Rise of NightmaresESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
When the Kinect arrived on the scene last year, Microsoft pitched it as family gaming peripheral for the Xbox 360. It’s main selling point was that it was full motion body controls promising to get your family off the couch. The peripheral sold millions and was off to a fantastic start in the first 60-days of launch. Unfortunately, some of that momentum has been lost in recent months. Perhaps it is just the lull of summer releases or perhaps it is the lack of quality games. Regardless, the popularity of the Kinect seems somewhat stalled at this point. Nevertheless, the Kinect is still relatively new and much of that momentum can be regained with just a couple of quality titles.
Along comes Rise of Nightmares, a mature rated survival horror game from Sega, which is the first of its kind for the motion sensing peripheral. Not only is it the first horror game for the Kinect, but it is also the first mature rated game the Kinect has seen. Stepping outside of the box is nothing new for Sega, but there is no question releasing such a game for the Kinect is a bold move. Does it pay off and is Sega’s mature rated survival horror game the answer to what woes the Kinect? Well, not quite, but Rise of Nightmares does have some redeeming qualities for fans of Horror games.
As far as the visuals are concerned, Rise of Nightmares is much better than I anticipated. Character models, although lacking some originality, look very good. The level of detail is certainly on par with other characters we have seen in other survival horror games on the Xbox 360. Characters in Alan Wake and Resident Evil are just two that come to mind and are certainly comparable. The environments also look decent. Whether it is in a graveyard like setting or on a train that is about to go spiraling down a rapid river, Rise of Nightmares does feature some good-looking landscapes. The enemies could have used a bit more variety and the clipping issues are horrific, as far too often characters can be seen walking through tree branches or walls. Otherwise, Rise of Nightmares is a pretty good-looking Kinect game.
The sound on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, when things are calm the music is perfectly suited for the game featuring creepy horror tunes. On the other hand when the action becomes more intense the music is like an annoying relative who has overstayed their welcome over the holidays. It just does not know when to go away. Screeching loud tunes that loop over and over occur when the zombie-like figures attack. Even when you have cleared an area, the annoying music continues for some mysterious reason. Typically in most games of this nature, the music settles down when you clear out the enemies, but this not the case in Rise of Nightmares. The game’s voice work on the other hand is quite good as the character’s sounds are clear and convincing.
Rise of Nightmares features a well-told story, somewhat believable characters, over-the-top freaky moments, and a ridiculous plotline that still somehow managed to suck me in. You assume the role of Jack, a tourist on vacation with his wife in Romania. While on a train ride, your wife becomes a tad angry after she discovers your drinking problem has re-surfaced. In a fit of anger, she walks out and heads to the dining car. Feeling guilty, you head out after her to apologize, when suddenly you encounter a large freaky looking dude holding your wife over his shoulder. Much like the main character from Hellraiser, this dude is no ordinary man, but rather he is one with an odd looking mechanism to his face and he is able to display some gruesome powers which result in some gory moments. Soon after the mysterious large man disappears with your wife, a mad scientist appears and the train you are riding subsequently crashes. You wake up and find that you are with a handful of survivors. You all end up in hellish world overrun with the walking dead. From there you begin your journey of terror as you struggle to survive and find your wife.
All in all, Rise of Nightmares has a decent storyline. Granted it feels very similar to the storylines we have seen in such games as Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Supernatural powers, flashbacks, and nightmares are all common themes that seem to work together forming a storyline I quite enjoyed. The game plays out like many other games in its genre, but I did feel a connection with the characters and wanted to see where the story would take me.
Rise of Nightmares plays from a first perspective and being a Kinect game you are standing for the entire single player campaign. Being a little on the larger side, standing for any more than an hour can be tiresome, but the experience does manage to move along at a good clip. Similar to games like Condemned, you have to rely on bare hand attacks and melee weapons as your primary modes of attack. There is no use of firearms in the game, so it is a masher to a degree but more of a Kinect masher. The biggest issue I had with Rise of Nightmares is the game’s controls. That said, I give the developers plenty of kudos for even attempting such a game where there is absolutely no use for the controller. It is just too bad the controls in the game really take away from what is a good story, decent visuals, spooky atmosphere, and an eerie soundtrack.
Once you fire up the game you are introduced to a couple of characters that are seemingly trapped underground and in a panic to escape. Here is where the game introduces you to the motion control setup. These initial scenes act as a tutorial of sorts. Moving around in the game can be performed by two types of movement modes; the first is Free Movement mode where you are in direct control of your movement, while the second is Auto Movement mode where the game guides you automatically to your next destination. Auto Movement virtually zaps the enjoyment out of playing the game as it somewhat defeats the purpose of escaping situations or attacking enemies. That said, it wasn’t long after I wrestled with the movements of my character in Free Movement mode that I quickly turned to the Auto Movement mode just so I didn’t have to repeatedly fiddle with my characters movements.
In Free Movement mode, placing your foot in front of you allows your character to walk forward. The amount of distance you place your foot forward determines the speed of your movement. You will continue to move as long as your foot is out. Bringing your foot back will stop your movements. Walking backwards is accomplished by placing one foot behind you. Surprisingly enough, the Kinect was able to accurately detect my foot movements and I was impressed with how responsive the game was at this point. When things are not so chaotic on screen, moving your character is relatively easy, but that is when the situation is relaxed and not so stressful. When the pressure rises the characters movements in Free Movement become problematic as they are not that quick to respond to what is needed. Having nasty looking enemies close in on you as you attempt to walk away is not as simple as it should be. Shifting or turning your shoulders accomplishes turning your player from side to side. It seems straightforward in theory, but in practice is does not work as well as it should. Walking down narrow corridors or navigating around obstacles is more of a chore than anything else. Far too often my body would be contorted like a pretzel as I attempted to steer my player in the right direction. I felt like I was playing a game of twister at times. Perhaps it is just the learning curve, but well after an hour into the game I still found the movements awkward and unnatural. It wasn’t long before I was looking down at the controller wishing it could be put to use for the game.
It is these simple movements, like walking, that you take for granted when you use a controller. Without the controller, and with the way it is set up in Rise of Nightmares, moving your character is frustrating and tedious. When enemies start heading in your direction, getting your player in a decent position to defend himself can be tenuous. The game will lock on to enemies if you position yourself appropriately but there are many occasions where I would be caught up against a wall as I was struggling to turn around just so I can hack at the enemy with my weapon. I found that by remaining calm at all times I could pretty much get myself out of any situation but any sudden or jerky moves resulted in failure.
Attacking the enemies is straightforward, and fortunately the AI doesn’t offer up much of a challenge. Much like a prizefighter, you need to be positioned in a fighting stance when you are up against the AI enemy. All weapon attacks are performed using your arms and the actions needed to use a weapon depends on the weapon type. You can only carry one weapon at a time which keeps things simple but certainly doesn’t help you when you need a weapon which packs a bit more of punch against tougher opponents, such as the ones with metallic limbs. Punching enemies is accomplished by using a punching motion, but as far as the weapons are concerned I found myself using one awkward slashing motion that seemed to work for all weapons such as a knife, iron bar, machete, or any other weapon I came across. Killing enemies was accomplished with ease albeit some took a few more slashing motions than others. It is rewarding at first, but it does become tiresome as you progress along in the game.
In terms of depth, Rise of Nightmares is somewhat thin. The game features no online play or co-operative gameplay. There isn’t much in the way of extras and merely amounts to a single player storyline. There are no side quests or separate play modes found here. So after you have played through the game and nailed down most of the Xbox 360 achievements there is little reason to play the game again.
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