Reviewed by Carl Lyon
Is three inches enough to scare you?
Oh, get your mind out of the gutter! What I mean is can the three inches of screen (technically two screens) of the Nintendo DS immerse the player enough in a game environment to elicit fear? In the case of Dementium: The Ward, the answer is a moderately enthusiastic ?yes.? Why only moderately enthusiastic? Because in spite of all the things the game does right, there are still a few hurdles that it can?t quite clear.
The story is barely worth mentioning: your character is dumped into the middle of a blood-soaked hospital straight out of Silent Hill with nothing more than his flashlight and a few select weapons to help him fight off the hordes of ravenous beasties that roam the halls of The Ward. It?s the usual stripped-down cliché we?ve been seeing in movies and playing in games for years now, and it?s starting to get very stale. By the end of the game, this threadbare plot isn?t even acceptably wrapped up?as a matter of fact, it left me scratching my head wondering what the hell just happened.
What impressed me about Dementium is how well developer Renegade Kid managed to squeeze an awful lot of performance out of Nintendo?s handheld. While certainly not mind-blowing in graphics quality, the game runs silky-smooth, even with some advanced real time lighting effects on display. Practically stealing the control scheme from Metroid Prime: Hunters, you use the D-Pad or Face Buttons to move your character, the shoulder buttons to fire and switch your weapon, and the stylus to control your perspective. It?s remarkably intuitive, and the player can fall into the groove with almost no learning curve to be found. Soon, you?ll be running around with ease, peering around with your flashlight and popping zombies right in between their spiked eyes.
Speaking of flashlights, Dementium decided to tear a page from the Doom 3 design bible and offer the player the option of using a flashlight or a weapon, but not both at once. While this may seem cheap (and it certainly is at times), it helps establish more tension for the player. While certainly not ?scary? in the most traditional sense, Dementium never once makes you feel completely at ease, especially when faced with swarming enemies like the mewling worms who can chisel your health down to zero in seconds, or the shrieking severed heads who can leave you with and empty clip in no time at all. It?s at times like this, in the shadow-choked halls of the hospital, that the speakers are your best friends, giving audio clues as to what lies ahead.
That aforementioned darkness is also a royal pain in the butt, as the sense of disorientation in this game can be almost unbearable at times. Without the maps that are hidden in plain sight in their respective levels, you can spend a ridiculous amount of time running in circles, facing off against enemies that respawn?with ammo that doesn?t. Trust me, trying to beat a flying severed head to death with a nightstick is a lot easier than it sounds.
Despite these minor issues though, Dementium: The Ward is still a hell of a lot of fun from beginning to end. Pop some headphones into your DS, turn the lights down, and enjoy what horror gaming can and should be on a portable. My hats off to first-time developer Renegade Kid and first-time publisher Gamecock for one hell of a maiden voyage.