When Dementium II begins, you awaken in a prison cell with no clue as to how you got there or who tossed you in and threw away the key
- Creative environments, stunning visuals, tense atmosphere, interesting story that actually assumes the player doesn't need everything spelled out for them
- Music that threatens to ruin the whole thing, enemy AI that ranges from mediocre to awful, frequent back-tracking, occasionally frustrating save system, melee combat that lacks weight
Graphically stunning and genuinely terrifying at times, Dementium II is an ambitious title that pushes Nintendo's underpowered handheld to its limits. Unfortunately, some frustrating flaws hold back an otherwise solid survival-horror experience.
I was initially sceptical of Dementium II. I had a hard time believing that the DS' diminutive dimensions could offer a foreboding, atmospheric horror experience. But I couldn't deny the ambitous nature of the game's design, and while it doesn't always succeed, Dementium II surprised me with its quality and depth.
When the game begins, you awaken in a prison cell with no clue as to how you got there or who tossed you in and threw away the key. That initial head-scratcher, however, is put on hold when your prison turns into hell on earth. Prison guards are replaced by grotesquely misshapen monsters, and the prison itself mutates into an industrial torture facility. The world will shift back and forth from the mundane to the horrific in a heartbeat, leaving you to question your character's sanity while also keeping you on your toes. Unfortunately, the game's puzzles involve a fair bit of backtracking, which robs these otherwise memorable environments of their impact over time. Dementium II's lacklustre save system, which is still a big improvement over its predecessor's near-non-existent series of checkpoints, also forces you to replay large sections of the game, leading to further fatigue.
Dementium II's combat is similarly hit-or-miss. Guns handle well, and the game's first-person perspective means that it avoids many of the camera issues commonly associated with the survival-horror genre (think Resident Evil's fixed cameras). However, the enemy A.I. is particularly bad when it comes to aiming, meaning it misses far more often than it hits; it also exhibits some brain-dead behaviour, like running smack into walls with an alarming frequency. Melee weapons are, excuse the pun, a double-edged sword, adding an extra layer of variety to combat, but lacking any real impact. Their blows land with the weight of plastic Halloween costume replicas.
All of these issues cut into Dementium II's quality, which is a shame because, at its best, it's a legitimately spooky ride. The enemies' hair-raising howls and the game's ability to touch upon our deep-seeded fear of the dark lends a feeling of genuine dread to each encounter; combine this with a near-perfect take on the classic survival-horror trope of scarce ammo and health, and the game is able to create an atmosphere that is unrelentingly tense. The game's terrific visuals -- they exhibit surprising quality for a DS game -- help as well. The music isn't nearly as good, however, so I suggest you turn it off; otherwise, you'll be treated to some of the cheesiest "horror" music ever composed. The music begins blaring the moment you enter an area that contains any sort of threat, which kills the game's element of surprise. Imagine someone trying to jump out from behind a wall and scare you, but giggling uncontrollably before they do it. It's a serious threat to the brooding atmosphere the game works so hard to create.
Despite this, Dementium II is a solid sequel and an enjoyable throwback to the survival-horror games of yore. It's creepy, mysterious, and spooky, and while it isn't perfect by any means, it's a horror experience well worth your time.
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