Dementium: The Ward
If you asked a hundred people to think of the archetypal DS game, what would it be like? Chances are it would include some sort of fluffy, cuddly animal, possibly one who is moderately proficient at driving a go-kart. Maybe a hirsute plumber who enjoys jumping on turtles and eating mushrooms. Perhaps some sedately-paced puzzles to stimulate your grey matter. I think we can all agree that of these hundred people, it is very unlikely that even one of them would think to include a hulking, slobbery monster with blades for arms and bigger teeth than Billie Piper. Yet this is one of the very first things that Gamecock’s Dementium: The Ward throws at us, and it doesn’t get much more pleasant from there on in. It does make a nice change from fluffy animals and moustachioed plumbers though.
You play as an unnamed amnesiac who wakes up in a derelict hospital, where, despite looking almost identical to your average NHS clinic, MRSA and swine flu are the least of your worries. Cue mystery-solving and monster-slaying a go-go, as you are thrust into encounters with The Thing-style fang-chested zombies right from the off. Piecing together clues is handled in a way instantly familiar to anyone who’s played a Resident Evil game (pick up map, use this key in that door, etc), and should make many gamers feel right at home.
It is immediately apparent when firing up Dementium that developers Renegade Kid have achieved something which few (if any) DS games have managed to date; atmosphere. If this is intended to be the spiritual successor to the first generation of Silent Hill games, it has certainly pulled it off. Your torch-light falters and flickers as if it’s about to give up the ghost, and agile zombies leap over balconies and smash through doors to get to you. Graphically very solid, the dank hallways filled with grotesque creatures and dead-eyed little girls would probably seem derivative on a console, but are a breath of fresh air when undertaken on DS. Irritating though my constant name-dropping may be, it is visually reminiscent of The Suffering, and the developers seem to wear their inspirations on their sleeve. Most conducive to the air of unease is the well-realised audio, with the creepy enemy sound effects, crackling speaker systems, eerie horror-movie score and your own thumping heart adding an extra layer of tension to proceedings. This reviewer in particular was reminded of the hoary old days of playing Doom on PC, where threatening grunts and moans gave even the hardiest space marine trepidation at the thought of turning the next corner.
First-person shooters are in relatively short supply on the DS, which is mainly down to the supposed technical limitations of Nintendo’s handheld. With this effort, Renegade Kid have proven for a second time that decent FPS action is more than possible on the system, coming as it does just a few short months after the release of their highly-praised Moon (although for those outside of Europe, Dementium was actually released way back in 2007).
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