During subway rides and at home for the past couple of days, I've been stealing some time to play a preview build of development studio Renegade Kid's February 2010 game, Dementium II. I fared better than I did during my first hands-on with the game just before Halloween.
Renegade Kid has created a first-person horror game that, for a cumulative two hours, kept my character perilously close to danger and death as I crept through an insane asylum and neighboring town. This is not a game to play if you want to feel comfy and settled, though as far as controls go, it actually is quite solid: The action is on the top screen, the stylus controls where you look, face buttons handle foot movement, and a shoulder button triggers melee weapons and gun attacks. The lower screen shows a map, which, in Super Metroid style is marked with blocked passageways that can be accessed with only the correct weapon — or, in more of a Resident Evil-style flourish, by solving a puzzle.
The game does creepy well. You wake up in an insane asylum that at its most hospitable has guards running after you with electrified shock sticks. Sometimes this demented place becomes an alternate hellish version of itself, its colors turning sickly greens and grays and its inhabitants suddenly including demons and helpless screaming men whose bellies are being bored by giant drills. The sounds, as I noted in my first preview are full of screeches and scratches and other unsettling tones. This kind of environment mixed with ammo scarcity and lots of angry demon enemies makes playing the game an experience of feeling perpetually imperiled.
For this preview I played into the game's third chapter, leaving the asylum after beating a monster boss (who wasn't as tough as he seemed when I fought him in October) and trudging out through a boiler room and into the snow. I found a village and some locked-door puzzles but mostly had to kill monsters, being sure to never use too many of the scarce revolver bullets and shotgun shells I found. My Metroid skills were put to good use, as I noted green markers where I'd found areas blocked by boarded-up doorways. Once I found a sledgehammer I was backtracking and knocking through those boards.
There's a so-far simple story driving me through the game. My character is William Redmoor and he's being taunted through voice-over both by a guy who seems to be running the asylum and possibly by the former Mrs. Redmoor. At the wife's behest I was eventually trying to dig up our daughter's grave. Creepy stuff. The story didn't feel complex, but it suited the atmosphere, as did numerous graffiti marks on the asylum's walls and the too-placid homes in the snow village through which I trekked.
There's little like this kind of game on the DS. There are few M-rated games, few horror titles and few Metroid descendants. Ultimately, though, this is a DS game, which means that someone who likes those things best not be bothered by the system's limitations. Renegade Kid's game looks good, but can't look much better than Nintendo-64-level 3D. For a horror game, I think that works, as the abstracted gory realism takes on almost a nightmarish edge. Less easy to tolerate is the limited artificial intelligence, which leaves enemies running at you in predictable patterns and results in combat that can feel more repetitious than what you're getting in 3D horror games on consoles.
There's plenty here to like, with key questions only lingering about the game's length and variety, both of which will be answered when Dementium II is released for the Nintendo DS in North America on February 16 of next year.