Dementium II – hands-on

You have to hand it to the guys at Renegade Kid - they’ve managed to elevate disturbing to an art form. Exhibit A: the box art for the developer’s upcoming horror-drenched follow up to its first-person survival horror experiment Dementium: The Ward. It features a close-up shot of some poor bastard screaming in terror, though his cries are clearly muffled by the human hand that’s ripping its way out of his own mouth and clawing at his eyes. Amazing. Judging from our recent hands-on time with Dementium II, good things are on the way. Particularly if you like you handheld gaming sessions served up with a slab of raw, bloody meat.

The first Dementium game on DS drops you into the head of a psychotic mental patient brutalizing his way through gore-strewn hallways of an abandoned institution infested with crawling medical atrocities. You’ll play the same character in the sequel, only this time you wake up in a military-style prison after getting captured and having your head messed with. Throughout the game your perspective fades in-and-out between the already gritty real world and an even more horrifying alternate reality that closely resembles strung-together scenes from Hellraiser. These unnerving and jarring transitions come when you least expect them, and they’re one of several interesting setting tweaks thrown in to freshen up the experience.

One second we were walking down a plain hallway and turning into a room, and the next second there was a blinding flash of light and a piercing drone. The previously empty room suddenly had a table in it containing a writhing mangled corpse with metal hooks and chains slowly removing its innards. In addition to this sporadic jolting between realities, the level designs themselves change up frequently and are a lot more dynamic than the levels in the first game. Even within the first 30 minutes of our play session the scenery shifted half a dozen times. At one point we opened a door and were practically blinded when we found ourselves standing outdoors staring at a bright wintry landscape from a fenced-in area. Dementium II is reportedly twice as big its predecessor, and you can eventually leave the confines of the prison and venture out into the outside realm.

Renegade Kid has done a great job of listening to both positive feedback and criticism from the first Dementium and implemented a laundry list of changes to make the sequel a much smoother game. Enemies thankfully don’t re-spawn when you return to rooms you’ve already explored. Also, regular save points appear before important events, and there’s now an option to manually save from anywhere. The slightly overhauled interface is another big improvement. You can quickly drag-and-drop equipment directly between your inventory and your hands without having to pause first. And navigating is a lot less tedious now that there’s a constant map integrated into the touch screen.

As an escapee, you have to work with what you can find. Early weapons include a shank, a revolver, and a sledgehammer that can break through boarded up doorways. You can expect a few automatic weapons and other more powerful munitions will become available, and believe us, you’ll need them. Only two monsters carry over from the original game, which means you’ll face a mostly new array of grisly creatures to dismember. The flashlight makes a return, and you can now dual-wield it with single-handed weapons. It’s nice being able to see what’s trying to kill you and fight back at the same time.

Exploring the very early stretches of the near-finished game felt pleasantly familiar but infinitely better than the original. The game’s high creep-out factor is in full-swing here. The biggest “aha” moment came during the first major boss battle where we were stuck frantically jabbing a prison shank into a toothy boss creature with hooks for hands that pressure vomited flesh-eating, screeching maggots bathed in acidic bile from the ceiling down at us. Dementium II has already exceeded out expectations, and you can look for our full report when it releases in February.

Dec 1, 2009