Appropriately scheduled for release on Halloween, Dementium: The Ward is from start-up developer Renegade Kid and a first-person survival horror game set inside a derelict hospital. We were thoroughly impressed with the game's first showing at the E3 Media & Business Summit earlier this year and are pleased to report that a recent session spent playing a near-finished version didn't disappoint either.
Quite who you're supposed to be in Dementium: The Ward isn't clear. The game starts with you waking up in a blood-soaked hospital room where the only items of interest are a key to the door and a notebook in which someone has scrawled the words "Why did you do it?" You're free to erase that somewhat disturbing message and use the notebook yourself, which is extremely useful because there are a number of puzzles in the game that involve memorizing sequences of letters or numbers. Other useful items that you'll find within minutes of waking up include a flashlight and a nightstick. The flashlight not only looks great as you use it to explore the hospital's darkened corridors but can also be used to scare off swarms of harmful cockroaches. The nightstick is used for melee attacks, of course, and although you'll be getting your hands on plenty of firearms later in the game, it's a great way to conserve ammo.
Early on in Dementium: The Ward, you'll find that ammunition for your first 9mm pistol is plentiful, as are the bottles of pills that can be used to restore your health. Both of these commodities become scarcer as you progress through the game, and by the time you're an hour or so in, you'll probably be wishing that the protagonist was the kind of guy who never leaves home without a backpack. Regardless of how many ammo boxes and pill bottles you find early on, there are definitely going to be times when you're frantically searching for more. This is because the amount of ammo that you can carry is very limited and because you can't save any pills for later use whatsoever.
Because none of the enemies in Dementium: The Ward are able to pursue you through doors (of which there are loads, though many of them are locked), one of the best ways to get by a lot of them is simply to run past them into the next room. But this isn't always as easy as it sounds, and with plenty of puzzles that need to be solved, this definitely isn't a game that you're going to get through without taking some time to explore your surroundings. Figuring out the most efficient ways to kill enemies is crucial in some cases. For example, the zombies with gaping holes in their chests can be killed with a single bullet to the heart, but it'll take at least three bullets anywhere else on their rotting bodies to take them down.
Other enemies that we've encountered in Dementium: The Ward to date include floating heads that scream as they fly toward you, legless torsos that use their arms to claw their way along ceilings before attacking you from above, and large maggotlike creatures that rush at you across floors, walls, or ceilings while making a particularly annoying noise as they do so. We've also defeated a number of the game's boss characters and found the encounters to be enjoyable, as well as varied. Depending on what weapons and ammo we had available to us at the time, we found those encounters quite challenging. Dementium's arsenal boasts a shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, a powerful revolver, and even a particularly nasty-looking medical instrument. It's worth mentioning, though, that it's possible to miss out on picking up certain weapons if you don't make a real effort to get your hands on them. For example, we ended up playing through the first boss battle without a shotgun that would've made it much easier simply because we hadn't yet figured out the combination to a gun-cabinet padlock when we stumbled on the boss in question. Initially, Dementium's corridor and room level designs are quite linear, but as you progress, the levels become more labyrinthine in nature, so taking the time to explore them is important.
If you're thinking that Dementium: The Ward sounds like it might have a lot in common with the early Resident Evil games, you're not too far off. It's worth mentioning that the game definitely has its share of Silent Hill-style creepiness as well, though, thanks in no small part to its sound design. As you navigate the hospital's darkened corridors, you'll almost always hear nearby enemies (as well as freaky white-eyed little girls singing) before you see them. There are also plenty of ambient noises, including hospital equipment and a storm raging outside to keep you from getting too comfortable. The optional audio of your constantly beating heart is also a nice touch because it really adds to the atmosphere and also lets you know how your health is without you having to actually look at the indicator on the touch screen.
Dementium: The Ward has come a long way since its impressive debut at this year's E3, and we're very much looking forward to getting our hands on a finished copy of the game. Expect a full review soon.