Things aren’t looking good for William Redmoor. At one time a family man, with wife and daughter, but those days are now long behind him. All alone, William finds himself a patient of the cheerily named, but suspect, Bright Drawn Treatment Center. To make matters worse, he’s losing his mind, along with his very grip of reality. Desperate to salvage William’s sanity and rid him of the darkness manifesting inside him, the Doctor schedules some extensive brain surgery.
Dementium II doesn’t waste any time dragging its players into madness. Moments after William is returned to his cell – post operation – he finds his world devolves into a dark, noisy, industrial meat locker. Fortunately, in this disgusting alternate reality, his cell has no bars, which leaves him free to escape. Not long into his flight he runs into a grotesque creature wandering the halls. Armed with his fear and a trusty shank, he swipes wildly at the abomination until it dies. Moments later William slides back into reality. He’d never left the cell block.
Over the course of Dementium II’s five chapters, William increasingly moves between what he perceives as reality and this alternate, demonic realm. From the beginning of the journey, the Doctor is clearly set up as William’s antagonist, or more appropriately, tormentor. As he explores the various wards of Bright Dawn, the Doctor periodically addresses him personally over the PA system. Of course the Doctor informs William of how futile his efforts are, but he also pulls you into the game’s overall mystery. It’s obvious the Doctor knows more than he’s letting on and it’s clear he has a greater connection to William than that of simply Doctor-patient.
Dementium II dances the delicate line between survival horror and first-person action game. As William moves about Bright Dawn he’ll run into his fair share of nightmarish enemies, but the levels are also designed with a light sprinkling of alternate routes and non-essential rooms to explore. Having these small distractions gives the game a welcome dose of exploration and adventure. At most times it remains clear which direction you need to go in, but many sidesteps off the route yield useful items, extra ammunition and the occasional clue. Given the survival horror nature, both recovery items and ammo come at a premium and you’ll want to stock up as much as you can.
Although most of William’s journey is confined to the dark corridors and areas within Bright Dawn, he does get the opportunity to step outdoors on a few welcome occasions. These sections of the game stand out as they add some much needed variety to Dementium II’s locations, aesthetic and overall tone, while serving the important purpose of breaking up lengthy slogs through the treatment facility. It’s winter and a white blanket covers the grounds outside the facility, providing a brilliant contrast to the oppressive darkness explored within. Outdoor areas are appropriately open and William is free to investigate a number of abandoned houses, but like Bright Dawn itself, the objective always remains clear.
In a nod to other adventure games, Dementium II employs a few weapons that also double as area traversal items. This feature, coupled with the handy map – displayed on your lower screen at all times – creates an extremely light Metroid vibe, encouraging you to backtrack and access rooms that you previously couldn’t enter. Having this extra reason for exploration is nice but it’s ultimately underdeveloped. With just a pair of items fitting the bill and only a small handful of new areas to trek back to, it ultimately doesn’t affect the game as much as it could. There’s certainly notable benefit to the little back tracking provided, but it would have been nice to see it utilized in greater amount.
Odds are when William isn’t actively exploring the various nooks scattered across Bright Dawn he’ll be engaged in combat. Movement and combat utilize the DS’ directional pad and stylus in conjunction to create a simple, efficient FPS control scheme. Movement is controlled via the D-pad, while the stylus controls William’s vision. Even if you’re new to the idea of first-person on your DS the controls are intuitive and should be easily mastered within minutes. Most of the enemies in Dementium II aren’t terribly aggressive, but using William’s dash between attacks is standard for most encounters. It’s disappointing the creatures pose such little threats as they don’t reinforce the atmosphere the game is projecting. Yes they’re interestingly designed and appropriate to the game’s aesthetic, but if they pose no real danger they wind up failing to create any fear in the player. Admittedly a few of the boss battles pose a decent challenge, as well as a handful of encounters with large enemy groups in pitch black, but the majority of the time you’ll find yourself slashing away at slow moving targets, in no real danger.
The other aspect of the game that ultimately hurts the atmosphere is the sound. The music itself is serviceable and the track that accompanies William outdoors perfectly echoes his feeling of isolation; however, the sound effects that accompany the demonic realm are grating. First there’s the constant, industrial noise that really serves no purpose. Having been transported to this oppressive, almost dark Silent Hill-like place, we get it, and the sound just tries to hammer it home further and is unnecessary. The other sound must be some sort of demonic voice over that repeats itself as long as you’re in the alternate realm, it becomes tiresome and borderline obnoxious. Lastly, in either reality, creature noises create a double edged sword. The sounds themselves they make aren’t poor, but the mere fact they make them informs you of their presence and eliminates any potential for surprise scares. If the monsters were actually hard their noises might instill fear, but since they’re easy their sounds come off more as greetings.
Although it doesn’t have too much of an effect on the game as a whole it’s worth noting just how smartly designed Dementium II’s inventory is. With the player’s hands only having immediate access to the touch screen, a simple stylus touch and drag immediately pauses the game and brings up the inventory. During that drag you’re free to change weapons or use an item. Changing weapons mid-combat is an utter breeze, and although you’re accessing a menu of sorts you never feel like you’re actually taking a break from the action.
Dementium II spins an interesting, albeit simple, horror narrative on the DS. It’s unlike anything else on the hardware and is a perfect example of stylus use done right. It’s held back by a few half baked ideas, easy enemies and some questionable sound design, but still delivers a compelling, bite size horror experience. If you’re in the mood for a deranged journey into madness, the Doctor will see you now.