Rise of Nightmares preview: Right foot forward

I'm having an internal debate regarding Rise of Nightmares, the upcoming Kinect title from Sega. It's easily the most ambitious Kinect game I've ever played. Unlike most Kinect offerings, Rise of Nightmares gives players total control over their actions, allowing them to fully explore an interactive environment from a first-person perspective. The only problem: I can't decide if it's actually good or not.
%Gallery-126016% I was told by Sega's Rowan Tafler that Rise of Nightmares is being developed by the same internal Sega team responsible for the House of the Dead series. I might have guessed as much on my own -- the game bears all of the series' hallmarks. Blood and gore are so profuse that it's silly. The dialogue is inane, like the man who screams "I always knew I would die here!" as his torso is severed by a giant metal blade. Really, the only thing missing is a blinking "insert coin" message. Please, don't mistake this for criticism, it's actually pretty wonderful, especially for a House of the Dead fan like myself.

The section I played took place in a dank, dungeon-like area, the only clue to its location being the German accents sported by the supporting characters. My character awoke, discovering that he was tied to a chair, as was another fellow across the room. I didn't have time to get acquainted, unfortunately, as said fellow was quickly and gruesomely murdered by a man with all the earmarks of a mad scientist. And when I say "gruesome" I mean an axe to the skull, replete with a ridiculous fountain of blood.

Lucky for me, the doctor received an urgent call -- from his wife, by the sound of it -- and decided to leave me in the care of a nurse while he attended to other matters. Unfortunately, the nurse was really a shambling, pieced-together monstrosity that didn't seem keen to wait on her master's return. In another stroke of luck, I was rescued at the last minute by a man who seemed to know me.

This is where the game proper begins. Loosed from my bonds, it was time to make my escape. As I noted earlier, Rise of Nightmares is not bound by a predetermined path like many other Kinect titles, instead allowing complete freedom of movement. Turning is accomplished by rotating your shoulders to the left or right. To walk forward, simply place your right foot in front of your body. To walk backwards, place it behind your body.


It's about as awkward as it sounds, especially when trying to reach a specific objective. Interacting with objects in the game is as easy as reaching for them with your right hand, but actually getting to those objects can be ponderous. I found myself struggling to stop walking directly into walls on several occasions. Sega seems to have recognized this awkwardness, adding an automatic movement feature. By raising your right hand -- as if to say "hello" -- your character will automatically walk to the nearest point of interest.

So, yes, movement overall is a strange experience, and if that's all there was to Rise of Nightmares, it would be tempting to write it off. Thankfully, the game's combat adds an entertaining wrinkle to the proceedings. It turns out the nurse I saw at the beginning of my demo wasn't the only horror lurking in the dungeon. The place is crawling with zombie-like abominations.

To initiate combat, I had to "put up my dukes," clenching my fists and raising them like a boxer. My character instantly focused on the nearest monster, allowing me to throw punches or knock foes back with a kick (which is very empowering, incidentally). The highlight of the entire Rise of Nightmares experience, however, was wielding a variety of weapons. These zombie-murdering implements are scattered around the environment and can be picked up at any time.

Using a weapon is as easy as mimicking the appropriate real world movement. To swing a pipe, for example, I swiped my arm from side to side or up and down. Later on I found some volatile test tubes, which I flipped at baddies like throwing stars. And then ... there was the chainsaw. As silly as it sounds, waving an imaginary chainsaw at a horde of zombies was some of the most fun I had at E3. At least, it was before I found the giant tongs. Positioning my hands as though holding a pair of garden shears, I was lopping off zombie heads left and right.

Felling one last monster with a mighty snip, the demo came to an end. Going over my experience, I'm still having trouble processing it all in my head. The movement controls, while unwieldy and imprecise, are still very intriguing. The combat, too, could be much more easily handled with a simple controller. However, the fun of physically cutting a swath through a gaggle of zombies is undeniable. Appropriately enough, it evokes the same kind of arcade enjoyment found in games like House of the Dead.

After such a short demo -- fifteen minutes maybe -- there's no way to tell if the experience will bear out over an entire game. That said, Rise of Nightmares is the only game I played at E3 that I can't stop thinking about, and that has to count for something.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.