It's not all in your Head
HIGH The tantalizing feeling of almost understanding what's going on.
LOW Fighting a monster in darkness because my weapon requires two hands.
WTF Who the hell keeps sending me these postcards?
Doing scary games is hard. Doing scary games with a brain is even harder. Doing both of those things on the Nintendo DS with its comparatively weak 3D capabilities and unique interface requirements? Harder still. With all those things taken into account, Renegade Kid should be applauded for their work on Dementium II.
As the title begins, the player's character is recovering from bizarre psychological experiments and recalls precious little. Taking cues from Konami's seminal Silent Hill series, the world the player is thrust into soon begins to display a split personality. The "normal" dimension is an abandoned prison filled with creatures from someone's nightmare, and the "evil" dimension is rusted metal, sharp edges and chains. Being tossed back and forth between these two aspects of reality, the player must figure out what's going on and work towards the eventual resolution.
Although I did not play the original Dementium, it doesn't seem to me that knowledge of the first game is crucial to enjoyment of the sequel. In fact, I think not knowing actually added a certain quality to the experience. The player's character stumbles across enigmatic postcards that only hint at things, and is often addressed from afar by the person responsible for events at the prison. There was just enough given to enable me to get a rough idea of exactly what was going on, but the complete picture was never painted. Since it's often been remarked that the unknown is what people fear the most, this decision to not connect all the dots was a good one, and it's done well.
The developers are as successful with atmosphere and mood as they were with the story. While Dementium II would never hold up against anything running on the 360 or PS3, it is certainly the goriest thing I've ever seen on the DS, and the reliance on a flashlight mechanic to illuminate dark areas (and there are plenty of them) definitely increased the fear factor by a few degrees. However, since one of the character's hands needs to be free in order to use a flashlight, there were times that creatures had to be fought in darkness. (When my pistol ran out of ammunition and a two-handed shotgun was used, for example.) These segments were fairly frustrating since being able to see is a crucial part of playing video games, but thankfully they were quite few and far between.
Technically speaking, Dementium II has the best first-person control scheme on the DS that I've ever played. The D-pad handles movement, the left shoulder button attacks, and the stylus is used to control the player's viewpoint in the central part of the lower screen. Tapping the extreme bottom brings up an inventory which is clear and very easy to use. While I can't say that playing any first-person games on this particular hardware is the most pleasant experience, the developers at Renegade Kid have certainly made the most of what the DS offers. I was impressed at the elegance and common-sense on display.
While I was impressed with Dementium II in general, there were definitely a few things that need to be addressed for a future sequel. My biggest complaint was that it was sometimes hard to tell depth on-screen during combat, leading to some missed attacks and cheap hits from enemies. With ammunition being limited and most combat happening with melee weapons, I'd like to see this aspect tightened up. Another issue was the game's length, although it wasn't as clear-cut as my problem with the depth perception.
From start to finish, the story mode took me about five hours. I am absolutely a fan of games that know when they need to end and I'm not one for needless padding just to up the completion time, but in Dementium's case, the experience does feel a little light on content. The pleasant puzzles were rare occurrences, and most obstacles in the game only require a certain item (a key, a battery, etc.) to be fetched from somewhere else. Such obstructions are easily removed, and without much besides combat, the game does feel a little shallow. As someone who rails against games that are too long every chance I get, it feels a little awkward to say that something is too short, but a little more supporting content would have been welcomed.
While the experience was brief, the time I did spend with Dementium II was very appreciated. The developers have a great sense of what works and what doesn't given the limitations of the DS hardware, and it was quite refreshing to play a mature style of game that's woefully underserved on Nintendo's portable. It may not explore much new territory in the horror genre, but what's here is one of the best small-scale chillers that's been turned out in quite a while.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the DS. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, and violence. Although such situations are fairly rare, this game is one instance where parents need to know that not every title available on DS is meant for children. The game is surprisingly gory and can be quite frightening at times, not to mention that the first-person combat includes things like knives, sledgehammers, and firearms. Like I said, don't let the system the game runs on fool you—this one is for mature players only.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be aware that the gameplay is heavily dependent on audio cues as a way of informing the player when monsters are nearby or attacking. These cues are not represented on-screen, and hearing-impaired players can expect to be surprised by enemies frequently. I would imagine this would make the game significantly more difficult to play through. On the plus side, the spoken dialogue is accompanied by text.