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As WP's managing editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games.


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PC Preview - 'Delaware St. John Volume 3: The Seacliff Tragedy'

by Judy on July 12, 2007 @ 12:39 a.m. PDT

Delaware St. John Volume 3: The Seacliff Tragedy, the 3rd game in the adventure franchise continues the exploits of ghost hunting detective Delaware St. John as he battles the paranormal.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive
Developer: Big Time Games
Release Date: July 23, 2007

In Delaware St. John Volume III: The Seacliff Tragedy, the titular character and his sleuthing sidekick, Kelly Bradford, explore an abandoned amusement park which has been closed since a freak accident killed numerous park patrons years ago. The original idea was that DSJ would be a 10-part series; two titles were published in 2005, which reinforced this intense schedule, but the development pace has since slowed, with the third installment hitting store shelves later this month.

Delaware St. John is part Johnny Smith ("The Dead Zone") and part Alison Dubois ("Medium"); he has visions and psychic flashes, but he also speaks to the dead and receives clues from them, so he's a good person to have on your side when you're investigating paranormal activity. The game dictates whether you will be playing as Delaware or Kelly, and depending on the active character, you'll have access to different portions of the amusement park. The same roads that you easily traverse as Delaware could be blocked off to Kelly, and vice versa.

The merry band of ghost hunters has a third member, Simon, who is heard but never seen; you can use Simon as an in-game hint system by contacting him via the Voice/Imagery Communicator (VIC). Simon also serves as comic relief by cracking jokes; he also uses curse words like "bollocks," which manage to sound charming when said with a British accent.

As with previous offerings, The Seacliff Tragedy is split into two "stories." You can play Story One immediately, and Story Two becomes available after the first half has been completed. However, rather than being a smooth transition from one half of the story to the other, you must access the second segment by returning to the main menu, starting a new game, and selecting Story Two. This is business as usual for veterans of the DSJ series, but newcomers may find it unintuitive. This iteration seems to be the lengthiest series offering yet, clocking in at approximately 10 hours.

The developers have managed to make The Seacliff Tragedy quite user-friendly, catering to every level of gaming expertise. Before you start playing, you can opt to go through a tutorial level to learn the basic gameplay mechanics. In short, green arrows signify that you can move in that direction, a hand lets you know that you can take an item, an eyeball indicates that something requires a closer look, and items that you can use or combine are outlined in red.

Rather than having to click any extra keys to access your inventory, a panel with four available slots is available at all times and takes up residence in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

The rest of the panel consists of three buttons: Connect, which will establish communications with Simon; Photo, which lets you take pictures of items of interest and transmit them back to Simon for analysis; and Record, which lets you record sounds and ... transmit them back to Simon for analysis.

The gameplay and puzzles are reasonably varied. There's a segment in which you must find your way through a series of cave tunnels before a creature locates you (and makes you faint). Some minor puzzles require you to combine inventory items, a few riddles call for pattern recognition, and more elaborate puzzles require you to jot down seemingly cryptic symbolic sequences or nonsensical poems that will make sense at a later point.

Graphically, The Seacliff Tragedy is a very dark game; thanks to your flashlight, illumination is concentrated on the center of each pre-rendered background, and the periphery fades to black. The good news is that you won't have to spend too much time pixel-hunting in the dark outer edges of the screens because items in the environment with which you can interact will usually be quite easy to spot. It's amazing how such a disturbingly happy place can become so sinister in the absence of light — clowns have never looked so creepy.

There is a definite visual improvement between the first couple of titles and this third offering; although Big Time Games may have wanted to stick to a basic development formula, it's apparent that graphical improvements are possible without affecting the gameplay.

The title utilizes node-based navigation, so if you're new to the DSJ series, it'll take some time to get accustomed to controlling the playable character's movements. You're also equipped with an EMF counter, which crackles intensely when you're in the vicinity of demons, also known as Shadow People. As luck would have it, you're armed with a flashlight and they don't like light, so you must quickly vanquish them with your flashlight, or you'll faint dead away.

Interestingly, the voice-acting moves along at a slow pace, although Simon's lines seem to be even slower, perhaps as a way to accommodate users who aren't used to hearing the Queen's English. Subtitles are also available, should you choose to employ them and mute the game instead.

With eerie environments, a decent amount of gameplay, a user-friendly interface, and, most importantly, a good mystery that needs solving, Delaware St. John Volume III: The Seacliff Tragedy certainly has much going in its favor. Given the rate at which game technology is progressing these days, it's doubtful that the game engine will stand up to seven more installments, but it'll be an adventurous ride while it lasts.

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