When Kinect was first launched a number of Internet commentators criticised the device for being too family focused – most of the launch titles, such as Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports, and Kinectimals, were very firmly placed in the casual market. Since then there have been few titles dedicated to the “hardcore” players, and no traditional violent and gory games. Until Sega released Rise of Nightmares that is.
Made by the studio behind the much loved light gun series, House of the Dead, Rise of Nightmares is a distinctly kooky survival horror title. Using the Kinect camera you take direct control of your character, Josh, who is a struggling alcoholic that is out to rescue his wife from the clutches of a mad scientist and his army of zombies. If you want to walk forwards then you place a foot in front of you, and to walk backwards you stick one of your feet behind you, while turning is handled by turning your shoulders. It is a very simple control scheme, but it does take some getting used to.
Where The House of the Dead games were fast paced action horror titles, Rise of Nightmares is a more slow paced game. Exploration is the key to survival, as darted around each area are a number of brutal weapons, ranging from every day objects like metal pipes and knives, to more elaborate items such as an acid pump. Each weapon can only be used a limited number of times before it breaks, meaning you always need to keep an eye out for new weapons. You can fight with your bare hands, but this is the surest way of getting killed, so whenever you enter a new area it is always worth looking around before you engage any enemies. There are also dozens of hidden collectibles ranging from Tarot cards to audio diaries that fill in some of the back story, which further incetivises exploration to a certain extent.
The basic combat controls are very simple – to attack you simply hold your arms up in a fighting stance and strike with your hands. When enemies get too close to you it is possible to shove them away with a quick kick, while blocking is performed by holding up your arms to your chest.
The basic motion tracking actually works quite well, although there are occasions where you will find yourself inadvertently stuck in a corner somewhere. There is a slight lag whenever you make any rapid movements, such as swinging your arms, and on the odd occasion I found that I would inadvertently start walking towards enemies when I went in to a fighting stance, because it is my natural inclination to place one foot slightly forward to steady myself. Should you find yourself stuck at any point, or unable to grasp the controls, you can hold up your right hand to activate the automated walking controls. The real key to success, and avoiding frustration, is to quickly switch between going on autopilot and taking control of Josh yourself.
There are a number of other forms of motion control in the game, ranging from running across a derailed train, swimming through water, and reaching in to the stomach of a corpse to retrieve a key. One of the better uses of the Kinect camera and microphone revolve around hiding from a blind enemy that is capable of killing you in one hit – whenever he enters an area you must stand completely still and make no noise. These moments are gloriously tense, as you stand there hoping that he won’t stumble upon the place that you have chosen to hide in. Similarly there is a banshee that attacks you with a deafening scream – to fight her you simply place your hands over your ears, walk up to her, and give her a good kicking.
Having said that, there are a few sections where the motion controls are not as successful; early on in the game you are tasked with making your way across a derailed train, and at various points you must regain your balance or fall to your death. However, it is not entirely clear how you actually maintain your balance, and after many deaths I eventually lucked my way through it. The worst offender for awkward controls are the sections that require very precise movement and timing to get through a series of deadly traps – while these sections are very tense, the tension is entirely created by the imprecise control scheme and the constant threat of inadvertently killing yourself.
The narrative is mostly a convoluted mess, in a fun B-movie kind of way. Anyone that has ever played Sega’s House of the Dead games will know what to expect. Shortly after the train crash you come across other survivors, and they are all picked off one by one. As you progress through the game the survivors return as boss characters that have a unique moveset and specific pattern that you must learn in order to defeat them. Boss fights usually involve blocking their basic attacks, and following onscreen instructions, such as ducking, stepping to the left or right,Â or jumping backwards, in order to dodge their most powerful attacks. Successfully performing these actions leads to them becoming dazed allowing you to pummel them into a fine paste.
Whilst the game only takes about 7 hours to complete it feels a lot longer than it actually is thanks to the slow and methodical pace. There are a number of occasions where I thought the game was about to end, only for it to keep going. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you, as towards the end of the game you are granted access to some great weapons, including chains that launch out of your palms (a la Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion) and a mystical amulet that launches balls of energy at unsuspecting foes.
Completing the game unlocks a final time attack chapter that can only be played on the game’s highest difficulty. You must fight your way through room after room of respawning enemies and make it to safety before the timer runs out. This also includes a calorie counter, so you can at least feel some benefit from mindlessly flailing about through room after room of deadly enemies.
Graphics – 3/5: Despite featuring some very basic character models, the environments are very well designed and have a lot of character.
Sound – 3/5: The soundtrack is mostly forgettable, the voice acting is performed with a B-Movie level of enthusiasm that, while being a bit pants, is enjoyable to listen to.
Gameplay – 3/5: There’s an awful lot to like about Rise of Nightmares’ implementation of Kinect – the scenes in which you have to remain still and silent or face evisceration, or the wailing banshees that can only be fought if you cover your ears, however, there are just as many that fall a bit flat.
Longevity – 3/5: The main game is fairly lengthy, although if you play it in mammoth sessions some sections can drag a little in places. Completing the game unlocks a new hard difficulty and a survival mode, complete with calorie counter, which is nice… if you’re in to that sort of thing.
Overall: 3 out of 5
There is actually quite a lot to like about Rise of Nightmares, despite the odd issue with the controls. Microsoft’s mission statement with Kinect was to create new experiences, and Rise of Nightmares certainly is a new experience. Sega have made an important first step towards making “proper” games with Kinect, with this potentially acting as inspiration for future titles from other developers.