Review: Rise of Nightmares (For Kinect)

Rise of Nightmares is Sega’s first attempt to bring an adult gaming experience to the Microsoft’s Kinect.  In fact, Rise of Nightmares is the very first title to brand a “Mature” rating by the ESRB in the growing line-up of Kinect games, which till more recently has been mostly known for family friendly titles.  Well Rise of Nightmares certainly earns its’ “M” rating and is not family friendly in the least, unless you are talking about family in that weird Charles Manson sort of way; gore, violence and gypsy sex populates this title. But is it any fun?

To be honest Rise of Nightmares is the kind of game that reviewers hate to review.  Not only does your physical dexterity factor into the gameplay (making it somewhat subjective), but the game fits into that rare category of “something new.”  Separating the aspects of the game that are good and bad from the ideas that are good and bad can be difficult.  “Did I like that level, or do I like the idea of what that level was trying to do?” These questions plague the reviewers mind through the entire play though.

So let’s just start with the facts.

Rise of Nightmares has you searching a Romanian castle trying to find your kidnapped wife who is currently in the hands of a deranged mad-scientist (which according to video games, make up roughly 85% of the population in any sparsely populated area of the world).  Not only is the castle full of traps and various obstacles, most of the inhabitants are mechanically augmented zombie experiments that really want to eat you.  Nonetheless, you must fight your way through these zombies, and some sort of ancient god thing, in order to rescue your wife before the mad scientist puts the soul of his dead wife in her or something.  All right, so the story sounds a little like Atari’s “Splatterhouse”, and a lot like roughly 75% of all B-horror movies.  Like most horror films, the story is really just a thin explanation as to why we are going to watch a bunch of people get cut in half and eaten alive. Its’ best to not think too deeply about it and just take a step forward, literally.

Controls in Rise of Nightmares go like this: Place your foot forward to walk, with your speed determined (slightly) by how far forward you put your foot. The same goes for taking a step back to walk backwards in the game.  Nearly doing the splits in an attempt to put your foot further forward to walk faster won’t have much luck, your speed ranges from slow all the way down to “HOLY JESUS FUCK MOVE! DON’T YOU SEE THOSE ZOMBIES TRYING TO EAT YOU!” You can change the direction of your leisurely stroll through hell by the angle of your chest; turn your shoulders slightly to the left to turn left, for example.  You won’t turn on a dime, but for the most part you’ll be able to navigate the world.  Interacting with the world is fairly standard stuff for Kinect; when an interactive object appears you reach your hand forward and activate it like an item on the Kinect Hub menu.  Some interactive elements will require further action (like opening a door), in which the game has you actually motion like you are opening a door. Occasionally though the game throws a command at you that you haven’t seen before and doesn’t seem to work well; such as one of the first levels of the game where it suddenly says “Run” and without explanation the game actually wants you to run in place like a mad man (as one walkthrough put it, you need to “run like a Muppet”).

Combat mostly consists of having your hands up in a boxing stance.  Swinging your left hand will typically result in you punching with your left hand in the game.  Your right hand, which is the hand you will carry your primary melee weapon, can also be swung around.  It does matter how you swing your arm.  Overhand swings are more powerful but slower, swinging left to right is quick but deals less damage.  Different weapons are most effective different ways, such as a knife, which you will actually want to, and in at least one case, have to make stabbing motions when you are wielding the weapon.  You can also kick to well… kick zombies in their stupid mid-torso range, knocking them back and giving you a second to collect yourself.  The game is never short on weapons to wield and most of them genuinely have a different feel.

So that’s how to play it, but is it any good?

That’s sort of a mixed bag.  The game certainly has some moments, as in genuinely fun experiences. The story is weak and largely forgettable outside of how cheesy it is (fans of that type of stuff will probably find some enjoyment out of it though).  Graphically the game is notably below most games these days; it gets the job done but it doesn’t impress.  The real gem of Rise of Nightmares in the combat system, which is to put it simply, fun.  Not only does the game offer a unique experience, it also gives gamers the opportunity to do something they’ve wanted to do for years; actually bash zombies on the head with a baseball bat.  So maybe your just swinging your arm like you have a baseball bat, and maybe you are just pretending to hit zombies with your pretend bat but the screen rewards all this failing around by showing your bash a zombie on the screen.  It is disturbingly rewarding.

The main campaign is only about seven hours, give or take, and it honestly doesn’t offer much replay value unless you are a achievement junkie; but it does have a bonus level after the campaign that can extend the game’s life.  A challenge mode where you must play on hard and it is about trying to escape with the most points (read: dead zombies) in a short time frame.  As an added bonus, the game counts how many calories you’ve burned in this mode, highlighting that while not the best zombie game, Rise of Nightmares is the one most likely to help you shed a few pounds.

So the final verdict?  Rise of Nightmares has some bad moments, some even verging on aggravating.  The movement controls feel stiff, but ultimately you will get from point A to point B… eventually.  The story is most guilty of being dull, but charges of uninspired and lame are also pending.  That said, it still manages to be entertaining and unique.  Rise of Nightmares is one of those games that will not hold up well if the trend for more mature games for the Kinect continues though.  The concepts and way the Kinect is used is excellent, the final product is lacking.  It is a really good idea that isn’t quite all there yet.  Ultimately it is still worth a playthough, because, and it can’t be stressed enough; bashing zombies in the head with weapons is fun.  Despite all its’ faults the core gameplay is there and certainly worth your time, and maybe your money.

Final Rating: 7/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Gamer Score Earned: 290/1000
Time to Completion: ~7 Hours
Price Bought at: $25
Current Price: $49.95 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: $15 or under is wroth the experience.

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