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Dementium: The Ward hands-on

There's a lot, a lot going against Dementium: The Ward. A new developer, Renegade Kid. A new publisher, Gamecock. An untested, mature genre on a mainstream, family-friendly handheld. Sounds like a recipe for gameplay that's more disturbing than its horror-hospital subject matter. But despite this three-pronged attack, the game seems like a genuinely interesting attempt at putting a Silent Hill-style adventure on the DS.

The premise is pretty basic - you wake up in a blood-stained asylum with no memory of who you are or how you got there. As you step into the pitch black hallway, you see an obese monster carrying someone away and are attacked by a creature with an exposed rib cage. It's possible most normal people would question what the hell is going on, but this dude feels the need to unflinchingly press on.

The game is first-person and uses a lot of control ideas presented in Metroid Prime Hunters, where you use the stylus to look around and the L button for actions. Quickly zipping around the rooms, hallways and catwalks of the ward is extremely easy and fluid thanks to these controls, so we were immediately relieved when we could actually gun down a monster without wasting a crapload of bullets. Everything moves along at a good pace and there are no ugly, chuggy moments to speak of thus far.

The first criticism we were going to note was the amount of black fog that covers everything. Fog is an age-old trick to hide the fact that the hardware (or the game itself) can't process the entire environment, so programmers throw hazy fog around to keep everything moving along. Well, once we found a flashlight and popped it on, the entire area is lit up with no drop in performance at all. Very, very nice indeed.

Any survival horror fan knows the importance of quality sound, and Dementium's handlers have taken special notice of it. An ominous voice pounded through the speakers from the onset and strange noises kept emanating from the nooks and crannies of the ward. Once outside, raindrops and eerie tunes kept the atmosphere alive. We're not about to call the whole thing a success (the blah-y monster designs could use some work), but so far we're rather impressed by this fledging attempt.

It's due out sometime this fall, with a possible Halloween-week release. Rest assured we'll be keeping a close eye on this one.

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