Although Child of Eden fans may argue with this claim, Rise of Nightmares is the first real game for Kinect. Rise of Nightmares has a story, a main character who you move freely around a 3D environment and a fully realized combat system. The fact that it has taken almost a year for a company to develop a conventional game on the Kinect speaks to the challenges involved.
Rise of Nightmares allows you to move your character around by rotating your shoulders to turn your character and you move your character forwards and backwards by taking a step forward or a step backward. It is nothing short of awkward at first – sort of like trying to write with your off hand. It is easy to “over-steer” by accidentally turning your shoulders too far and end up bumping into a wall. Repeatedly.
The developers at Sega recognized that getting around was clumsy, and built in the ability to raise your right arm to auto-move to your next objective. In doing this, Sega set up a system that would allow you to jump on the rails at any time, and minimize frustration. Or so I thought. In a very clever move, they make a puzzle out of taking away your ability to auto-move in certain areas. You might find a locked door, and then have to free-roam through a room to find a key. In another area, parts of the floor are electrified, and you have to manually inch your way around the obstacles in order to avoid a gruesome death.
There are collectables and weapons off the beaten path which make exploring well worth the trouble. Since your weapons deteriorate at an alarming rate, you will always be on the lookout for the next death-dealer. In a pinch you can punch an enemy to death, but it takes ages, and you might be out of breath by the time you are done.
The most successful aspect of the game is the combat. You raise your fists in a boxer’s stance, and that auto-locks you onto your closest enemy. There are occasionally thrown weapons to be found, but most often you will be wielding melee weapons like hatchets and iron pipes. Your enemies are typically armored in different places, so you need to aim your swings appropriately, or they will clang harmlessly off the armor and your weapon will deteriorate that much quicker. The Kinect does an admirable job of detecting if you are trying to swing or jab, and in what direction. Your movements do not track on a one to one scale, but it definitely gets the job done. The oncoming zombies lose their arms and heads in an oddly satisfying way.
As you play through the game you will also encounter plenty of opportunities to play what seems like Kinect Charades at times. You will have to swing open doors, swim through lakes, climb ladders and duck and dodge away from unblockable boss attacks. This is the stuff that the Kinect excels at, and Sega should be commended for showing as much restraint with it as they did. There was just enough to give the game physicality without turning into a mini-game collection.
One particularly successful section of the game has a blind foe stalking you. If he finds you, it is instant death. There is an encounter in a corridor where you have to slowly creep backwards into a corner so he doesn’t run into you, while holding your breath and trying to be as quiet as humanly possible. As he gets closer, you need to remain perfectly still, without moving a muscle. This scenario is something that could only be delivered with the Kinect, and it was a ton of fun.
The stereotypical flabby gamer, such as myself, will get a pretty decent work out playing Rise of Nightmares. One particular boss battle had me working up a sweat, and I definitely was sore the next day after playing for a few hours. One nice touch is that after you finish the story mode, a set of challenges unlocks. As you try to avoid dying, while killing as many zombies as possible, the game will actually track how many calories you are burning.
The story in Rise of Nightmares is typical campy horror fare. Your wife is kidnapped by a monstrous humanoid who is being controlled by an insane scientist. You have to make your way into his lair while fighting off hordes of zombies that are tethered together with steampunk robot parts. The occult gets involved, brains get switched. It gets pretty messy, and Shakespeare it ain’t. There are mildly unnerving parts, and genuinely funny sections as well. While the story is lacking, it keeps you motivated and moving forward.
Rise of Nightmares feels like the first step towards what could be some amazing experiences with the Kinect. It is awkward and clumsy at parts, especially in the beginning as you are getting used to controlling your character. Taken without the Kinect, the actual game in Rise of Nightmares would be hard to recommend, but if you are a fan of horror, you would like to brush the dust off of your Kinect, and are craving new experiences, then you are in for a treat. Hopefully other developers are taking notes and can build from the foundation that Rise of Nightmares has laid. We could have some truly fresh new experiences on the way.
This review is based on a retail copy of Rise of Nightmares provided by Sega. It is an Xbox 360 exclusive.