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Dementium: The Ward


It was a dark and stormy night...
Dementium: The Ward is a game for the Nintendo DS that hasnít received a ton of hype or advance notice. Itís a first-person shooter with some exploration elements and a downright creepy setting. Weíve seen some first-person games on the DS beforeó- most notably Metroid Prime Hunters-ó but not like this. This game is gory and will scare some unprepared players at times. By some standards, a first-person shooter with gore and a scare factor sounds like a great impulse buy; however, the game does have some flaws and is limited in several areas that should make you think twice before dropping $30 on it, especially during this busy time of year.

Gameplay

Dementium opens with you waking up in a hospital bed, with no idea as to who you are or how you got there. There are signs that point to you possibly being a murderer, but you donít recall anything. As you set out to explore outside of your hospital room, youíre soon forced to survive as mutated monsters have somehow gotten loose in the asylum, killing anyone and everyone in their path. As you progress through the game, killing mutants and solving puzzles, the story gradually reveals itself. The story isnít what will keep you playing, however; itís the action and the atmosphere.

The control scheme in Dementium isnít too hard to grasp, and itís a good thing since the action can get intense. The D-Pad is used for movement, while using the stylus allows you to look around, aim, and also change your weapon. The L button is your attack trigger. There is one minor issue with using the touch screen, itís too easy to swipe your stylus over the Options tab, which halts game action and brings you to the Options screen. This can be especially bothersome during a boss fight, as it can take you out of your attack pattern and cost you valuable health. Despite this, the controls are responsive and thatís needed for any successful FPS.

Shooting and combat make up a large part of Dementium, but there are also puzzle elements which keep the game from being a mindless firefight. There are clues on the walls, on scattered journal entries, and other places. There is a useful Notepad feature that allows you to write down some of these clues so that you can apply them to puzzles when they come up. These puzzles donít only just allow you to progress through the game, but also open up new weapons for use. As the mutants become fiercer, upgrading from a simple .45 pistol to a shotgun or .357 Magnum will prove vital to your survival. The puzzles arenít difficult to solve, as long as youíre observant, and that helps to keep the pace of the game steady.

Dementium has a few boss battles mixed into the experience, and these are the toughest parts of the game. Ammo is limited, so you have to be accurate with your shots while avoiding attacks and having your health depleted. Unfortunately, the number of bosses is limited; in fact, youíll face the same ones more than once. It can be assumed that this is due to hardware limitations (which may explain a couple of other flaws which will be explained shortly), but recycled bosses can be annoyingóespecially tough bosses that required more than a few tries to blast past.

There is a lot of darkness in Dementium, and this is mitigated by the use of a flashlight, which is found pretty early on in the game. Use of the flashlight is very important in terms of exploration and survival. Walking blindly into a room may cost you a lot of health if you donít see monsters until it is too late, plus the light may illuminate some clues that might not be otherwise distinguishable. Unfortunately, if you do spot a monster, you have to change from the flashlight to a weapon, which drastically reduces your visibility and will certainly affect your aim. Itís too bad that there wasnít an option to constantly arm the flashlight in the other hand, but it can be assumed that switching from light to dark enhances the scary setting of the game.

There are a few other flaws that keep Dementium from being a recommended purchase for everyone. For example, if you backtrack to rooms previously explored, the enemies that you had previously dispatched appear once again. This is especially annoying if youíre low on health and are trying to backtrack to pick up some health powerups that youíd purposely left behind, just in case. This flaw discourages backtracking, but some of it is unavoidable. Another issue is a lack of multiplayer options, which, when combined with the gameís limited replay value to begin with, makes for a potentially short-lived experience and a questionable purchase for full price. Lastly, if you are defeated during a boss battle, you are forced to replay the entire chapter from the beginning. Thatís a poor system and an artificial way to extend the experience. These flaws donít make Dementium a bad game by any means, but should be kept in mind when deciding on whether or not to purchase it.

Graphics

Dementiumís visuals set the tone very well, right from the start. A rainy night can be seen through the windows, occasionally accented by flashes of lightning. Inside, blood is everywhere and there are plenty of rooms and closets to be explored. Many of the rooms are very similar, but thatís not uncommon in a hospital. The mutant design is a bit unusual, such as zombies with an alien-like heart in the middle or weird mini-worms. There isnít a great deal of variety, but the designs are fairly unique. The bosses are plenty scary, too. The frame rate runs at a generally consistent 60 frames per second, which is impressive for a game of this ilk on the DS. There are also some unique lighting effects that are used throughout the game, especially in transitions from darkness and when the flashlight is used.

Sound

The sound goes a long way towards complementing the visuals in terms of setting the stage in Dementium. Thunder crashes, rain falls, there is some occasional speech in the game, and your heartbeat can constantly be heard in the background. All of these elements ratchet up the tension, followed up by fairly clean samples of gunfire during encounters. If you use headphones (which is recommended), thereís very good separation for 3D sound. You can hear mutants in one speaker and rain in the other, and it all pans based on your travels. The music is also tense and moody, and just adds to the frightening setting.

The Final Verdict

First-person shooter fans who are looking for some portable action will likely eat up Dementium, and the fact that thereís a fair amount of gore and some sequences that will make you jump just adds to the allure of the game. The fact is that this genre is not as well-represented on the DS, and when a game like this comes along, itís hard to ignore. Thereís no denying Dementium is a solid first effort for the Renegade Kid development team, and a sequel would certainly be welcome. The visuals are quite good, the sound is immersive, and the gameplay is above average.

Keep in mind, though, that the Dementium experience will probably last somewhere between 5-6 hours, and that thereís no real incentive to play through the game again once youíve beaten it. Without any multiplayer functionality, the replay value is degraded even further. A one-time rental will allow you to experience all that Dementium offers and will probably save you at least $20 in the process. Itís a game thatís worth playing, but with so many options available this holiday season, itís just not good enough to recommend for full price.