Reviewing games is hard work, but choosing who gets to cover the latest releases can be even harder. That is, unless we’ve got access to multiple copies of a new game, in which case we like to give everyone who’s playing a chance to weigh in. In that spirit, we’re kicking off a new review format we’re calling Review Roundtable, where we’ll have an honest-to-goodness, unfiltered discussion about what we like about a game, what we don’t, and ultimately whether we think it’s worth your time. Reviews in this format won’t be scored, but we think they provide something even more valuable: a chance for us to dig deeper into a game’s design than a normal review format would allow, and an opportunity to see how our disparate opinions are shaped by our individual experiences. Read on and let us know what you think! Our first installment covers Renegade Kid’s 3DS horror game Dementium Remastered, which is a remaster of the developer’s very first game published way back in 2007 on the Nintendo DS.
So Austin, you actually played the DS original fairly recently, for an installment of Retro Weekend in December 2014 (wait, that was a year ago?) I re-read that piece to prep for this discussion, and your take on the game was somewhat mixed last year: you were impressed by the smooth 3D engine, moody graphics and scary sound design, but not so thrilled by the hit detection or save system. What are your thoughts now that you’ve played through the 3DS remake of Renegade Kid’s first game? Has any of that changed for you?
Has it really been a year since that Retro Weekend? It’s funny because as soon as I started Dementium Remastered I felt like I had just played it within the last couple months. It certainly retains the feeling I got from the original, which is both a good and (sometimes) bad thing.
Yeah, you published that piece in mid-December last year, which I’m still impressed by since you were also a new dad back then.
Crazy. Anyway, like you mentioned, I absolutely love how smooth everything is. My control scheme of choice is using my left hand to move via the Circle Pad, and my right hand to aim via the stylus on the touch screen. It just feels so good. Enemies run up on you quickly in this game, and having a system in place that feels so fluid and intuitive is exactly what you need with that kind of pace. But even with that control, Dementium still leaves you feeling disoriented with a limited field of view and blood-curdling sound. It’s a creepy game for sure, and one that still stands out on the 3DS.
Funny you should mention that classic control option, because I had a kind of cool experience with Dementium Remastered where control is concerned. I absolutely love that control scheme you’re using — it’s the one I used to play Moon and (a little bit of) Dementium on DS, and still worked wonderfully on Moon Chronicles on 3DS. Moon Chronicles actually included a traditional FPS control option via the Circle Pad Pro, but I couldn’t get into it. Actually, let me revise that statement: I actively hated it, and still do. The CPP is just way too springy to aim a weapon precisely, and there isn’t any way to tweak the sensitivity. But on the New 3DS XL, I decided to go with the dual stick controls for Dementium Remastered, and much to my surprise I never one reached for the stylus. I guess the difference is that this game is a lot more about creeping around in the dark and trying not to die, with a lot more options for melee combat or even avoiding combat altogether. In most cases when you can see an enemy, it’s right up in your face, so that pixel-precise aiming isn’t really necessary.
The hit detection for melee still feels a bit wonky to me though, especially with the nightstick. I mean it basically feels impossible to hit certain enemies with it. I suppose it’s meant to be that way and have the player use more of their arsenal, but it still bugs me as someone who tries to conserve ammo.
Yeah, you’re absolutely right, and that’s just what I was going to say. I mean, obviously there’s a hitbox on enemies, but I feel like it’s gotta be draped right over them, like a sheet of cellophane or something. Like, it’s not actually a box. Because you’ve really gotta be right on top of enemies to connect with that nightstick.There’s a weapon you get about a quarter of the way through, like this automatic buzzsaw thing that sort of looks like a pizza cutter, and that helps a ton because you can just hold the attack button down and run right into most enemies. But it still doesn’t have very much reach, so for instance, these slugs that crawl all over the floor and walls and ceiling… they’re still a major pain in the ass to deal with. And funny enough, their prevalence actually increases as the game continues, so it’s not like you’re only dealing with them at the beginning, with the night stick. Actually, though, it’s the slugs that taught me that I don’t always have to fight, and more often than not I find myself running past them if I can help it.
Oh, the slugs! They’re at least manageable as long as you have decent aim with the handgun, but I absolutely HATE the flying heads. I actually spent about an hour backtracking through this maze of a hospital in order to find that buzzsaw weapon I missed early on. That specific weapon really helps for those enemies.
Those flying shriekers are nightmarish, aren’t they? Probably the freakiest enemies in the game to me. Luckily the buzzsaw makes quick work of them, and I didn’t pass it up because I assumed the puzzle associated with finding it was required to get through that part of the game. I guess if I feel like giving myself a challenge the next time I play through it, I’ll skip it.
So, as far as my complaint about save games: I had a sneaking suspicion when I started playing the 3DS version that I was saving a lot more than in the original version, so I went back and flew through some of the early chapters on my DS copy. And yes, they did add more save points in Remastered. Thank God! They’re in really smart places too, like right before a boss fight, so you’re not left running a gauntlet just to get to a boss with no life. Little improvements like that really make a difference.
Saving is more frequent in this one? Funny. I kind of feel like they’re not frequent enough, but that’s probably because I usually move very slowly through the game. And that’s because I’ve been playing in the dark with headphones on the entire time, and the atmosphere is just so spot on for me. I actually found the heartbeat sound to be pretty annoying, but once I turned it off, the combination of atmospheric sounds, somber piano compositions that reminded me of playing Resident Evil for the first time in 1998, and a peppering of silence… that’s the kind of sound design that really sells an experience like this for me.
Dementium Remastered is definitely dated in some regards, but the older I get, the less I draw distinctions between the different eras of game design. Like, obviously I’m aware of the design trends that have come and gone over the past 3-4 decades, but that kind of stuff doesn’t make or break a game for me, because I pop in and out of gaming eras like a music lover flips through a record collection. Games are games, not every game is a masterpiece, and if I’m enjoying something I don’t really dwell too much on its shortcomings.
I have harsher feelings towards the overall design. See, Dementium is not a long game—it only takes around 3-4 hours to finish—and by the time you get halfway through, it starts to repeat itself. You stop seeing new enemies, and instead, you just get stronger versions. Even the bosses repeat. In the second half of the game I started to be able to predict enemy placement, and know exactly what doors to go through. I suppose it turns into a game about surviving instead of just being scared, but I still feel like there’s a lack of variety in Dementium that’s disappointing. Horror is about never knowing what’s around the corner, and once I felt like I knew what to expect, the game lost a lot of what I liked about it.
Have you gotten the sense of repetition since you’ve been playing? Does the lack of variety in the enemies bother you?
Yeah, I don’t know. The repetition didn’t bother me. I never really felt it the way you do. For me there was always a nice mix of linear sections, open areas with puzzles to complete (or not, if you’re Austin!), and bosses. The further I got into the game, the more samey the environments started to look, but there were still enough things to keep me on the edge of my seat, like this one moment that happened only one time in the entire game, where a door exploded in front of me and a zombie came bursting out. Or that corridor that had the zombie on the ground and the six or seven slugs feeding off it. I love that kind of thing. Because where you might’ve felt like you knew what was going to happen around every corner, I had no idea what was going to happen next, and I loved it.
As far as the lack of variety in enemies? I mean, sure, of course I’d prefer something new later in the game rather than poison-flavored versions of earlier enemies and revisits of bosses I’ve already vanquished. But you have to remember this is a remaster, not a remake, and that’s more likely a concession to the limitations of the original DS hardware than to a lack of artistry on Renegade Kid’s part. If this were a new game designed from the ground up for the 3DS, I’d expect more variety, but as a port I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary. I mean, look: the 3DS is my favorite handheld of all time, and it’s not exactly flush with horror games. So I’ve been having a ton of fun with Dementium Remastered.
One thing I will add about repetitive bosses though: that can work if it’s designed well. See Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis, or Silent Hill 2’s Pyramid Head. You just have to turn your boss into a memorable character, rather than a generic grotesquerie. That’s not really the case here, though: they’re cool looking the first time, but after that, they’re just things to kill, and they don’t really fit into the overall mise-en-scène of Dementium. I suspect these boss designs were a carryover from the “Silent Hill proof of concept” phase of the game’s existence, because honestly, the game would be fine, maybe even better, without them.
That’s my complaint. I don’t think the recycled enemies and bosses are used effectively. The first time I run into a fat, grotesque, chainsaw wielding skin job, it puts me edge. The second time? Not this again! And it’s moments like that that take me out of the horror. Anyway, what did you think about the map design?
I don’t know what you mean about being able to predict which doors you could go through, but maybe that’s because I had my face constantly buried in the map on the bottom screen so I wasn’t necessarily getting in tune with the flow of the hospital. And as far as that goes, sure, it’s repetitive, and it’s easy to get lost if you’re not using the map. I mean, there’s a pronounced feeling of déjà vu as you progress. So much so, in fact, that after I got the sniper rifle, I got really, really confused about where to go for awhile. But I mean, it’s a hospital, right? That’s sort of how they’re built.
What about the overall atmosphere, though? You mentioned previously that it wasn’t scaring you, but I wonder if that’s because you’re not able to play in optimal conditions now that you’re busy raising a tiny person? The one or two times my wife has come in and turned the lights on while I’m playing have sort of killed the mood of Dementium for me, which is one of the reasons I haven’t rushed through it—I can only sit in the dark for so long before I need to take a breather and get a change of pace.
Like you, I’ve played the game at certain times in the dark, with headphones blaring (and I love that heartbeat!) And the unsettling imagery, sound design, and just sheer darkness makes the game pretty scary. When I heard those flying heads shriek for the first time, my skin crawled. It’s not that the game isn’t scary, it’s that it doesn’t stay scary for me. It doesn’t pack the same punch as something like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, or Outlast where you’re on edge the entire time.
Did you find the story to be a driving force for you? Dementium doesn’t beat you over the head with plot or flavor text, and I respect that. I don’t think the story is amazing, but it did drop just enough information to keep me interested. So even when the scares began to dwindle I was still invested in seeing it through to the end. I’m not quite sure what to think of the actual ending, though. As mysterious as the game starts out, I found the ending only increase the number of questions I had as far as who the player character is, what happened to him, and who is pulling the strings. I suppose it just sets itself up for the sequel, right?
Mmm, maybe. I’ve seen a little bit of Dementium II but never played it, and it looks completely unrelated to me… but then, Dementium’s endgame is open enough that they could actually go together. Actually, I did really like one specific aspect of the ending, which, without spoiling too much of it for those who haven’t played it before, is contained in a letter you find near the end of the game. Because once you see the ending and realize what’s going on, you think back to that letter and sort of realize, “wait, I actually have no fucking clue what’s true or not.” That’s the power of the unreliable narrator at work, and even though it’s a really simple narrative overall, Renegade Kid definitely played it strongly from beginning to end.
Honestly, though, even without that complex story pushing me forward, I’ve gotta say the game pulls me in with an emergent narrative that’s the result of my experience while playing. Playing a first-person horror game like this, in the dark, with the headphones turned way up… even with some of the lower resolution texture work or simplified geometry that might break the illusion for someone else, I’ve always been able to really dig into these kinds of games because I’m willing to suspend disbelief and just insert myself into that world. I’ve always been someone who likes to explore abandoned buildings and generally go into places where you’re not supposed to be, because you can imagine so much about what might have come to pass just by looking at the angle of an overturned chair, or the stress marks on a piece of peeled wallpaper, or something as simple as a paperclip that’s been left behind. I haven’t gotten to do anything like that since I was a teenager—I can’t afford to get myself arrested for trespassing, I’ve got a family to look after!—so now I get those kicks from blogs like AbandonedNYC, or games like Dementium. I guess that’s a little sad. The moral of the story, kids, is to never grow up, and never lose that sense of curiosity you have about the world around you.
So we’ve talked at length about the design of the game, but as a remastered version of a 2007 DS game, how do you think it fares?
I think it looks great, honestly. It’s funny because at first I thought, this looks pretty much like the DS game, right? But actually that game hasn’t aged very well, unless you really like that PSX-era 3D that sort of bounces all over the place when you’re moving. Okay, I’m being a little unfair, but the point is I think Dementium Remastered is a much nicer looking game. It looks good in 2015. I’m particularly fond of that rusted mirror filter that sits over the whole thing… like, okay, maybe it’s there for utility, to make the game look a little less plain, but it works for me, like I’m looking at a twisted version of my own world that exists just beyond the grimy mirror on the medicine cabinet in my bathroom.
Yeah, the visuals have been cleaned up nicely, and I think Remastered probably looks like what Renegade Kid envisioned when they were making the 2007 version. The environments are smoother, enemies are cleaned up, and there’s just an overall polish over what I thought was already a pretty good looking DS game. But ultimately, that’s what it looks like to me: a spiffed up DS game.
Also, I’m someone who just can’t use 3D that well. My eyes get all funky. It does seem like it adds a nice layer of depth to the player’s field of vision, but it’s not like there was anything jumping out at me. It seems like a nice touch for those who like a little bit of added depth.
With only two exceptions, I always play 3DS games with the 3D turned all the way up, so that never even factors into the way I think about a 3DS game anymore—it’s just something I come to expect. Unless it’s not there, in which case I just don’t buy the game.
The added save points in Remastered really help, too. I would’ve been much more frustrated towards the end if I had to run through so many of the same halls over and over again. I would have loved some new weapons, new enemies, or even new chapters to really sweeten the deal, but it’s still a solid game without them. At least we got a few new Renegade Kid easter eggs, like those Mutant Mudds and Xeodrifter posters hanging on the walls!
Xeodrifter poster, you say? That’s awesome. I didn’t see those, but I’ll keep an eye out on my next play through. Have I told you I’d kill for a physical copy of Xeodrifter?
Because I would. Final thoughts?
So, you said earlier that the visuals of the original game haven’t aged well, and I think that’s overall how I feel about Dementium Remastered. I was pretty floored with the original when I played it as a 2007 DS release, but I guess I just expect a little more in 2015. Those same gripes I had with the original version—repetition, lack of variety, hit detection issues—they seem to stand out more, and I guess I’m just less willing to forgive them because we know how much better these kinds of games have gotten since the original version came out. Some of my issues, like the save points, have been addressed, and ultimately that makes it a better game than the original. But I still wish there were more tweaks to improve the overall experience. As it stands, Dementium Remastered is a solid horror experience with very little competition on the 3DS. If you’re in need of a quick scare, it’s the perfect B horror game experience, but don’t expect Silent Hill or Resident Evil: Revelations level of quality.
So you didn’t like it as much as me, and that’s cool. But I think a lot of that is down to the fact that you played the original recently, and I’ve only dabbled in it briefly, and completely avoided having the ending spoiled for me before I got to experience it myself. I really liked Dementium Remastered, and found it to be a pretty fresh experience on the 3DS—partly because it’s a change from what I’m used to playing on the system (overwhelmingly RPGs and platformers), and partly because the game just comes together so well for me, despite some issues that are really just an artifact of the game’s original design. I love that Renegade Kid got the rights to its games back and is able to bring them forward so a new generation of fans can experience them; in fact, I wish there was a gift option on the eShop because I’d give a copy of this to my 15-year-old nephew in a heartbeat. But you know, I have to say I’m really hoping we get to see a new first person game from Renegade Kid sooner than later (I’m still holding out hope that we’ll one day get to take a trip down to Cult County.) These remasters are a great way to look at classic experiences with a modern lens, but Renegade Kid is one of my favorite developers working today, and I’d love to see what they can do with everything they’ve learned about first-person design over the last decade. I guess time will tell!
Invisible Gamer’s review of Dementium Remastered is based on final review code provided to us by Renegade Kid. The game launches on Thursday, December 3rd, 2015.