Dementium: The Ward
FPS or Survival Horror? How about... first person survival horror? Hmm... I like it!
I'm a little unsure of why gamers are so skeptical that Survival Horror titles could be effective on a handheld. Why is sitting on a couch, controller in-hand, staring at a TV a more effective set-up for scares than playing on a DS or PSP? If anything, you would think that the opposite might be true. With a good set of headphones, a handheld horror experience could be so much more personal than what home consoles deliver.
I recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with Renegade Kid's Dementium: The Ward, and while I (unfortunately) didn't get to play the title in ideal horror videogame conditions (ie with all the lights off, shades drawn, doors locked...) I still came away impressed.
The premise itself is a little thin - you wake up in a hospital - a creepy-ass hospital - with no idea where you are, how you got there, the works. But like most good horror titles, the story opens up organically as you progress, via notes others have left behind, patient charts, that sort of thing.
Besides, what the Dementium lacks right now in storyline fidelity, it makes up for in pure atmosphere. The 3D, polygonal hospital is a genuinely scary place. It's true that the limitations of the DS's 3D capabilities show a little, but if you were creeped out by any of the PS1 Resident Evil titles, you'll be creeped out by Dementium - the environment looks at least as good.
Renegade Kid seems determined to earn a hard "M" rating, to boot. Bloody hospital mattresses, bloody messages scrawled on walls, bloody handprints, creepy leech-monsters kept alive in baby incubators... all of this is encountered in about the first 10 minutes of play.
The gameplay itself is actually a little more action-oriented than is typical of the horror genre. In fact, if the game dropped the horror setting and the puzzle-solving, the Dementium engine could easily be used to make a pretty decent DS FPS. The d-pad controls the player's physical movement, while the stylus controls looking/turning. Think Metroid Prime: Hunters.
The set-up works well in this survival horror context. When there's an object that can be read or interacted with, simply tap it. Items and weapons are used the same way. An inventory lines the bottom of the touch screen, and weapons can be swapped out by tapping them. Guns are also fired by tapping the touch screen. This gives gunplay some welcome depth. Enemies have different weak-spots, and if you're accurate, many can be one-shotted to conserve ammo.
The first boss fight is actually a pretty stiff challenge. Gamers will need to circle-strafe, time their shots, and dodge incoming attacks to survive.
The puzzles encountered so far have been pretty routine - numbers scrawled on the wall are needed just a couple rooms later. That sort of thing. But it's still a nice way to break up the gunplay.
Based on my early impressions, Dementium: The Ward is worth a position on DS owners' radar. It could use a little tweaking (movement and turn speed is a little sluggish), but I was impressed with what Renegade Kid is pulling off on Nintendo's two-screened handheld.