After a flurry of personal trainers, dance floor simulations and sports mini-game collections, Sega’s Rise of Nightmares offers a step towards what is hopefully the Kinect’s true potential: full kinetic immersion and the ability to let you be the character in an actual game with a plot. And immersion is what players will get from this title, as controllers (and the couch) go completely out the window. What results is an FPS-esque, gore-infused trek through parts of Eastern Europe and Romania, on a quest to rescue your wife from the scalpels of the twisted doctor who’s left unspeakable “experiments” in his wake.
“I Like to Move It, Move It!”
Be ready to check your rest and relaxation at the door, as the game will require you to be in constant motion. Each and every aspect of controlling the game is done via movements and specific motions,which is simultaneously the game’s most charming quality as well as its occasional downfall. The game operates without the use of menus, keeping you in the action at all times, and the actions required to control the game have been kept suitably simple. Turning your torso and shoulders to the left or right pivots your character, and placing a foot in front of or behind your body causes you to walk forward or backward. Similarly, combat is initiated by putting up your dukes, and you can proceed to swing either arm in a variety of arcs, or even kick either of your feet. Combat gets fairly fast-paced, and I found myself working up a light sweat after particularly intense levels, my body performing constant cardio to stem the tide of the twisted and mutated aberrations unleashed by the good doctor.
That being said, be aware that you’ll need all of the recommended Kinect play area for Rise of Nightmares. When pressed for space, I found navigating to become extremely finicky, as the Kinect frequently interpreted my “forward” stance as “backward”. Even in ample space, turning side to side was painfully hard to control at times, with the turns either being too slow or too fast to steer me around sharp corners and keep me from running into walls and furniture. Interacting with the environment works exactly like it should in real life; from the mundane (valves and switches, prepare to be turned and thrown!) to the unusual (at one point I faced a deadly puzzle which required me to study nearby statues and replicate a specific posture of praying by kneeling down with my arms outstretched at certain angles). In short, if you’re required to interact with it, picture it in front of you and do what you naturally would. This is one area the game is notable for, and it created a giddy sense of excitement in me.
Elsewhere, I found that the game usually did a good job of tracking my combat movements, punching, slashing, stabbing, puncturing, and impaling as I’d intended. However, the handful of enemy types didn’t require meticulous tactics to dispatch; whereas I enjoyed using a varied offense initially, feeling badass, combat quickly degenerated into the same left-swing-right-swing-kick combo. Weapons are varied, vicious and plentiful; pick up a brutally jagged ice saw to wreak some carnage, then switch to a heavy ornate vase to crush some skulls, and end it with a sickle-shaped Reaper scythe and harvest some heads. Unfortunately, the rather generic nature of enemies and combat made many of the weapons interchangeable. One weapon was useful for horizontal swipes, another for top-down bashes or frontal piercing. Even some abilities later in the game, like the ability to shoot a plasma-based explosive projectile and chains that extend from your hands and rip through all flesh on their path (both extremely cool!) aren’t quite enough to redeem the fact that combat could have been much deeper, rather than just hectic.
The Pallid Countenance of Death
When first starting up the game, Rise of Nightmares immediately underwhelms graphically – the environments, character models, and effects seem to be more at home on previous-gen consoles. The level design also seems stuck in some strange time-warp. During my playthrough, and despite being able to move freely, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Sega’s House of the Dead arcade shooters; both the monster design and the closed-in and linear nature of the levels contributed to this association. This isn’t odd at all, as the team behind Rise of Nightmares was also responsible for House of the Dead. In the audio department, the game featured fairly standard creepy and atmospheric tracks, sometimes crescendoing to a fever pitch that made my pulse race, but otherwise didn’t stand out noticeably.
The developers should be commended for staying true to the game’s ‘M’ rating; where most other Kinect titles attempt to bring the whole family together in a fun atmosphere, Rise of Nightmares is satisfyingly gory. Apart from dismembering the undead hordes, the game sports plenty of grotesque forays into medical torture and has blood by the bucketful. At one point, I was boyishly delighted to have to perform the motions of plunging my exposed hand into a carcass slit open and laid bare before me, rooting around back and forth in the guts and innards to locate a hidden key. Another time I had to sweep piles of bleached skulls off several tabletops, looking for another hidden item underneath. While the story is fairly predictable, thematically the game at times borrows elements from movies such as Hostel, Saw, and Psycho, and even horror novels like Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. This one’s definitely not for the kids.
Strewn in among the generic zombies, zombie maids, and zombie nurses, there are some more notable enemy designs. Most notable are the bosses, who are mostly your previous companions, who were captured and, ahem…improved by the good doctor. One extremely sadistic example that stands out is a couple you meet briefly in the opening levels. When you encounter them again much later, they’ve been augmented with metal carapaces and blades surgically mounted to their bodies. Strung up literally like marionettes, fastened by strings to two huge crosses, controlled by tiny devilish Joker puppets, they cry out in pain and beg for you to end their suffering and kill them, even as they begin lunging and slashing at you against their will.
Slim Down or Die
Apart from a few unlockable difficulty levels, collectables in the form of tarot cards and audio recordings of a detective who was on the trail of Dr. Viktor, there is only one other unlockable mode upon completion. Essentially a time trial mode of three select stages, which now sport more traps and enemies, this mode also tracks the number of supposed calories you’ve burned from your kicking and punching. It’s hard to imagine a genuine need for this mode, and it seems to serve more as “Well, it’s Kinect, you know? Every Kinect game’s gotta have one of these…”
The Final Verdict
Rise of Nightmares takes the potential of the Kinect and moves it into a direction that many have been quietly hoping for; away from a workout regiment and toward an actual gameplay experience. More than that, it gives the adults of the family something to appreciate all by their lonesomes. However, it does so at the expense of sacrificing part of its soul, as the overall product comes up a bit truncated and missing any vitality after the story has run its course. There is nothing broken about the game, but its lack of polish and one-dimensional combat might have fit better as a discounted title instead of a full-priced release.