I’ll preface this by noting that, before jumping into Dementium II HD, I’d never played a horror game, really; the closest I think I’d come would be playing copilot while my wife worked through Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii. It’s not as if I intentionally avoided the genre, but it never offered much that really appealed to me or got my attention enough to jump in. I took on this Steam title in order to give the group a shot and see if I found something I enjoyed. What I found, though, was a confusing leap into a world I didn’t really know anything about, and which didn’t bother explaining itself.
I think Dementium II‘s primary problem is the blanket assumption that you’ve played the first game; while I don’t mind games that pick up where prior titles left off, it’s become commonplace for some exposition to touch on events leading up to the point at which the story is picking up. Instead of doing this, the game simply plays a couple of short introductory videos that fail to provide context, then drop you into a cell in a prison-turned-asylum without so much as a hint of who you are or why you’re there. The action picks up quickly enough after that, as the world around you melts away Silent Hill-style, and you navigate between twin dimensions of this decrepit, corrupt treatment center and some nightmarish mirror-world full of vile monsters. You’re given your first weapon, a makeshift shiv befitting the scene, and pushed along your way.
The first chapter takes you through the twisted asylum, alternating between apparent reality and the alternative, monster-filled plane, though the specific lines between these two begin to blur as you progress. In the depths of this, near the exit to a small village, I encountered the first creatures that I think managed to actually get to me in the way that horror-genre creatures are meant to; black, formless things with glowing eyes that stalk in the darkness and are immune to any weapon, only existing to transport you on contact to a small chamber in the otherworld where a number of monsters must be overcome to return you from whence you began. Whether it was the fact that these chased me in great number through dark, narrow passages, or the threat of being returned to the beginning of the scene, something about these faceless foes actually got under my skin as I worked my way through to the next area.
This one scene aside, however, I found myself more annoyed by the monsters bearing down on me or irritated by a lack of ammunition than honestly scared or horrified by what I encountered. Perhaps it’s because I’m not accustomed to the horror genre, or maybe the game’s failure to establish a solid narrative from the onset, but I never found myself invested enough to evoke that kind of response. I approached new enemies with a sense of curiosity more than terror, and quickly found ways to dispatch new threats – or, in some cases, simply sprint past them to the next objective or area.
While the story was mostly confusing, I’ll give the game some credit in other areas. The controls are pleasantly straightforward, and I didn’t have much trouble adapting to the save-point style of progress – especially since developer Renegade Kid threw in full health restoration with saving, which means I found myself revisiting these several times simply to keep myself going and maintain forward progress. The graphics, while not on-par with triple-A titles, are nice and clean; as a game developed initially for the Nintendo DS with all its requisite technical restrictions, this re-skin does justice to the “HD” in the name. The score and sound effects are fantastic; perhaps doing a better job at horror than the creatures or story, they also provide great cues of what danger you’re in at any given moment, and lingered with me after play more than any other aspect of the game.
All told, for me, as a non-horror gamer, I’m hard-pressed to recommend Dementium II HD except to those who played the original game on the DS; the story, I think, would be much more effective from that perspective, and I can tell that there’s something there – I’m just not sure what it is, since I don’t have that context. That said, the solid gameplay and interesting creatures may be worth experiencing, and the game has enough going for it that I’d say it may well be worth the $14.99 price tag via Steam ($11.24 on sale as of this writing) for fans of the first title or of the horror genre in general. I wasn’t terribly impressed, but I wasn’t really put off either; it left me with a middle-of-the-road ambivalence that neither pushes me away nor draws me back to dive in deeper.
[+Great atmospheric sound] [+Solid, easily-grasped controls] [+Good-looking graphics] [-Confusing plot for those not familiar] [-Most enemies are more annoying than terrifying] [-Save points mean backtrack or risk losing progress]