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2007's "Dementium: The Ward" was an ambitious title that proved modern horror media does not need to find new ways to shock a desensitized viewing public in order to be memorable. With minimalist approach, Renegade Kid took advantage of the limited technology of the Nintendo DS (as opposed to a more powerful console) to create one of the most stunningly atmospheric experiences in horror gaming. Deeply flawed in application but undeniably brilliant in concept, D:TW shocks players with it's tragic story of powerlessness, set in a decrepit and haunted asylum.
D:TW is, inarguably, one of the best (albeit, few) attempts at a first-person shooter using the Nintendo DS control scheme. The controls handle well, though as is the case with many DS titles, awkward hand-positioning can become painful. The inclusion of an in-game notepad allows for care-free puzzle solving, drawing focus away from remembering door-passwords and keeping the player involved in the envrionment.
However, it's unforgiving save-system is frustrating enough to stop the player from becoming fully engaged in the game. Death means restarting from the very beginning of the chapter you're in - and with respawing enemies taxing your limited supplies, the player can become trapped in a difficult cycle of dying and restarting.
D:TW's greatest strength is it's presentation. The halls of the asylum look as though a warzone - dirty furniture and garbage litter the floor, while blood and grime paint the otherwise drab and souless environment. Enemies are disgusting, terrifying monsters that, despite a lack of variety, suspend the game's tension by virtue of appearance alone.
The musical score is also brilliant, with haunting melodies that range from the disturbingly innocent to the drivingly motivating. Minor sound effects, particularly the cries of enemies, forbid the player from ever feeling safe. And cleverly enough, the most powerful weapon in the game (the as-awesome-as-it-sounds electric buzzsaw) is hobbled most notably by the piercing shriek it emits, discouraging it's long-time use.
My greatest sorrow of this game is that, despite a brilliant plot that explores the tragic powerlessness of psychosis, the story flops around like a fish out of water, dying, for lack of narrative.
The game's protagonist awakes in the mysterious Redmoor asylum, assaulted by savage monsters, unable to escape it's dark halls. Throughout the game, he's haunted by the recurring deaths of a woman (later revealed to be his wife), and appearance of a ghostly young girl (later revealed to be his daughter). In addition, the protagonist is also followed by a mysterious and hostile surgeon, clad in black. Eventually, the protagonist is witness to a newscast regarding the murder of his wife, in which he is later revealed to have been the main suspect, and the reason for his admittance to the hospital.
Upon confronting and defeating the surgeon, the protagonist is revealed to be William Redmoor, undergoing a radical and involuntary brain surgery. The events of the game become unreal, the disturbed workings of his tortured mind - the Redmoor asylum thus being himself. Despite his great struggle to survive in the hospital, he is, in reality, completely powerless.
But this brilliant concept is crippled by a fumbling narrative. In D:TW, William is clearly tortured by the death of his wife, and he's confused as to whether he did it or not - which is all about psychosis, the main theme of the game. However, the game reduces the death of his wife to shock scenes, and treats his daughter like a series of gag scares. Ideally, the game should've given an answer in the form of an even more convoluted question, which I think they tried to do, but it completely failed. The twist at the end was BRILLIANT, but flawed by the fact that the narrative never delivered.
What happened to William's family explains why he was institutionalized (whether he actually murdered his wife in psychosis, or was innocent and admittedly wrongfully) to begin with. The more we learn about her murder, the more we learn about the actual events of the game - are the monsters a real, supernatural threat (as would be explained by him NOT murdering his wife), or are they the paranoid reflections of his tortured mind (as would be explained by him ACTUALLY murdering his wife)? This is how the writers SHOULD be progressing the narrative - but instead, they're trying to progress the narrative through William's conflict with the Doctor, which tells us nothing about how "real" the events of the game actually are - were the monsters in William's unconcious fantasy of D:TW actually, supernaturally real, or just figments of his imagination? The answer to this question is completely entwined with what really happened to his wife.
Despite a frustrating delivery that seems to trip over itself whenever given the chance, "Dementium: The Ward" is a fantastic example of the video game as an artform and story-telling medium.