Fighting off zombies with anything that I can lay my hands on, and that was just to reach my Xbox360!
There is no denying that Kinect has yet to reach the potential that Microsoft expected. The initial launch titles mostly had aspirations way beyond what the technology was capable of, and catered more to the casual crowd than the core gamer. The slow stream of games since then have largely suffered from the same fate, with a possible one or two exceptions. However, Sega have now released Rise of Nightmares, a game which not only attempts to bring the core gamer into the Kinect fold, but also seems to have been built according to the strengths of Kinect, rather than what they hope it can do. The result is perhaps not as successful as Sega hoped, but makes great strides in that direction.
Rise of Nightmares is a Kinect-based survival horror game. As you can imagine, with an 18 certificate, this is no game for little Suzy to be enjoying on a Saturday morning. The game has an overriding B-movie feel to it, similar in many ways to House of the Dead, and casts the player in the role of Josh, who just wants to find his wife.
But before that, and before we get to be involved in the main story, there is a handy little prologue that takes the player through a few of the basic gestures of the game. This prologue is similar in style to the short scenes that you find at the beginning of many horror movies where the actor, or more often actress, has been hired just for a cameo role and will likely meet a grisly end before the opening credits roll. Cheesy it may be, but it keeps in feeling with the B-movie vibe, and also serves the purpose of showing the player how to play.
The Kinect controls are actually fairly natural for the most part and whilst they don’t always work perfectly, Sega have kindly taken that into account and ensured that the experience can continue. The main menu can be activated by holding an open hand out to the bottom left, pausing the game in the process. Played in first-person perspective, the view can be adjusted by simply moving the shoulders in the direction that the player wants to look. Movement is similarly simple and requires the player to move one foot forward, the distance it is moved forward directly affecting the speed of movement. This particular mechanic can be a little fiddly, especially if the player wants to walk whilst looking around. Sega have countered this with a handy auto-advance feature which is activated by the player holding up their right hand as if wanting to ask a question. The character will then proceed to where they need to be, in an “on the rails” manner, as long as the hand is held up. I found it best to play using this mechanic in combination with the walking and looking around, allowing things to move on quickly when needed but allowing for a degree of exploration when something interesting came up.
There are multiple other gestures used in the game as well, but the two most important are likely interaction and the fighting stance. Various objects around the game world will need to be interacted with, and the player can do this by holding their hand towards the screen when they see the interact icon. This will then launch whatever interaction is required in the form of another gesture, such as a push of the hand forward to open a door, the flick of the wrist to turn over a card or even crouching down to… crouch down. Y’see, most of the interactions make sense and feel entirely natural.
Then there is the fighting stance which is activated by bringing both hands up in front of the body, like a boxer. This prepares the character for combat and allows the player to punch and kick whatever monstrosity they are facing. There are also a huge collection of melee weapons that can be found. These will be assigned to a hand and then swinging that hand will swing the weapon in the acted manner. This is another area where the Kinect controls are perhaps not as precise as they should be, but fortunately the game is quite easy going and swipes will hit as long as they are in the vicinity. Weapons degrade over time, before eventually breaking, and the player can only carry one weapon. So it is worth occasionally swapping out weapons with new ones that you come across, just to keep them from becoming useless at the worst possible time.
The player will lock on to their target, reducing the need for movement during combat. But this can become a disadvantage when fighting multiple enemies as the game may choose to target the least threatening first. There are also some projectile weapons to be found in the game, such as the delightfully sadistic scalpels which can be thrown. As the player will already be locked on to a target, these projectiles are actually really satisfying to use.
As for the story, it is all pretty standard B-movie fare. Josh and his wife are traveling through Europe on a train. Mrs. Josh wanders off in a mood due to Josh’s drinking problem so Josh goes to splash some water on his face. Upon returning he finds a note from his wife, wanting to meet in the dining carriage. A quick wander along the train, meeting some of the other characters there, will result the arrival at the dining carriage, and that is when everything goes pear-shaped. The carriage is covered in blood and some evil looking creature is holding Josh’s wife. He then goes around the corner and the train derails. I think that is as far as I’ll go with that story, and leave some of the surprises for you.
The visuals of Rise of Nightmares are again very similar to House of the Dead. It all seems very grainy and not as crisp or sharp as it should be. But the reality is that it fits in with the whole B-movie style and doesn’t diminish the experience in the slightest. In fact, it may even improve the experience.
So, is Rise of Nightmares the core Kienct experience that we have all been waiting for? Well, no. Rise of Nightmares is a mature interactive experience that revolves around the hacking and slashing of zombies. To me this doesn’t make for a core game. Imagine, if you will, replacing the mansion with Disneyland, the zombies with cute teddies and the weapons with candy canes or foam bats. Pretty much everything else could stay the same and the result would be playable by six years olds everywhere. The real question should be “is Rise of Nightmares a game that will entertain a core gamer?”, to which the answer would be yes. Especially if they have a soft spot for cheesy horror movies. To be honest, I am really not sure if anyone will ever be able to make a core game that uses Kinect. But Rise of Nightmares is the closest they have come so far.
Rise of Nightmares certainly has it’s problems, largely due to the Kinect control method. But that doesn’t stop the game from being very compelling and a hell of a lot of fun. It is an incredibly interactive physical experience that immerses the player into a cheesy movie and gives them the starring role. If you have Kinect, then you should have this game.