Dementium: The Ward (DS) review
"After a scant 15 minutes, Dementium: The Ward withered like an elderly man with erectile dysfunction. What began as a hardcore 1st-person shooter regressed into an atmospheric jaunt through a continual series of empty rooms and hallways. "
An orchestra of guttural moans and the rhythmic squeal of grinding metal probed my ears. Hazy eyes opened to catch a passing glimpse of a woman's battered face. Faster and faster, my manic wheelchair careened through wilting hallways and a walking menagerie of rotting flesh before pitching me to the emptiness of an endless pit. For a second, everything was still. Thunder claps and the torrential assault of rain on glass welcomed me back to consciousness. The neglected hospital room was quietly stifling, vacant save for a small key and a cryptic note with a simple question. "Why did you do it?"
Within seconds of stepping into the hallway beyond, I sighted a putrid behemoth dragging the helpless woman from my nightmare across the moldy tiles. That was a vision of things to come. At the end of the hall I happened upon a nightstick and my new best friend, a flashlight. It was time to play. Zombies meandered from the corners, rose from the cold floors, and within minutes, I was running through a gauntlet of undead across the hospital rooftops. I was bleeding profusely and unsure if my newly brandished pistol would be enough to me through the next room. To my relief, the room was empty. So was the one after that.
After a scant 15 minutes, Dementium: The Ward withered like an elderly man with erectile dysfunction. What began as a hardcore 1st-person shooter regressed into an atmospheric jaunt through a continual series of empty rooms and hallways. I dutifully tried door after door, but as the past four sections taught me, every door but the last would be locked. Bottles of health-replenishing pills and boxes of ammunition were stockpiled in the corners, but I still can't understand why. Was there some way to accidentally shoot myself?
Dementium is survival-horror cut to the meatless bone. Resident Evil sent me to investigate a mysterious outbreak, my daughter disappeared into the mist of Silent Hill, and Condemned tasked me with stopping an evil mastermind. Thus far, Dementium had an impressively disturbing setting and a haunting soundtrack, but no clues, story, or apparent goal. There was that note, and the newspaper clipping outside my room that read, "Man brutally murders wife." I suppose I could have been the murderer, but I didn't even know if I was a man or woman. The incriminating note slipped to the wayside as a new question permeated my thoughts. What the hell was I doing?
Hoping that my perpetual boredom was the result of poor pacing, I pressed on and arrived at my first puzzle. As we all know, scary games need to have puzzles. It was a toy piano. Scrawled on the wall were the notes I needed to play and a handy chart of the corresponding keys lay a few steps away. Later puzzles didn't fare much better. Whether it was the mysterious case, the empty photo album, or the combination to the weapons locker, they all came with instructions that detailed exactly what I needed and where I could find it. A poem instructed me to "Count the dead men's eyes"ť in the morgue for a locker combination. I counted 16, which was wrong, but meaningless since the dial stopped at 12 anyway.
Shortly thereafter, it was time for my first bossfight against the overgrown blob from earlier. I was unprepared, so he made short work of me, graciously giving me the opportunity to experience one of the worst save features this side of an arcade machine. Die, and you have to restart the entire chapter. Those few seconds of brutality cost me nearly an hour of hallway trekking. Especially aggravating is that fallen enemies respawn when you pass through a door. More than once, I was at full health when I passed a bottle of pills, stepped into the next hallway, and fought tooth and nail to the other end. Going forward meant a potential killing blow, but going back meant doing the same fight all over again.
I eventually made my way back to the boss. This time I turned the tables completely, and for every one after that. Each boss chases you in a donut-shaped room, so all you have to do is keep running, take a shot, and repeat. In fact, running is your best option throughout the first half of the game, especially against the nigh-invincible floating heads or the hordes of slithering leeches that attack your feet - the one place you can't aim. That is just poor design, but even worse are the insects. Whose idea was it to force players through buzzing swarms of hostile, invulnerable, and unavoidable insects?
As for the second half of the game, the enemies are more numerous and the areas to explore more expansive, but the buzzsaw makes it all a breeze. It's a short-range weapon, but a vastly overpowered one that let's you sprint through the halls without a care in the world. Not only does it kill every monster in your path, it completely kills the mood since you'll likely have to turn the sound off, unless you find the high-pitched whine of a dentist's drill soothing.
Those first, thrilling, tentative steps into Dementium's labyrinthine hallways faded to the furthest reaches of memory. I was far from scared anymore. I cursed every enemy that got in my way, every mindless puzzle that sent me backtracking, every door that opened a new area of emptiness, and that incessantly looping soundtrack. I wanted the whole thing to be done with. Whatever I did, I truly regret it.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (November 09, 2007)
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