Dementium II Review
Austin-based developer Renegade Kid hasn't been around long, but with three games made in as many years, it's obvious they're on a roll. Now, the DS-centric team responsible for hand-held titles Moon and Dementium: The Ward brings us the sequel to the latter of the two—first person survival game, Dementium II. After The Ward's many problems, (including endless respawn and scarcity of save points) and resultant gamer hostility, there was some question whether Renegade Kid could ever bounce back. Thankfully, DII exhibits none of its predecessor's issues and as such, represents redemption both for Renegade Kid and its ambitious horror franchise.
DII tells the blood-soaked story of William Redmoor, a man committed to a mental hospital after being suspected of killing his wife. The first game had you spending the entire game fighting to regain your identity – this one has you fighting to regain your sanity. Minutes after receiving experimental brain surgery, you're wheeled into a barred cell, weak and disoriented. Soon after, an alarm goes off and the (admittedly grungy) Bright Dawn treatment center becomes a living nightmare. Throughout the game, you'll alternate between “reality” and this frightening insanity mode, a mode filled with darkness, monsters, blood-stained walls and periodic intercom messages from a demented doctor bent on your destruction.
Navigating such a horrific situation obviously means you'll encounter things from which you'll have to defend yourself. Enemies in DII come in two broad categories: taser (or gun)-wielding hospital guards in riot gear, or grotesquely bloody crimes against nature. As you explore the hospital looking for a way out, you'll find and collect a wide range of effective weapons, starting with your first—a handy shank—and leading to others like a pistol, shotgun, sledgehammer, assault rifle—and later, to high-end weapons like a flamethrower, buzz saw and my personal favorite, a rapid fire nail gun.
The game delivers on Renegade Kid's promise for improvement and is leaps and bounds better than The Ward, and not just because of the weapons. In spite of its awesomely creepy setting, The Ward became, for many gamers, incompletable due to its boatload of frustrating gameplay issues. By contrast, DII has the same level of creepiness, without the issues. The improvements are many, but the most important ones, the ones that make the game fun and not an exercise in frustration, are the lack of enemy respawn and the manual (and sensibly placed) save points. No longer will you spend half an hour confusedly circling the same area, fighting off endlessly respawning enemies until you die, knowing you'll have to repeat the whole thing over again and cursing the day you were born. Now, knowing a save point is within reasonable reach, you can really immerse yourself into the spookiness of the game as you explore, without carrying the fear of a tedious re-do along with you.
Other significant improvements include the ability to simultaneously carry both a flashlight and a weapon, and the wider range of unique enemies and bosses. What's great about both the weapons and the enemy types being expanded is that now there's actually a reason to use different weapons. Some enemies dodge and move quickly, spitting nasty green acid at you, demanding that you defend yourself with a gun. Others lurch up slowly, allowing you to save bullets by using your sledgehammer. Still others—especially bosses—require that you use a combination of the two weapon types. And unlike the bosses in The Ward, which were fairly generic and repetitive, the bosses in DII offer some truly unique and memorable fights. Two words to make you shudder—Wendigo Witch.
While DII's gameplay is miles better than The Ward, its graphics are fairly similar (which is to say, pretty darn good for a DS game). The improvements here come mainly in a broader range of settings, which include locations like an underground mining complex and a snow-filled yard. The game's flashlight effect is still good at creating a sense of suspense, although now that enemies don't respawn, it's probably unnecessary. (You'll notice too as you navigate back and forth through the levels, that the flashlight's limited visibility gets tiresome and makes you wish you could simply see where you're going.) The sound on DII is also pretty good, especially if you plug your DS into some real speakers or headphones. The doctor's menacing announcements and the game's spooky musical themes keep you on edge at all times and the monster noises, well, let's just say one creature's scary giggle will echo in my nightmares for some time to come.
In the final reckoning, the difference between DII and its predecessor in gameplay terms, is like night and day. While the first game offered a frustrating gaming experience that frankly defeated many gamers, DII has solved all of the previous reasons for criticism, providing a true horror gaming experience unmarred by mechanical flubs. The experience now is seamless, the pacing much improved and the tension exists for the right reasons (the fact that you're trapped with a madman) instead of the wrong ones (praying you don't die before the chapter's done and have to start all over again.) Good for you, Dementium II—you've just become the handheld horror title we've all been waiting for.