|By Zach Patterson||Monday, 9 Feb 2009|
Dementium: The Ward is a classic case of a solid concept and great controls mixed with unsatisfying gameplay. Dementium is the first game released by developer Renegade Kid, who recently released their second game, Moon. Dementium is first
person survival horror game that takes place in mental hospital. The controls closely resemble Metroid Prime Hunters, which is a very good thing. It is just unfortunate that the entire package didn’t come together here, but it still makes for a decent
game if you can look past some issues.
Dementium does do a lot of things right though. As I mentioned, the controls are rock solid. You will never really have to fight with the controls, and it feels completely natural using the stylus to aim and look, while using the face buttons to move the character, and the trigger to fire weapons. Likewise, menu navigation is all located on the touchscreen but never interferes with your gameplay. Weapons are easily accessible at any time, as is the map, options, and notepad at a quick flick of the stylus.
Additionally, the game is pretty sound graphically for a DS game. While it likely won’t blow you away, there’s neat lighting tricks (see: flashlight) detailed weapons, creative and often gruesome bosses, and a few interesting areas to explore. The sound is rather forgettable but sets a very tense, uneasy feel which is appropriate for this sort of game. Additionally, the sound plays an important part and it will tip you off to enemies in the vicinity before you can see them. That kind of design is a nice touch.
There are some points that really could have used some work however. For one, The game starts you out with an awesome, scary, intense cinematic as you are wheeled into the asylum, but then the story kinda falls off the cliff. You get some scraps of paper that tell you cryptic info about why you are there, but most of the time you are just going from room to room killing enemies and looking for items to solve a puzzle, or how to get to the next area. While this isn’t entirely dissimilar to Silent Hill or Resident Evil, they really needed a little more story to hook the gamer.
Additionally, I had some issues with the design of the game. For one thing, it reaaaallly needed some changes of scenery in many places. I felt like I was parading through a Labyrinth of the same exact generic hallways slightly reordered and with blood and enemy placement in slightly different areas for hours. That’s one thing that the other survival horror standouts usually excel in, and that is diversifying the areas you are in. In Dementium, you kinda feel like you are walking around in circles for hours. It’s a treat when they let you wander outside for awhile, but these sequences seem so brief and there’s usually little to do.
The design had other issues too. One of my biggest problems with the game is that enemy AI was so robotic. The typical zombie in the game didn’t wander the hallways. Instead, almost all of them seemed to stand like frozen statues in open closets or down the hall from you and didn’t move until you approached them. Add to the fact that this enemy is so common and it becomes very tedious when you hear a zombie moan in the room, and you just have to strafe back and forth outside of closets looking for where this putz is hanging out. While some of the other enemies spice it up a bit, they too feel predictable after a bit, such as the slugs, who seem to come out of any vent you see placed in a room, or the screaming banshee assholes who seemed to only reside in certain long hallways. Now whether this was due to memory limitations that the enemies were so predictable and the areas were so repetitive, I am not sure, but it’s worth mentioning, even if the game is an impressive technical feat on many levels.
My final issues with the game design are ones that I think could have easily been implemented and seemed designed strictly to frustrate the gamer. In fact, I would go as far to say that these design issues kind of ruined the moderate enjoyment of the game for me. The first issue is that there is no save function in the middle of a chapter, aside from quick-save function that just saves your progress where you are and lets you pick up at that point later. Unfortunately, if you die, that quick-save is gone and you get to start the chapter over. Now, some chapters are very short and this is hardly a big deal, especially if you know where you are going. However, some chapters are not short. When you spend 45 mins fighting through some hard to avoid enemies (there are many you simply have to fight through or risk getting killed from cheapshots from behind) and then defeating a tough boss after a couple tries, then you have to continue the chapter and fight off a few more tough enemies before you can truly save (and at that point may be hurting for ammo), it’s a clear sign you need true save function. It’s increasing the difficulty, sure, but in a frustrating I-don’t-want-to-play-through-all-that-stupid-shit-again type way. It’s exclusion is the biggest problem with the game.
Some of that could have been helped if you could actually take and keep health items on you. Instead, the game oddly takes a rather arcade-like method to your health and ammo. For health, you will find bottles laying around in many areas and they refill your health. But, you cannot take any with you. In a tough boss battle or a room filled with cheap enemies, having a few extra health items in your inventory would have increased the game’s enjoyment tenfold, especially since there is no save function. It may have made it easier, again, sure, but in this case, I think it should have been done. The ammo is much the same way. There’s ammo freely dispersed through the rooms, but only enough to fill your gun. You cannot keep clips on you, so if you are a poor shot, or get caught not fully loaded in a boss battle, well, tough luck. Try again at the start of the chapter.
These design issues really spoil what otherwise is a wonderful, original, Mature-rated game that the DS needs many more of. The game definitely is for adults, with disturbing imagery and blood caked on the walls. Unfortunately, after dying many a cheap death in several of the later stages, I simply had lost the will to play the same chapter over again. It’s a shame that I reached a tipping point like that, which could have been easily avoided with a better inventory system and a true saving function. With all this said, I still find myself appreciating the game for many of its great points and achievements of limited hardware (for 3D, at least), but I don’t think I ever want to play it again. With those conflicted feelings, I find it hard to say it is any more than just okay. I hope they have learned from some of the issues here and Moon (along with other future titles) corrects and improves the core here, because it is very promising.