Dementium: The Ward
Reviewed January 2008 by Edwin Kee
The Nintendo DS platform doesn't really have an abundant selection of FPS titles worth mentioning to date, with Metroid Prime Hunters residing at the top of the list to be followed by...well, almost nothing else. Other titles like Touch the Dead did not really do much in reviving interest for the genre, not until a game like Dementium: The Ward comes around. Dementium: The Ward is a survival horror title – the game warns you in advance that you're in for a heart stopping time, so those who are wearing pacemakers or are weak of heart might probably want to play elsewhere like the New Super Mario Bros. Instead.
Being a survival horror game that is set in a FPS format, Dementium starts off with very little information on the background story. You play the role of the male protagonist who awakes in a mysterious hospital that seems frozen in time. Needless to say, your curiosity got the better of you and as you started to wander around the hospital's many hallways, you come face to face with a chilling scene of monstrous experiments that seem to have just a single objective in mind - to tear you to bits and pieces. Survival and self-preservation is obviously the higher calling, so your mission is to discover a way to escape, and so much the better if you manage to find out what happened in the process.
I must admit that the game started off in a rather disconcerting manner. I guess that fulfilled the developer's intentions - to come up with a setting where the player feels immersed the moment the game boots up. It didn't help (depending on how you look at it) that it was recommended in the game’s packaging materials that you play this title with a pair of headphones and having all the lights turned off. That’s exact what I did, and the game drew me in immediately despite the lack of next generation graphics. As I started to wander around the hallways, I discovered that something terrible must have happened in the past as I walked past all the scattered furniture, pools of blood as well as non-functioning electronics. There is a notebook (the paper variety) for me to pick up so that I can jot down important details, and very early into the game did I stumble upon a flashlight as well as a nightstick.
After shuffling cautiously about (and getting used to the controls in the process), I stumbled upon some sort of creature with a mouth on its chest and it seemed hell bent on getting piece of me. Thankfully, I spotted it with the flashlight from far off and had the benefit of pummeling it with my nightstick. I must stress this - your flashlight is absolutely essential in the game, as you are virtually blind without it. Sounds like Doom 3, doesn't it? Well, it is a double edged sword so to speak as it adds to the atmosphere of the game, but when it comes to changing weapons while the baddies bearing down on you at lightning speed, that can be quite a challenge.
While the actions are heart pounding, the bestiary isn't exactly memorable, unlike the monsters in Doom and the Quake series. Who could ever forget the dreaded Cyberdemon as well as lightning-wielding Shambler after all these years? These are but classic monsters that make an impact on the player's psyche during gameplay, but sad to say monsters and creepy creatures in Dementium doesn't have that kind of punch. The most they do is scare you, as they tend to creep up unannounced. They disappear after you’ve killed them and re-spawn when you re-enter the area.
The puzzles in the game could be a little hard to decipher, and not to spoil the game for interested parties, you do need some form of musical background in one of the puzzles early in the game, or else you might just have to enlist the help of a musically inclined person or an online FAQ. I suppose the Mature rating is appropriate here (not only in terms of graphics and gore) as there is a level of mental maturity required to solve these puzzles.
The control scheme in the game have a bit of learning curve. While having the advantage of a stylus-based aim system compared to using just the D-pad on the GBA, it still doesn't offer the accuracy and comfort of a keyboard and mouse combo. Depending on whether you are left or right handed, the D-pad as well as X, Y, A and B can be used to navigate your character around while you take aim at zombies as well as other baddies. One factor is a bit limiting in gameplay is the fact that you can either use the flashlight or wield a weapon but not simultaneously. You will feel crippled as you have to let the creatures get up close and personal before you can take a good shot – and bullets aren't exactly easy to come by in some parts of the game, so those with poor aim due to frayed nerves will have to be less trigger-happy. What’s fun in that in a FPS game?
Graphically speaking, Dementium: The Ward surpassed most expectations. While it surely had to be better than any of the FPS fare available on the GBA, Metroid Prime Hunters on the DS was surely a pretty high yardstick to live up to. Thankfully, the developers of this game managed to do their work excellently, and you could wander around the halls at a full 60 frames per second, and never once did the game slow down throughout the hectic gameplay. The lighting effects are definitely something worth commenting on, as you get the sense of actually being there. Imagination once again, comes into play in this ghostly game as there is only so much realism that pixilated textures can convey - perhaps that is why the recommendation to play in the dark with a pair of headphones exists?
As you find yourself going deeper into the rabbit hole, the hospital layout might get a little bit repetitious. I suppose there is only so many textures that can be stored on the DS' flash cart, hence the importance of a map. If you're willing to look past the rather bland textures, the graphics do the game justice when conveying an atmosphere of dread and gloom.
Sound effects are just enough to get you immersed in the game, and it is imperative that you play with a pair of headphones since different enemies make unique sounds, giving you a chance to prepare yourself to face whatever is coming just right around the corner. In addition, subtle effects like singing sounds or a deep voice mumbling something incomprehensible add to the mood of the game, and I absolutely dread listening to little kids singing in a hospital filled with blood-stained walls and never see a single one of them. But these effects add so much more atmosphere to a horror game. As for the soundtrack, it is mostly composed by piano, but they aren't too memorable so to speak, doing just enough to keep the momentum going.