Imagine being quickly thrusted into a mental hospital, and you have no idea how you got there. As you look down and find that you are strapped to the wheelchair you are sitting in, you barely have time to wonder why you are strapped in. Doors fly open as you are pushed through them, lights are flashing and everything is frantic. You look to your left and there is a dead body lying in a pool of blood, you look right and there is a horde of horrible monsters. Then everything goes dark. Suddenly you wake up in a hospital bed, and everything is in disarray. There is blood on the walls and on the floor. The first thing you see as you leave your room is a horrible monster dragging a terrified woman through a pair of doors at the end of the hall. Welcome my friend to Dementium: The Ward. Prepare for a long and frightening stay.
Dementium is a delightful mixture of the first-person shooter and survival horror genres. The gameplay and controls are quite simple and easy to grasp: the touch screen controls the camera as well as aiming, the D pad (or ABXY buttons, depending on whether you are right or left handed) moves your character, and the L or R button uses your equipped item, such as firing a gun or turning the flashlight on and off.
The menus, items and health of the character are all easily accessible and clearly displayed on the bottom screen. While the player can push the opposing shoulder button (the R button if you are right handed) to quickly switch between the flashlight and most recently obtained weapon, all of the important items are displayed at the bottom of the touch screen as well. The player simply needs to touch what weapon they want to use and it is instantly equipped.
Links to the items, map, notepad and options are also displayed on the touch screen, and thus are easily accessed via a tap of the stylus. The player's health is front and center on the bottom screen as a heart monitor. As the player takes damage, the heart monitor, and thus the sound of the character's heart, will get louder and more frantic. If some people find it a bother it is easily turned down, or completely off, in the options menu.
The design of the game is fairly straightforward and quite linear. While traveling through the many different areas in The Ward the player will encounter several doors, but most of the time all but one door will be locked, and thus a path through the game is very clearly laid out.
Environments in The Ward are definitely eerie. There is blood on the walls and floors, it is dark and creepy, and to top it all off there is a nasty thunderstorm going on outside. Sometimes the rooms become repetitive, but this is not really a flaw, but rather accentuates the feel of being lost in a hospital where all the rooms in a particular area really would look the same.
The visuals in Dementium are all extremely well done. The game feels very realistic and freaky, and really shows what the Nintendo DS is capable of. Cut scenes might be short, but they really add to the tension of the game, and the cinematics don't look any different from the gameplay itself. Enemy design is really intriguing and original, and it is disturbing to think that the majority of the enemies were once human.
Audio (mainly the sound effects) in this game really shines. The creators had mentioned that it is best to play this game in the dark with headphones on, and they were not exaggerating. Sound effects and subtle noises are amazingly well done. The sound of an enemy growling through a door to the character's right will be heard to the right, and if the player turns around the sound will follow, and even little things like the sound of the protagonist's bare feet hitting the hospital floor is very realistic.
Voice acting, while there isn't much of it, is also very well done. At the very beginning of the game, there is a loud male voice coming through over the intercom shouting an evacuation notice. It is clear and spine-chilling, and the best part is that it fades or gets louder as you move from room to room and get closer to or farther from the intercom. The soundtrack itself provides a creepy undertone that does a good job of setting the mood in the game.
Dementium is definitely easy to interact with, and it flows quite nicely. At times it can be kind of annoying to think that this hospital is laying the path down so easily for the main character by keeping all but the correct door in a room locked. Another flaw is the fact that the character can only hold one item at a time, so one must sacrifice the flashlight when enemies are near to switch to a weapon, and the character can only see what's directly around him because it's dark. Again, this is also easily disregarded because it only adds to the freakiness of the game, and it is also understandable once you obtain the shotgun that the character couldn't hold both at the same time. Dementium is definitely a must-buy title for survival-horror fans.
Final Verdict - 9/10
All in all Dementium is not very difficult even though you can't take any extra ammo or health items with you, for they are so frequently dispersed around The Ward that it doesn't matter much. The learning curve for this game isn't that steep, once the player grasps the controls, they should easily be able to make their way through the game. Probably the most annoying thing in Dementium is the fact that if you die there are severe consequences, and by that I mean if you die in the game you must restart at the beginning of the last chapter. There are no checkpoints, or anything, and to top that off you must re-collect any items you had already obtained in that chapter. Although it is very hard to die if you play wisely, like I said health items are frequent, but it is still annoying to have to start all over if you die. Just pray you don't die at a boss.