Silent Hill + Doom 3 + DS = Dementium
Renegade Kid’s first game development experience is a very respectable title, but it is not without flaws.
Is it possible to create a scary experience on a handheld game console? Well, the answer to that question is probably “not really,” but Dementium the Ward is about as scary as you are going to get on your DS. Console games have the ability to freak gamers out through the use of a bigger screen, surround sound, and more lifelike graphics. While Dementium does contain that spooky mood, it can be a little hard to freak yourself out when you are looking at a screen smaller than your fist or when playing on the bus, train, or any other public space.
Using first person shooter gameplay, Dementium is the right mix of Doom 3’s shooter mechanics but with Silent Hill’s atmosphere. Using the D-pad to move, the “L” button to attack, and the stylus to aim, this title uses the typical FPS controls for a DS shooter. Unlike Metroid Prime Hunters, Dementium should not cramp your hand as it uses easier to maintain controls.
You play as a man who wakes up in a demon infested hospital with no memory of who he is. After plummeting down a black hole from the seat of a wheelchair, you must rely on yourself to find a way out. Along the way, the player will face many types of enemies including worms that cry like babies, humanoid shaped monsters with mouths in their stomachs, and even flying medusa heads. The game is broken up into chapters, often opening with a detailed cutscene of the events that are to come. These chapters, however, vary greatly in the time it takes to complete them. One chapter might take you two minutes to complete while others can take longer than a half hour. While the shorter chapters are welcomed, the longer ones tend to work against the player as it doesn’t fully fit the portability of the title.
All-in-all, Dementium is a pretty straight forward horror experience. Within the first few minutes of the game, the player will find a flashlight, granting the player to fight off the thick darkness. Combat is another major part of the game as the player will find several weapons along the way. With a couple of melee weapons and several firearms to choose from, the player should be amused with the variation in weaponry. However, due to sporadic ammo boxes spread throughout each level, killing enemies can be tedious and worrisome. Conserving ammo would not be as big of a concern if enemies didn’t automatically respawn every time you open a door, even when backtracking. This almost forces players to use the melee weapons more often than they should.
Ammo consumption is a lesser gameplay flaw as compared to the terrible continue feature. Every time the player enters a new room, the game displays a “saving” message at the bottom of the screen. However, if you die, you must start at the beginning of the chapter…which could have been over 30 minutes ago! Why is the game automatically “saving” when the save feature means absolutely nothing? This factor alone is sure to piss off a lot of players as the safe assumption is that I can pick up right in the same room where I left off as, something that should definitely be considered when playing a portable title.
Just like in Doom 3, the player has the ability to shine a flashlight to light up the immediate distance in front of you. However, you cannot use the flashlight and hold a weapon at the same time. I understand that this feature can make the game scarier, but it is also another gameplay flaw. This switching feature eliminates the possibility of sniping enemies from a distance. There were plenty of times that I could see a monster from down the hall with my flashlight on, but was unable to shoot it in the dark. Only when you are within close proximity of monsters can you see them without the light. This makes combat a little slow and clunky. Also, there are times when you will be immediately attacked as soon as you enter a new room. But there is little time to select your weapon and get off a few rounds without taken damage. This is a shady and unfair gameplay tactic.
This game features a light mix of puzzles, just like any Resident Evil or Silent Hill game. From playing notes on a piano, to putting together a picture, the puzzles in this game are not too hard should be solvable without the use of an internet faqs. Just like in latest Zelda title, Phantom Hourglass, the player is given the ability to jot down notes on your note pad using the stylus just like a pen on paper. This is a creative way to make puzzle solving a little easier.
Dementium’s has some high presentation values. From the cutscenes, to the graphics, to the excellent sound design, this title stands out on DS. Upon first playing the game, I was immediately impressed with the game’s frame rate. Playing this 3D FPS without any slow down is quite a feat and definitely needs to be highlighted. Unlike most DS titles, Dementium is one of those games where you need to use headphones to appreciate all the work that went into the sound design. Each monster has a unique cry/scream and is a great indicator as to who you are going to have fight. These audio clues will help the player properly equip a suitable weapon for the fight ahead, a necessary tactic since you cannot fight and equip your flash light. And just like Silent Hill, the sound design is what gives the game its creepy feeling.
The graphics are pretty outstanding for a DS game. The flashlight produces a great realistic lighting effect and it even flickers from time to time. The character texturing also stands out and works hand in hand with all the 3D models in the game. However, looking great is only half the battle. Despite having a nice looking game, the level design is very bland and repetitive. The hospital in which you are walking through has more closet space than any building on planet Earth. It seems like after every bend and turn, there are another half dozen closets that serve no purpose…not even to house ammo or health kits. Luckily, the game features a map system that automatically tracks where you have been and which doors were locked. This is a good thing as the vast majority of the doors you encounter will be locked.
Dementium is a respectable game. It is one of the few “M” rated games for the system, uses a survival horror FPS gameplay theme (very unique to the DS), and is developed by Renegade Kid, a new game development studio that was founded in 2007. However, it seems that for every step in the right direction this game takes, it takes one back as well. The graphics look great, but the level design is too linear and filled with useless rooms. The sound design brings the game’s presentation levels up, but the lack of ammo will worry players. There is no multiplayer mode or any type of reply value, and the saving system just plain sucks but fighting well design demons is entertaining. It should also be noted that this game can probably be beaten in about 5-6 hours.
But even with all the flaws that this game has, it is still an entertaining DS experience. Even though this is Renegade Kid’s first game, it takes a big step in the right direction on how a FPS engine should play on the DS and other developers should take note.