By Josh Speer / December 12th, 2015
|Release Date||December 3, 2015|
|Genre||Survival Horror, FPS|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature – Intense Violence, Blood and Gore|
I have a bit of a long history with Dementium. I can still clearly remember my excitement when I found a horror game was headed to my DS some eight years ago. Nintendo is hardly known for their roster of horror games, but I find whenever one is made specifically for one of their consoles, it is remarkable. And in many ways, that is how I would describe the original Dementium: The Ward. It had graphics and gameplay that not only worked on the system, but almost transcended its limits. Which is why it was so disappointing that the original was held back by numerous flaws that essentially prevented me from beating the game. For one thing, the game automatically would save every time you went through a door. That might not sound too bad, but unfortunately, every time you enter a room, all the cleared out monsters would respawn. Your ammo, alas, would not. Combined with my lack of skill at horror and FPS games, this made it an insurmountable feat for me. It did not, however, keep me from beating the sequel. I always wanted to have an excuse to revisit and beat the original, and as fate would have it, the fine folks at Renegade Kid decided to bring back their original horror classic for the 3DS, completely remastering the graphics and adding new features such as save rooms to make it far more playable. Was Dementium Remastered the return to form I wanted? Or should this game have stayed a simple DS nightmare?
Before I get too far into things, let me show you just how much the graphics have improved in Dementium Remastered. Please note, the graphics at the time the original released were amazing, but, in retrospect, look a bit grainy and primitive. The picture above is one of the basic enemies from the game. Below is a look at some original screens from Dementium: The Ward.
The graphics in Dementium Remastered are quite simply leaps and bounds beyond the original. Enemies are more terrifyingly aware, light realistically illuminates surfaces and each shadow is pregnant with despair. But Dementium isn’t only about the graphics, so let me wind it back a bit and discuss the premise of the game. You start out waking up in a mental institution. You don’t know your name, why you’re there or what’s going on, and things only get worse from there. As you make your way deeper into the building, it’s clear some sort of bloody struggle has recently occurred, and the only clues you find seem to indicate your character is hiding a dark secret. As if that wasn’t enough, it quickly becomes apparent you aren’t alone. Your fellow humans may be deceased, but there are lots of freakish monsters loose in the ward, and they all want your blood.
While I can’t discuss much more of the plot without jumping into spoiler territory, I will say that it was fascinating to play this game through the lens of the sequel. Certain truths seem to bubble to the surface, and I found myself questioning many seemingly straightforward aspects of the game. One I can discuss is the speculation regarding whether or not the character you play is merely an innocent bystander, and whether he’s completely in his right mind. I will say that it is clear from Dementium II that you are playing William Redmoor, but I would have never guessed that detail from the lack of clarification in Dementium Remastered. Which brings me to my first critical point. Dementium doesn’t spoon feed you information; it likes to only provide scraps and make you guess the rest. While I would normally disdain such an approach, I find it makes a certain type of sense for a horror game. After all, much of horror is dictated as much by fear of the unknown as it is by hideous monsters. That said, I would have liked a bit more narrative to clarify the plot of the game, but I can respect that this might be an intentional choice by Renegade Kid to immerse us fully in the world of the game.
Speaking of horror, let me just say that every design choice in the game only serves to heighten your sense of fear. For example, there is abundant darkness in the ward, and even when you find a light, it flickers sporadically. While you do have a flashlight to provide extra illumination, you can’t wield it and a weapon at the same time. So, in order to do combat, you have to sacrifice your sight. The vast number of control schemes for the game certainly make it a less bitter pill to swallow, as I found the controls to work exceedingly well. Look below for a glimpse at how many ways there are to play.
Another way to make the horror more real is the fantastic audio found in the game. Though the music is typically somber and quiet (not taking into account the boss fights), each and every enemy has a very particular sound. From the wails of crawling worms to the growls of chest maws to the hair-raising scream of banshee heads, every sound will warn you of clear and present danger. Let me tell you, there’s something especially frightening about knowing a foe is nearby, but not knowing where, and walking blind into a dark corner.
Another way to keep players on their toes is with sporadic caches of ammo being hidden in random nooks and crannies. I do feel there is more ammo in Remastered than in the original, but, even so, they are very feast or famine. It sometimes pays to hold onto your ammo and just run through hallways, instead of wasting precious bullets on minor foes. Not that you’ll always have a choice, and it’s certainly a mistake to be too much of a miser, as many foes can take you down very quickly. Which brings me to the next improvement — the AI. The monsters of Dementium are MUCH smarter and more aggressive this time around. Before, the most basic enemies would have a tendency to wait in doorways until you got right next to them. Now, I found myself being rushed by them before I knew they were even there. This was a great decision, since it makes the game more challenging and frightening, but it’s balanced out by the inclusion of save rooms.
Save rooms are perhaps the best feature imported to the remake from the sequel. These swirling vortexes let you save your progress just by interacting with them, but don’t think that makes the game too easy. Much like ammo, you never know when you’ll find a save room, but a good rule of thumb is you’ll find at least one in any given large area. What impressed me the most about them was how Renegade Kid managed to space them out to keep tension high but also give players a bit of breathing room. Combined with the much-improved map system, which shows exactly where you are and which doors are locked, I was actually able to make my way around without getting too lost. It was also a nice touch that the map was unlocked from the beginning, instead of having to find parts of it around the ward. That might not sound like a big deal, but I get lost very easily, so I commend the game for streamlining exploration in the game.
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