Dementium: The Ward DS Review

Dementium: The Ward for Nintendo DSDementium: The Ward is a horror game for the Nintendo DS (developed by Renegade Kid and published by GameC0ck Media Group) that serves to bring a mature horror experience to the system, in the form of a first-person shooter in the style of Silent Hill.

The game however is very light on storyline and this, coupled with some bad gameplay elements, is what really kills the game. Which is why this game makes the perfect GameFly rental for those interested.

There’s no denying that Dementium had a lot of potential and could have served as an example of how to successfully pull off a scary, M-rated horror game for Nintendo’s popular portable, but unfortunately that is far from the case.

Read below to find out why.

Dementium: The Ward logo

System: Nintendo DS
Also On: None
Debut: USA October 31st, 2007
Genre: Survival Horror First Person Shooter
Players: 1-Player
Save: 2 Files. Saves only at the beginning of every chapter
Developer: Renegade Kid
Publisher: GameC0ck Media Group
Rating: Mature for Blood & Gore and Violence

Dementium: The Ward on paper sounds like an excellent game. A Mature-rated first-person shooter in the style of something like Silent Hill, where the horrific enemies are plentiful, the fog is thick, cryptic messages scrawled in blood on walls appear with regularity and the music sets the mood. Toss in some light puzzle solving and features like note-writing and use of the touch-screen to look around and what could go wrong?

Plenty actually. The trouble begins with the storyline, which is pretty much non-existent . . . And the problems don’t end there, they have only just begun. But first thing is first, the game has your un-named character (at least initially) waking up suddenly in a scary hospital room that includes bloody floors and walls, as well as random monsters crawling in the hallways nearby. But as far why you are waking up alone in a scary hospital in the first place? Hell if I could tell you.

Now I’m going to go ahead and admit that I did not get very far in this game, but that’s only because I could not stomach it any longer. And no that had nothing to do with how “scary” the game was . . . Because it’s actually not that scary at all. As far as my dis-interest went, well that’s saying something as I’m generally pretty easy to please. But this game pushed all my wrong buttons.

The best part about Dementium: The Ward is actually the controls, and you know you’re in trouble when the controls are what sticks out in your mind more than the actual game.

The game plays out on the top screen, where you see the standard first-person view of your guy holding whatever weapon or item you have selected, and if it’s a gun your ammo is displayed in the bottom right-hand corner with a cursor in the middle to show you where your shot will land. The bottom screen shows your health meter (green is good, yellow is caution, red is bad) that’s also represented as colored dots below the meter and if you lose them all then you die. Ammo and health are pretty plentiful and you will find them typically tucked away in the corners of rooms.

The bottom screen contains one button in each of the four corners. In the upper left is your notepad, where you can jot down notes on one of the two pages using the stylus. I must give them kudos for making the writing recognition on this better than what I experienced in my Zelda: Phantom Hourglass review, the writing works perfectly and it’s easy to write in small or big letters and in print. Tapping the upper right button will take you to the map. The map in this game should work fine but it doesn’t . . . namely because you can’t zoom in and the cursor that shows what room you are actually in lacks an arrow to show you what direction you are facing, making it a guessing game in your task of figuring out what door you are going towards.

The bottom left button is your items, where you will keep and can view what items you pick up, from keys to . . . keycards. And finally the bottom right button is Options, where you can change the Control Type, invert the Y Axis, change the brightness, turn the annoying heartbeat noise on or off (please turn it off so you aren’t driven insane), as well as turn the music off, or set it to “Quiet”.

In a row on the bottom of the touchscreen you will find your weapons and flashlight, you can switch between them by either tapping the screen or hitting the R Button. You move your character with the control pad and use the touch-screen to look around. To run you double-tap Up and hold it, and to shoot or activate your weapon or item you press the L Button.

The controls work great except for the fact that you will sometimes accidentally move the stylus across one of the corner buttons or the weapon buttons while looking around, but there really isn’t a way to avoid this so overall the controls work fine.

A main aspect of Dementium comes from the flashlight. Like in Doom 3, the flashlight allows you to see much more of the area around you, without it a thick darkness permeates everything and you can only see a few feet in front of you, but the catch is that you cannot hold the flashlight and another weapon at the same time. This means that you will be constantly switching between the flashlight, to see enemies, and the guns to shoot them. Renegade Kid would’ve been better off getting rid of the flashlight altogether in my mind, or maybe making it so that you need the flashlight only to see ammo and health or some-such, cause it’s ridiculous having to switch so much between your flashlight and weapons.

Dementium Screenshot - Flashlight

As I mentioned above though, it’s the gameplay that really kills this game. Unlike say Silent Hill, you cannot check most objects or areas of rooms, only the ones that have something you can interact with, which happens sparingly. Occasionally you’ll find a note you can pick-up or an object that’s used for a puzzle, or you’ll see something like a series of numbers scrawled in blood on the wall that you’ll want to copy to your notebook, but this is no Silent Hill and the puzzles I came across were neither compelling or took much brain power, in fact they were cliche. And since you cannot check objects in the various rooms, it basically makes the rooms feel empty and pointless. What’s the point of even having objects in the room if they are just for decoration?

It just makes you feel limiting and to lose the sense of adventure or mystery that could’ve been enhanced if you were able to check the objects or the background. And it’s to be expected I think going into a horror game after the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series (where checking the environment is a big part of the game) that when Dementium lacks even that basic feature (even though it’s a first-person shooter) it makes it that much more noticeable. And it makes it even more glaring how deliberately the puzzles and interactive objects are placed by the designers, because they are one of very few interactible or checkable things in the environment.

The environments themselves are also extremely boring. If I had to come up with one good phrase to describe Dementium as a whole it’d be “Hallway crawl” cause that’s literally what it is, a sea of endless hallways, with many repeating rooms and environments. Although the 3D effect is used well, and one environment contained rain, which looks good on the little DS, that doesn’t mean that the technically proficient graphics translate into anything beyond mediocre. And what really put it over the top was how often the rooms repeat. In some ways it’s like playing the original Doom or something.

Dementium Screenshot - Boss

The worst part being though that Renegade Kid saw it fit to replicate one of the most major annoyances I had with Silent Hill 2 (read all about that game in my Silent Hill 2 review) and that is by adding an endless amount of “always locked” doors to the hallways. Anyone that has played Silent Hill 2 will have flashbacks of the apartment certainly, and that’s not a good thing. It is just really annoying to have to click on locked door after locked door.

And finally we come to the combat. This is actually one of the better aspects of Dementium. That is, it would be if there was any strategy to it. The enemies are brain-dead and will continually walk against walls as you shoot at them, and the game is filled with really annoying enemies as well, from Medusa Head things that keep flying at you to annoying-sounding slugs that come out of vents. And it wouldn’t be so annoying if you could see enemies further than five feet in front of you, but you can’t unless you have your flashlight equipped, and so that kind of kills the point of some of the long-ranged firearms. And you know what the best strategy is? To simply attack as your backing up. Mix and repeat. And yawn and blink or you might fall asleep!

The game does contain some interesting weapons . . . but I didn’t get far enough to give them a shot. But if you do continue to play this exercise in frustration you will encounter not only the default night stick and pistol, but also a shotgun, saw and even a machine gun! There’s also a few more but I won’t spoil them.

Dementium Screenshot - Weapons

Probably the worst thing about Dementium though, and what really puts the nail through the coffin, is how hard the game is. It can be really easy to die, and if you do die you have to start all the way at the beginning of the chapter! This erases any progress you made, including items you’ve found or notes you have made. Which means you might as well just stick to good ole fashioned paper and pencil. And since the game doesn’t doesn’t give you an objective screen or in any way, shape or form point you towards where you have to go, it means you can expect to wander around lost (with a map that’s not much help) and end up dying, only to have to restart the chapter all over again. The fact that you can’t save anywhere and an absence of even checkpoints is ludicrous. The game only saves at the beginning of each chapter, and that’s a big area where Renegade Kid definitely failed. It makes Dementium more frustrating than it is fun.

Graphically the game runs well and looks great on the DS hardware, it’s fully 3D and looks like a PS1 game. It’s just a shame that the developers didn’t do anything interesting with the environments. The music in the game is very repetitive like almost everything in the game, and it’s not very good either. There is also some voicework, but it’s nothing to get excited about.

In the end, Dementium fails for several reasons. First of all, there is no interesting storyline, and so from the get-go it all feels rather pointless. You cannot check anything and there’s a horrible map system with rooms that repeat, this all adds up to drab environments that feel hollow . . . or again, pointless. And lastly, the combat fails to entertain since the enemies are as dumb as they come. Tack the flashlight deal onto it and you have a game that could’ve worked, but ultimately feels shoddy and mediocre.

If they had simply added a good storyline, some depth to the combat with smarter enemies, improved the map system (as well as showed you where you need to go, which it never does meaning you get lost easy) and changed up the game’s environments, then I think a game like this could definitely have worked. The controls are good and the touchscreen support is great, but without a good game as a backbone it can not succeed.

Dementium Screenshot - Evil

I hope that other developers do not take this to mean that horror games or M-rated titles are dead on the DS. Because I think if Renegade Kid could fix these issues with a follow-up to Dementium, then they could make a much better game that people will actually want to play. But as far as this first effort goes, it was a good try but it falls way short.

The only people that may be attracted to Dementium are those that go in expecting a classic Doom-style first-person shooter experience. If you aren’t looking for depth, if repetitive environments don’t bother you, and if you are only looking to shoot things with a nice DS control scheme, then you may get some enjoyment out of Dementium. But there are much better ways you can spend your money on the DS.

Graphics – 7.5
The graphics themselves are pretty good. It looks like a PS1 or N64 game, with fully 3D environments and objects. Sadly, the developers do not take advantage of this to make anything interesting, but rather they go in the opposite direction, and build drab, lifeless, boring environments that repeat themselves every other room.

Music & Sound – 6.0
The music is alright, but again they incorporate lots of repeating which gets old fast. You will immediately want to go in and turn that annoying beating heart off . . . and they give you the option to turn the music off as well, which you may want to do after hearing the same tune for the hundredth time. There is some voice work which is passable but nothing special, and even some of the enemy sound effects are annoying. I’m looking at you, damn slugs!

Presentation – 7.0
The game is divided into chapters and will immediately shove you into the game with no explanation. There are a few cut-scenes done with in-game graphics, and they look fine. I do like the layout of the bottom screen and I think the menus are done well. The notetaking feature in particular works great.

Ingenuity – 7.5
This game gets ingenuity points for a few reasons. The notetaking feature as mentioned above works well and it’s something that would be really cool to have in a good horror game. Sadly this isn’t one. But I think any future horror games for the DS will be expected to have a notetaking feature. The controls are done well and using the touchscreen to look around works really good. The game is also one of very few M-rated titles for the DS. But as far as the gameplay goes, this game is far from intuitive and plays like a shoddy attempt at Silent Hill by a Western developer who thought they’d do a better job with a first-person game.

Replay Value – 5.0
As far as I know the game does not contain any unlockables.