t mess up when you return to your desktop. There are only five save slots, but I don’t think there was a need for more, except for the few scenes where you can die, but the game gives you a second chance, starting you right before you made the mistake. This reminded me of the “Second Chance” option in Nancy Drew games, except that it’s automatic here.
It’s optional, but you can get very helpful hints from your partner, Kelly Bradford, over the “phone”. It’s actually called VIC, or Voice Imagery Communication. You can take photos with it, record sounds, and call her with it. The inventory menu was very simple. Nothing complicated. When you’ve used an item, it is disposed of. Once you get it, Del can give you hints as to its use. There are a few heart-pounding timed sequences that really scared the heck out of me. Word of advice to those easily scared: fasten your seatbelt! Though this may sound difficult, the game was nice in terms of difficulty level: not too hard, not too easy. You always had a new lead: spirits are there to guide you, along with Kelly. The environment isn’t too big, so you don’t get lost or stuck too often. You don’t wander around for hours on end. My pet peeve in games is when you’re trying to look for keys to doors and other “forbidden” locations. You’re confused about which door you need to go to now, or whether you’re not supposed to open a particular door just yet. This is not the case with DSJ. Sometimes, you can even bang down doors. This was a completely new concept to me. In past games, I’ve always needed a key. But, this technique made key-hunting seem boring. I liked it! So, a message to the developers: don’t be afraid to try new things.
There was a fair bit of action in the game, making for a very interesting experience. I was very rarely bored with the game. There are no boring slider puzzles, combination locks, etc. I really dislike those. There are no “feeling-like-you’re-in-math-class” puzzles. Most of the puzzles were fun, though a few were time-consuming, and left me staring at the screen wondering…
Now, on to my few negative complaints: Kelly’s voice was a little too perfect. It sounded as if the actress was trying to make sure she didn’t mess up any of her words or stumble through phrases. Sometimes good voice-acting sounds smooth, yet realistic. In real conversation, nothing’s perfect. I really loved Del’s voice. Excellent work on the part of the actor. But, overall, the voice-acting was superior to that of most games.
The story was a bit confusing, and the ending was a bit abrupt. Nothing too bad though. Still well worth those hours of gameplay. Though I have to admit, all and all, the game was a little short. I could probably go back and play it in the course of a few hours. The reason why I’m mad that it was so short is because I liked it so much! I wanted to continue! Luckily there’s a sequel, and soon, there will be a third installment. Though, I wonder if the ending will ever be completely wrapped up and explained. But I have a feeling I’ll understand it better if I go back and play it again. So, not a major problem. Some endings are impossible to understand no matter what!
Sometimes it was hard to see the “eye” cursor, which means you can look closer at something. And the vandalism in the manor was a little overdone. It was almost the exact opposite of the subtle graphics in Dark Fall. There were a few weird puzzles, and it was sometimes hard to understand the ghosts’ voices because of the effects added to them to make them sound “ghostly”. I wish there had been subtitles. There were also so many locked doors (that didn't have any purpose) that I actually did wonder a few times if I was supposed to open some of them. Luckily, I had Kelly and the spirits to guide me! I later learned that these were supposed to remain locked, and guessed that they were put there in an effort to make the manor seem bigger.
At first I was displeased to see that the characters from the past were drawn. But, in the end, this primitive method is surprisingly effective. They’ve cleared it up in the sequel: The Town With No Name. The characters are all 3-D there. Most of the things that I found I didn’t like about this game were soon cleared up in some way or another. I loved the cinematic opening and ending credits. This is just my kind of game! I loved almost everything about it, especially the difficulty of the puzzles, the setting, and most of the story. What gamer who loves horror stories can ignore a haunted hotel brimming with sprits and remains of the past? Sometimes it’s better simple: DSJ proves that. Well done!
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