Rise of Nightmares is a bold undertaking from Sega, but one Microsoft’s Kinect is sorely in need of. Nine months have passed since 360 owners joined the motion control revolution, and outside of a few decent games at launch and Child of Eden, there hasn’t really been much of a compelling reason to get up off the couch and play.
I remember when I first saw Rise of Nightmares back at this year’s E3 -- it made me laugh and not in a good way. While I didn’t actually get a chance to play it, the images of watching industry patrons flail their arms at the virtual undead ingrained another “wow Kinect really makes people look stupid” impression on me. Maybe it was the skeptic inside me talking, but really: how was a first-person Kinect game not on rails going to work and be an engaging experience at the same time?
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Rise of Nightmares (Xbox 360 Kinect)
To be released: September, 6 2011
Well flash forward a couple of months, more specifically last Thursday night, when I finally had a chance to give the first-person gore fest a full body hands-on at Sega’s Rise of Nightmares preview event. Though it’s safe to say I most likely looked like an arm-swinging leg-kicking fool, the most important thing I realized was it didn’t matter -- I was having fun doing it.
The first thing I noticed when playing Rise of Nightmares was just how smooth and responsive the motion controls actually were. I own a Kinect and have played my fair share of games with the controller, so stepping into the game was fairly intuitive. Placing your right foot either forward or backwards will set you in motion forward of backwards. Subtle turns of the shoulders to the left or right will turn you as desired. Neither gesture for movement is demanding and feels very natural, but if they prove cumbersome, holding up your right arm (at a 90 degree angle) triggers an auto-direct feature that quickly and effortlessly guides one to the next area.
In the section I played -- I was told it was near the beginning of the third level -- I began my journey walking the dark, dank confines of a crypt-like cave, desperately searching for a way out. It was here that I was introduced to the game's adventure elements. While at first glance and from many of the games released trailers Rise of Nightmares comes off as an off-rails Kinect attempt at House of the Dead (the game’s producer Satoshi Ito worked on the popular arcade light-gun shooter, so the comparisons are just), the game is actually much deeper than that.
In the confines of the cave I was tasked with finding a lever to release a gate that was impeding my progression. While the previously mentioned auto-direct gesture is helpful as a quick way to get from area to area, it is by no means a cheat to blaze through the game and can’t be used to find items. As I made my way around looking for a solution out, I had to guide my character from table to table sifting through piles of skulls to find a lever for a lock. Actually using my arms to push around the rolling bones added a nice level of immersion that hopefully isn’t leaned on too much throughout the adventure portion of the games.
Once I had the lever inserted, I made my way out of the room where I was faced with my first combat encounter. Two twisted zombie ballerinas quickly handed me my first “You are dead” screen. I admit it took a little getting used fighting the ballerinas, as I struggled slightly with the controls while I frantically tried to take them out. The thing is it wasn’t that Kinect’s fault for my problems, more it was just the game's learning curve that my body was still adjusting to. When I came to grips with how to control my body in a fight, the ballerina duo was dust.
Starting the fight, the first thing I did was run to an axe laying on the ground to help even the odds. To assist in what could possibly be a clunky process, holding out your hand over an item that’s in a viewable distance will auto-direct you to it where you'll pick it up. It saves a lot of time and is just one Rise of Nightmares many smart design decisions for making the game more accessible for players of all skills.
Back to the ballerinas. Unfortunately, the fight itself boiled down to simple pattern memorization. Duck the pirouette attacks, then promptly kick them in the gut to stun them, step forward and melee until there’s nothing left. While the combat is fairly simple, it’s also highly engaging. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m actually participating in a fight and doing more than just flailing my arms (like I do in Kinect Sport’s boxing) that makes it feel like something worth while. Whatever it is, the fighting in Rise of Nightmares is some of the most refreshing and rewarding I’ve played in a motion controlled game.
After I escaped the zombie ballerinas I made my way outside where I took on the game's more typical zombie fodder. The techniques I acquired from my boss fight helped in dispatching the brain eating hoard. It’s also worth noting that individual body parts can be targeted and removed to limit the possible damage and threat of each zombie menace. While it still came down to looking for enemy tells and exploiting a pattern in their attacks, the numerous enemies and the inclusion of what appeared to be a banshee -- the game required me to actually cover my ears to avoid its deathly shrieks -- kept the action frantic throughout.
Whether controller-free motion gaming ever finds a place in the industry outside of mini-game collections, fitness and dance games remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure -- Sega has definitely taken a step in the right direction with Rise of Nightmares. With an estimated seven to ten hours of gameplay, hopefully Sega can provide enough thrills, chills and variety in gameplay to keep things fresh from start to finish when the game lands in September.