Dementium: The Ward
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-12-03 Nintendo DS Survival/Horror M (Mature) Renegade Kid / Gamecock

Survival/horror may not be the genre you would expect for a handheld, but Renegade Kid sure know what they're doing, and they convinced me with the E3 hands-on demo.

Dementium: The Ward begins as the protagonist wakes up in a seemingly abandoned hospital, with no idea who he is or why he's there. The purpose is to get out of there, preferably alive, but as you soon find out, there is much to be feared in these neglected and bloody hallways and rooms. The results of some strange experiences now roam the place in the dark, waiting for a fresh prey.

Dementium could be described as Silent Hill meets FPS. The game is rendered entirely in 3D and played in a first-person view. The action takes place on the top screen, while the touch screen serves as your health indicator, menu and camera control.

The control system is fairly unique: sliding the stylus on the touch screen makes you look around, pressing the D-pad makes you walk or run (if you tap the direction twice), and the L trigger is used to attack or turn the flashlight on or off. If an interaction with an object is available, it will also show in the touch screen (such as opening a door or examining a piece of paper) and requires a tap to be executed. It works, but I must say my left hand fell asleep countless times from the moving and shooting while holding the system.

The game is split into chapters of variable lengths. While some are very short and easy to complete, others will probably take you up to 45 minutes. There is no save feature, so your progress is only saved at the beginning of each chapter. I actually thought there were checkpoints, since I kept seeing all those "saving" messages. Unfortunately, they aren't, and you are still forced to restart from the beginning of the chapter if you die. Not very convenient for gaming on the go.

Dementium mixes exploration,some puzzle solving and plenty of shooting or beating up things. The puzzles aren't too difficult, and you are given a notepad where you can actually write and erase your notes as needed with the stylus, just as if you were using pencil and paper. For example, you will need a code to one of the doors, so when you find it, you will want to write it down to remember later at the right spot. Or this little piano where you need to play some notes to find something you need to progress, the answer is right there. Things may make you think a little, but they won't leave you frustrated scratching your head.

Combat can be done in melee (you will have a faithful nightstick) or by shooting when you find a gun and ammo. Those are your initial defense, but you will come across more weapons. You also have a flashlight, but you can hold the flashlight and gun at the same time. This is pretty inconvenient, since you can't shoot things in the dark (especially those damn worms), you must wait for them to come dangerously near to see them.

Ammo can also be an issue, since you're only allowed 24 rounds in your gun. You can't pick up extra ammo or health items and carry them on your inventory like in Resident Evil, which increases the game's difficulty. It results in backtracking to find more, and that's an issue, because creatures respawn even if you've already killed them.

The presentation is what makes the game. It's dark, a bit grainy, pretty scary, just like in Silent Hill. You're always wondering what the heck is going to come out at you from around the corner. And the details like blood trails or the beeps from incubators catch your attention. One that I found particularly interesting was how Jools (producer) and Gregg (art director) had their names placed in patient's charts outside certain rooms of The Ward.

Sound plays a very important role, since by listening you can tell what type of monsters lurk in the dark, and every creature makes a distinct sound. There are these banshee heads that come screaming at you, the Chest Maws that look like zombies with huge mouths on their chests, sharp teeth chomping away in your direction, some creepy worms that sound like high-pitched baby cries, the light pitter-patter of bugs crawling on the walls and floor. Add to that the constant sound of your heartbeat and breathing plus some ominous music, and you have the perfect atmosphere.

Although a few aspects of gameplay could have been tweaked a little (most of all the save feature and being able to dual-wield flashlight and weapon), Dementium: The Ward is as creepy as it gets on your DS. For fans of survival/horror games, it's a must-have.

Special thanks to John Kopp and Gamecock for providing a copy of this title.