Oct. 30, 2007
Shocking. That's the easiest way to describe Dementium: The Ward. We're equally taken aback by the technical feat that developer Kid Renegade and upstart publisher Gamecock have managed to pull off, and that there's a terrifying first-person survival horror game that elicits genuine scares on the Nintendo DS. If Metroid Prime Hunters proved the platform detractors wrong, then Dementium proves them infinitely wronger.
From the moment you start up the game, you know you're in for something different. Right from the get-go you're assaulted with mysterious and horrific imagery, such as a unsettlingly large hellbeast dragging a speechless lass covered in blood across the dingy floor of a mental institution. Yikes indeed. Click here to see what we mean. Seriously, the game is grisly and disturbing as all get out. But perhaps describing it like a depression-era great aunt is underselling it.
The DS isn't supposed to do FPS horror right? Those were our initial thoughts too, as you start out in a dark room with a layer of black fog. But as soon as you snag a flashlight (which is immediately), Dementium proves its worth by displaying vast areas, numerous enemies and lengthy corridors with disturbing zeal and no loss in framerate.
You strafe about with the D-pad, while dragging your stylus to aim and using the L button to shoot or melee. Outside of the occasional frenzied tap that'll activate the options menu, it all works pretty damned well. The only drawback is that the tiny crosshair tends to get lost in the darkness, making it hard to squeeze off precise shots on enemies weakpoints. But this could be seen as part of Dementium's appeal, it's less a shooter than it is a game of survival. Ammo is scarce and there's equal emphasis on gathering information and solving the game's several intricately designed puzzles.
You'll crack codes, like playing designated keys on a tiny piano, as well as decipher found items to figure out just who you are, how you landed in this twisted hellhole, and exactly what the eff is going on. Pictures really don't do it justice. More than anything, Dementium is a triumph of atmospheric sound and lighting. The enemies may look the visual relic, but the way they growl and lunge at you, while bursts of lightning illuminate hallways nearly had us tinkling in our Underoos. We won't spoil anything, but... Banshees! Dear god... the screaming Banshee heads.
We recommend playing in dark, with headphones, or with the sound all the way up in a room that echoes. Maybe a bathroom? Because publicly recoiling from a Coral Pink DS in a fit of pure terror can make even an American Gladiator look like a silly goose.
Dementium: The Ward is almost perfection, performing as a fantastic feat of first-person survival, and oozes with a truly, truly frightening aesthetic. Even if it's not the first in its genre, it's the most satisfyingly original game we've seen on the DS in some time. In a land of tap-and-drag minigames, Dementium sticks out like a blood-thirsty gremlin in a Smurf village. And we mean that as the highest possible compliment, and hope that distinction will help it find the audience it richly deserves.