I need an old priest and a young priest!
Dementium is kind of a landmark for publisher Gamecock—it's the new company's first game. It is also developer Renegade Kid's first solo effort, so a lot is riding on Dementium: The Ward. This first-person shooter takes its cues from Doom 3 and Silent Hill, but fails to live up to the lofty scares of the former and psychological terror of the latter. This is not to say that Dementium is not a good game on its own, because it is, but if Renegade Kid ever delivers a sequel, there are definitely some areas they need to improve.
Dementium thrusts you into blood-splattered hallways right off the bat. There is no back-story. In fact, the plot is weak overall, but that's not why you're playing the game. Dementium is all about sneaking around in the dark, finding keys of various kinds, and killing monsters. Plot progression comes about via notes, memos (a survival-horror staple), and flashback-type cut-scenes.
The control scheme is lifted directly from Metroid Prime: Hunters, although you have fewer options. The touch screen is where you can access the map, your inventory, your various weapons, and the notepad. You can scrawl notes for yourself on the notepad with the stylus, and this features comes in very handy while you're trying to solve a puzzle. I wish I could've done that on the PSP when I was playing Silent Hill: Origins. Unfortunately, you cannot scribble on the map, which is disappointing because the map only shows convoluted and far-too-complex hallways and which doors are locked or unlocked. If furniture is blocking a path or you need a key to enter a particular door, the map does not display that. Thus, some aimless wandering is inevitable. Aiming seems a little too loose, and melee attacks don't result in any pushback, so the combat could use some polish. Luckily, larger enemies (including bosses) tend to have weak points that are easy to exploit. Health and ammo litter the halls and closets of the sanitarium you wander through. The game's only real stumbling block is that if you die, you have to start from the beginning of that level. The lack of auto-saving, save points, or automatic checkpoints, which are a staple of just about any modern game I can think of (especially shooters), is baffling and leads to bouts of frustration.
Let's talk about the aesthetic, always an important feature of a horror game. Happily, Dementium does manage to convey a sense of foreboding through its skillful use of darkness and ambient sound. The electricity is out, so you can only see a few feet in front of you. As the darkness recedes, and you strain to make out what's right in front of you, and some weird baby sounds are coming from around the corner, there's some apprehension. The really cool thing is that you have a flashlight that works exactly like it does in Doom 3. It illuminates the area you point at, making wandering a bit more enjoyable. It's also impressive as a graphical feat, and I can't tell whether there's an actual lighting engine at work here, but it sure looks nice. While Dementium doesn't rise to the paranoia high that the Silent Hill series evokes, it works for the hardware it's on. I wish that the landscape changed more often, but because you're just wandering through one giant hospital, things tend to bleed together quickly. How many closets and nurses stations can one medical facility have? I do like the bloodstains, scattered furniture, and general look of disrepair, however. And to be fair, there are occasional changes in scenery, but about 90% of your visit to The Ward will be in what amounts to a series of interconnected hallways.
Enemy design is fairly standard for this genre, although the boss creatures are fairly imaginative. Character models are sharp and animate well, as their movements are smooth and not sporadic. I wish there had been some more man-sized normal enemies, and to tell you the truth, there are only three proper boss monsters in the game, two of which repeat (flashback to Metroid Prime: Hunters). The sound is more effective than the graphics in perpetuating the fear vibe. All of the creatures have distinct voices, and the little touches like your character's heartbeat and rain on the windows go surprisingly far in establishing the mood. There is a musical score, but it blends into the background very quickly.
At the end of the day, your enjoyment of Dementium will depend heavily on whether you like survival horror games with a first-person shooter element. The game certainly has some flaws (like the loose aiming and overly complex map), and I find it hard to forgive the "die and start over again" philosophy, but Dementium is definitely something different, and it's something I think people will generally enjoy.