Dementium: The Ward was a flawed first-person frightener for the Nintendo DS whose shortcomings were generally overshadowed by the fact that it offered a full-fledged survival horror experience on a portable platform. Retaining its predecessor's most appealing elements, while fixing most of its problems, 2010's Dementium II cemented the series as a cult favorite among those who wanted to be scared on the go. Recently rereleased on the PC as Dementium II HD, the sequel has stepped up its visual presentation, but otherwise represents a shuffling zombie step backward for the franchise.
To be fair, Dementium II HD isn't just another mindless undead shooting gallery. While its disturbing asylum setting is populated by its share of Resident Evil rejects, it borrows more from Silent Hill 2 than recent so-called "survival horror" fragfests like RE6 and Dead Space 3. As a mental hospital patient barely recovered from brain surgery, you must navigate the institution's appropriately creepy, creature-inhabited halls. From its bloodied walls and dilapidated medical equipment to the unsettling cackles and cries traveling down its dank corridors, the setting's sights and sounds are too familiar but still manage to create a milieu in which BioShock's Dr. Steinman would feel comfortable performing human experiments.
Enemy encounters are similarly tired but serviceable. While a handful of foes--mostly of the boss variety--may sow the seeds of your future nightmares, the majority possess the kind of unnatural movements, misplaced limbs, and fang-filled maws we've come to expect from the genre's hell-spawn and virally infected freaks. Behind a well-balanced, varied arsenal that includes sledgehammers and sticks of dynamite among its choices, combat is satisfying, albeit not specifically fine-tuned for a gamepad; where the first-person mechanics offered some welcome novelty when using a DS stylus, they're merely competent on the PC.
When not emptying ammo clips or engaging in up-close melees with the game's oozing cast of monsters, you tackle light puzzles and explore parallel worlds; the former activity is uninspired, tedious filler, while the latter sees you alternating between a twisted world of nightmarish monsters and a more realistic realm populated by baton-wielding hospital guards. The parallel-world concept is cool--even packing the occasional surprise and genuine goose-bumps-inducing scare--but without any interesting character interactions or strong narrative support to speak of, it comes off a bit like a forgettable B movie.
The core adventuring, comfortably freakish foes, and trite story and setting are pleasantly familiar at best, and dated and unmemorable at worst.
That same sentiment sums up most of the Dementium II HD experience. It's by no means a bad game; it's just a painfully subpar one. The core adventuring, comfortably freakish foes, and trite story and setting are pleasantly familiar at best, and dated and unmemorable at worst. As promised in the title, the visuals have received a makeover; slicker lighting and smoother textures, however, aren't enough to make this high-res facelift look particularly up to date.
The game's portable roots also reveal themselves in its brevity. Originally crafted for the handheld, its four- to six-hour campaign felt right for mobile players craving bite-size play sessions; on the PC, though, its length serves as yet another reminder that this was a game meant to be played on the subway or in the dentist's office. More specifically--at least for this longtime fan--the Dementium series was one to be relished in the wee hours, preferably under the covers on a cold night with the lights out, earbuds securely inserted.
Three years ago, splashed across the DS's dual screens, Dementium II--and even the game that spawned it three years prior--was a novelty, a dedicated first-person survival horror experience exclusive to a platform that didn't offer anything else like it. Brought to the current gen and blown up on the big screen, though, this cult classic is left gasping for air in a sea swimming with bigger, better competition, both classic (Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth) and contemporary (Outlast) If you've exhausted Steam's survival horror library, Dementium II HD will scratch your genre itch. Unfortunately, that itch has already been rubbed raw by much better games.