The Horror! The Horror!
When Rise of Nightmares was released early last month it seemed like the perfect game for us to review for the Halloween holiday. I purchased the game and began playing. I was initially intrigued by how ambitious the game was. I knew going into it that the graphics and audio would be terrible, but games like that usually hold a special charm for me. It was the control scheme that was really in question here. The game is not on rails as most would think from an early kinect title, you actually have full control of your character and their actions. Sega did a decent job at coming up with a scheme for controlling your character in this manner. If only the controls worked at all you might actually be able to finish this game. After weeks of fighting with this nonsense I realized it wasn’t the game that was keeping me from progressing but the controls, well fuck that Rise of Nightmares, I Quit!
Welcome To My Nightmare
The setup for Rise of Nightmares is pretty basic and simple and gets the plot moving almost immediately. You play as Josh, a guy on vacation in Romania with his wife Kate. Quickly though your wife disappears and as you search the train cars for her you run into many eccentric characters, kids going to a rave, some Russian ballerinas, a psychiatrist, etc. When you reach the end of the train you see your wife being kidnapped by a giant monster dude and the train derails and you must escape the wreckage. The rest of the game becomes a search for Kate serving as an excuse to walk through some spooky forests, graveyards, an old castle, the usual horror film tropes.
Kate has been kidnapped by an evil scientist named Viktor who has been experimenting on human subjects, turning them into the disfigured zombie creates you will be fighting throughout the game. Combat is fairly basic in the game, you raise your fists to enter combat mode and the game auto-locks onto the nearest enemy, you then swing your arms to punch and attack the enemies as they get close to you. Unfortunately your fists are barely useless in this game, so if you don’t have a weapon you may as well not bother fighting at all. Weapons are strewn all over the place in the form of hatchets, knives, old pipes, and some more eccentric power equipment such as a chainsaw and a meat grinder. With a weapon enemies are fairly harmless, mostly dying in one or two swings and not posing much challenge at all. The only time they are a problem is in large groups as it is nearly impossible to change targets between two enemies and turning while moving and fighting is out of the question. You basically auto-target your first enemy, kill them as fast as you can and let the game auto-target the next until everything is dead.
There are some bosses thrown into the game to spice things up, however they are really no different from the regular enemies. You will fight them all the same way, just hacking away at them with your various weaponry as quickly as you can. The only difference between a boss and a regular enemy is that they do have special attacks, however these are telegraphed by a giant on-screen action prompt, such as ducking or sidestepping, and a pause in the action giving you plenty of time to avoid them. You then just wait for this attack, avoid it, and then hack away at the boss until killed. The only interesting enemy appears in the first half of the game, the character Ernst, the giant monster that took Kate in the beginning. This guy is a hulking behemoth who can kill you in one hit, but he’s basically blind in his mask so when he shows up you will be prompted to stand perfectly still and not make a sound until he has passed. It’s easy enough to do and avoid Ernst entirely, but the idea that your cell phone could go off or someone walks in the room and makes noise that the kinect mic picks up is a decently cool mechanic that could have hilarious results.
I’m On A Loooow Budget
Nobody would have ever accused Rise of Nightmares of being a AAA title and it shows here. The graphics, as seems to be the case with most kinect games, are nothing impressive at all barely attempting to utilize the power of the 360. Character models are simplistic at best and ugly at worst, looking like an early launch title would. Environments are muddy and bland with some very shoddy texture work on them. The audio in the game fares no better. The game opens with you playing as a European kid who has quite possibly the worst voice actor I’ve ever heard. Thankfully that kid gets murdered immediately and you don’t have to listen to him for long. The main character is fairly standard but the rest of the cast is made of horribly Russian or Romania accents by actors picking up minimum wage and phoning their performances in over the old tin can and string. Again, the game didn’t have to amazing visually or audio-wise, in fact it’s almost fitting in a B-movie quality way that the game looks as poorly as it does. If only the controls had actually worked this game might be worth playing.
This Game Really Is A Nightmare
So here is the real meat of the problem, the game is so overambitious in its control scheme that you end up fighting them more than you do the zombies of the game. As I mentioned before the game is not on rails, and had it been the might have pulled this whole thing off, but it isn’t. To allow for full 3D movement Sega created a system whereby you rotate your shoulders left and right to spin the camera to either side. You then place one foot forward to begin walking, the further ahead you place it the faster you walk. What happens then is a movement system more akin to skateboarding than walking, as you lean forward and rotate slightly left or right to glide around the games environments. Backing up is done by simply placing your foot backwards and you’ll glide that way. To initiate combat you simply raise your fists in front of you and swing away to punch, and you can even kick to push enemies back with a mighty boot.
You can see the issue coming here I think. There are so many actions mapped to multiple body movements and slight alterations that the kinect sensor simply cannot keep up with it all. I calibrated and re-calibrated my sensor, I was told I was in the optimal play space, and I even re-arranged furniture to give myself even more space but all to no avail. The game simply couldn’t keep my motions together for more than a minute or two at a time. I would step forward to walk and my character would begin slowly inching forward, when I put my foot ahead further to speed up the game actually started making me walk backwards! As I’m trying to walk around a room, fighting multiple zombies, the game simply couldn’t keep up and more often than not I would be torn to shreds.
Thankfully Sega implemented an auto-walk system that technically does put this game on rails, which is why I believe an on rails version of the game would work. If you hold your right hand up in a 45 degree angle your character will automatically move to his next destination. Even this is problematic though, as it took forever to get the kinect sensor to finally recognize my raised hand, and it would occasionally lose that I had my hand up and I would have to stop and re-initialize the auto walk action. Also, imagine holding your right hand up for the majority of your gameplay session non-stop, it isn’t exactly fun. Also, to add insult to injury, there are times where the auto-walk is disabled. These usually indicate large combat arenas or areas where dexterity is needed to avoid spinning blades or spikes. These areas are the most difficult because the controls are not set up to handle them. You’ve got to avoid falling guillotines by timing your walking just right to pass after they have fallen, but when the kinect decides randomly that you should be walking backwards it simply spells disaster. After enough of these deaths this game just isn’t worth it.
It’s admirable what Sega TRIED to do here. Creating an actual game for the kinect, not a mini-game compilation, and not a gimmicky dancing sim or platformer, but a real honest to goodness game. They did come up with a control scheme that on paper makes a lot of sense and had the kinect been able to keep up with it probably would have been the first great showing of what the system is capable of. However, either they dropped the ball in the implementation or the kinect hardware just isn’t ready for this kind of system. It can’t keep track of all of your limbs at once for sustained periods of time, and the fine control required for running and battling zombies at the same time is simply not there on the kinect system. I really wanted to like this game as I’m a huge fan of B-horror films, and the plot certainly does get crazy enough to fit the bill, but it’s just not worth fighting the controls to see it through to the end.