DS

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Dementium: The Ward

by Zachary Miller - January 17, 2008, 6:06 pm PST
Total comments: 6

7

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.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
8 8 7 7 6 7
Graphics
8

Clean, smooth, and no slowdown in sight. The colors are a little muted and the hospital setting gets a little old, but it's good-looking for what it is.

Sound
8

Rain on the windows, ambient noises, and creature sounds will have you on your toes more than you'd think. Boss battle music is kind of silly, and I wish there was some voicework, but the sound certainly gets the job done well.

Control
7

The aiming is too loose, and running isn't much better than walking. And in a game like this, there really needs to be a button combo to make your character spin 180 degrees. They used it in REmake and RE4, and I wish it were in this game. Still, the Hunters control scheme is essentially flawless for the DS, giving gamers a PC setup on a handheld.

Gameplay
7

There is too much aimless wandering and key-hunting. Respawning enemies mar the overall experience, too. Despite the genre clichés, however, Dementium is fun and manages to feel different. The notepad is a great idea, too, and it makes what would be tedious puzzles feel more natural.

Lastability
6

No unlockables and no Wi-Fi play or even local multiplayer shorten the lifespan of what's otherwise an engaging game. There's no reason to go back once you've beaten it though, unless you just want to relive the experience.

Final
7

Dementium: The Ward is a strong first-person shooter experience with a great horror theme. True, some bizarre design decisions will frustrate, but overall it's a fine game. Can Renegade Kid improve on the sequel? Sure. Should this stop you from at least trying Dementium out? No freakin' way.

Summary

Pros
  • Awesome flashlight effects
  • Conveys the horror vibe very well
  • Essentially a mouse-and-keyboard control scheme
  • The best survival-horror-shooter on the DS
Cons
  • Can't make notes on the map
  • No mid-level saves or checkpoints
  • Too few enemy types and repeated boss monsters
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

AManatee2January 17, 2008

Agree on all terms, really. I thought it was my fault that the game wasn't saving right or something.

SeaBassJanuary 18, 2008

yea, the scenery gets kinda old but hey, there's been times when ive jolted because i got scared xD





jk... :]

jakeOSXJanuary 18, 2008

Quote

and I find it hard to forgive the "die and start over again" philosophy,




i take it the reviewer never had an NES.

Jake, many NES games actually HAD save systems, so that's not even an apt complaint. Aside from that, the larger point is that having no save points or checkpoints in a modern shooter is pretty bizarre.

GoldenPhoenixJanuary 18, 2008

Quote

Originally posted by: jakeOSX
Quote

and I find it hard to forgive the "die and start over again" philosophy,








i take it the reviewer never had an NES.




Forgetting the fact that most NES games didn't need it, and you could get back to a certain point you died on in a few seconds or a few minutes.

KDR_11kJanuary 19, 2008

Quote

Originally posted by: jakeOSX
Quote

and I find it hard to forgive the "die and start over again" philosophy,




i take it the reviewer never had an NES.




Or doesn't consider precedent enough to forgive a serious flaw? If this was 1988 that argument would hold but in 2008 you're expected to do more than a NES game.

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Dementium: The Ward Box Art

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Worldwide Releases

na: Dementium: The Ward
Release Oct 31, 2007
PublisherGamecock Media Group

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