Dementium: The Ward Review (PS5)

Psyched that this classic is back!

By Paul Hunter

Dementium: The Ward was one of the most impressive Nintendo DS games when it was released in 2007, owing to its eerie retro-style visuals, haunting ambient sound and unique stylus controls. 17 years later this cult classic survival horror first-person shooter has finally arrived on PlayStation platforms (PS5, PS4) complete with modern enhancements and 28 new trophies, including a Platinum.

Dementium puts you in the role of William Redmoor, a man with amnesia who wakes up inside an abandoned, twisted psych ward. As you make your way around the hospital you'll discover it's been infested with all sorts of horrors from flesh-eating zombies to giant carnivorous worms to deadly acid-spitting ceiling climbers. The story is told through notes and newspaper articles scattered around the ward, along with a series of visions that occur during your fight for survival.

The PS5 version runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second and includes retro and hi-res display modes. The retro option largely looks the same as the 2015 Nintendo 3DS remastered version of Dementium and is ideal for fans who enjoy the art style of boomer shooters like DOOM or Wolfenstein 3D. The hi-res display mode supports 4K and has greatly improved textures that really bring out the grime and gore of the blood-soaked psych ward.

It becomes clear the minute you leave your hospital room that horrendous things are happening here, and a mysterious Doctor seems to be behind it all. Finding the Doctor is the key to unravelling the insanity around you, but that's no easy task as you'll need to explore dozens of enemy-infested rooms across multiple floors on your path to finding him. Dementium does an excellent job of making you feel trapped and alone in a huge twisted maze of unspeakable horrors.

Dementium: The Ward really embraces its survival horror roots with limited health and ammo. The undead creatures that roam the ward can quickly shred your health if you're unprepared, so it's important to thoroughly scavenge each room for the precious health kits and ammo supplies. Early in the game, you'll find a nightstick, but over time you can find a bunch of useful weapons ranging from a pistol to a shotgun to a machine gun and even a buzzsaw that never runs out of juice. Some weapons are hidden behind the game's biggest puzzles so it's crucial to search rooms for key items and clues.

I'm impressed that even after all these years, Dementium's scares still hold up well with the game being generally unsettling from start to finish. Whether it's the claustrophobic hallways or the nearly non-existent lighting, you always feel like danger is lurking around each corner. Speaking of lighting, you do find a flashlight early on but you can't hold the flashlight and a weapon at the same time—you can only hold one at a time. This means you'll usually need to shoot the monsters with barely any visible light, which greatly ratchets up the danger and also means you sometimes have to aim blindly. This is a game of frequent close calls and desperate escapes as you try to survive each encounter.

Sound design is another strong element of the Dementium experience. This is a game you'll want to play with headphones on because the 3D audio will give you clues to the dangers awaiting you behind the next door. Each enemy makes unique sounds, whether it's the zombie grunts or the Medusa head screams, so the brief audio warning can be a lifesaver. There is also a nice variety of creepy ambient noises as you trek around the ward, including children singing, wall creaks, voices speaking backwards and distressing voices echoing for help. William's heartbeat is also ever-present and gets louder the closer you get to death, reminding you to heal up fast or it's game over.

There are several boss fights in Dementium: The Ward and they're pretty intense. They also come with a good degree of risk because in most fights no ammo or health kits are lying around so you need to rely on the resources you've already accumulated. Most boss fights ended with nearly all my ammo depleted and my health severely drained leaving me within an inch of my life.

It took me about 5.5 hours to beat Dementium: The Ward, which was a good length for this game. Since the entire experience takes place inside a hospital, there's not a whole lot of visual variety but because of the brisk pace, the clinical environment doesn't overstay its welcome.

While I had a fantastic time revisiting Dementium, there were a few dated elements that I would have liked to have seen improved. The biggest is that you need to manually flip through your weapons one by one, something a simple weapon wheel would have easily rectified. You can thankfully toggle quickly your flashlight and your previously equipped weapon, which does help to a degree, but only if your previous weapon is suitable for current the enemy-at-hand.

Enemy AI is also rather basic; zombies, flesh-eating worms and other creatures will simply come at you and aggressively attack following the same pattern every time. Weirdly enough, you can aim down sights when shooting but the accuracy is really hit or miss and I found it was better to just hip-fire the entire game.

The final downside is another strange one: the original game took advantage of the Nintendo DS touchscreen and allowed you to jot down notes and puzzle solutions in William's notebook. The new PlayStation version gives you the notebook, but it's not usable at all. Instead, I had to scribble down notes on my phone, like keypad passwords or safe combinations. The PS4 and PS5 controllers even have a touchpad, so it would have been great to use that to write notes or perhaps the notepad could have auto-filled as you discover clues.

The Verdict

Dementium: The Ward is a classic FPS survival horror game that all fans of the genre need to experience. From its eerie psych ward environments to its superb 3D audio, it's a genuinely creepy and intense adventure. The new 4K visuals, 60 frames per second and 28 new trophies are nice additions that make this cult classic feel modernized, and the retro option is great for those who prefer old-school horror.

Final Score: 7/10 - Good

Dementium: The Ward details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Atooi
Publisher: Atooi
Genre: Survival Horror, First-Person Shooter
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.