The Human Controllerpede
Rise of Nightmares is a new horror game by Sega that takes pride in calling itself “the first M rated game for the Kinect.” When the demo starts, you get to see a man get his hand chopped off before getting an axe right to the skull, so yeah, when they say M rated, they mean M rated. Rise of Nightmares is out to prove that the Kinect isn’t just for sports, dancing, and playing with cute fluffy animals, but does it succeed?
The demo starts with you basically at the mercy of a mad scientist. According to a booth rep, the game’s story revolves around you and your wife’s trip to Europe, which was suddenly interrupted by this reject from Human Centipede. This doctor gets his kicks from dismembering his victims, peeling off their skin, surgically implanting horrible implements of torture into their bodies, and basically setting them loose on the world as monsters. You are all set to be his next victim before you escape. Now you must try to find your wife somewhere in this creepy mansion filled with monsters that all want to kill you.
The game isn’t totally 1:1 motion controlled. Most motions are actually just stand-ins for button presses. The game is controlled from a first-person perspective, and moving your hand around in front of you moves a cursor on the screen that can interact with objects in the environment. Very basic gestures, like closing your hand or swinging your arm, allow you to perform basic actions such as picking up an item or opening a door. The actions, however, are kind of stiff, and not at all fluid. If you try to pick up an object as you would naturally, you’ll find the cursor accidentally moving as your arm does. So you basically have to memorize exactly what the game wants you to do in order to control it.
This, unfortunately, makes the game a bit clunky to handle. For example, you move by stepping forward with one foot. This is all well and good, but it feels strange, especially when you actually spend the majority of the game walking around and looking for things. You turn left and right by turning your body to face left and right, but you still have to see the screen so your head has to face forward, and your feet have to be on the ground facing forward for the game to read whether or not you are walking and what speed you are walking at (longer steps forward increase walking speed). As a result, controlling this game is actually more like a round of twister than an immersive gameplay experience … and they were already playing twister in the other wing of E3 … and there weren’t zombies in it.
Combat is actually the most fun part of Rise of Nightmares. If you find something that can be used as a weapon, you simply pick it up in your right or left hand to wield it in your right or left hand. Then, all you need to do is swing away to bash some Zombie skulls in. This, believe it or not, actually did feel natural, and even when I exaggerated my swings the Kinect easily picked up on my movements and translated them into strikes. The only problem is that the Kinect has this tendency to pick up on extraneous movements as well, and that hinders the experience. For example, I’m used to stepping forward when I swing a bat or a sword, but doing so makes you move. I also twist my body as I swing as well, but doing so makes you turn. An unfortunately large amount of combat is getting a hold of the movement of your character, and the best survivors were the gamers that stood brick still and swung their arms around in small, tight, unrealistic motions.
But I can talk about flawed motion controls until the zombies come home, so let’s talk about the game itself. If you ignore the Kinect portion of it, Rise of Nightmares is a fairly competent horror game. It’s not nearly as dark as, say, Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but it fits into its own niche. The monsters are just a bit too colorful and the gore is just a bit too random and plentiful to really make you afraid, even when you are playing in the dark Rise of Nightmares booth. Instead, it feels like a late seventies or early eighties gore-fest flick, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. It’s a level of camp, craziness, and excessive bodily fluids that I, for one, deeply appreciate.
The gameplay mechanics are also decent when divorced from the Kinect. Weapons break, but are plentiful and easy to find and a majority of the game involves finding the right weapon for the right situation. There are a few puzzle and exploration elements, but these don’t translate well in a demo. Overall the game doesn’t really hang with the horror game greats out there, but I can see it having its own little cult classic following.
Lots of people are liking Rise of Nightmares because it is a Kinect game that doesn’t involve wholesome family activities. I, however, think that the Kinect is really just holding this game back. The control scheme is just too complicated for its own good and the stiff motions required actually bring you out of the experience rather than drag you deeper in. Overall, Rise of Nightmares was a fun game to try, but I still think the Kinect has a long way to go before it will satisfy the hardcore crowd, especially the hardcore horror crowd.