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Rise of Nightmares

The most pleasant, surprising thing about Sega’s Rise of Nightmares is its mere existence. Where no one dared to go, Sega has put one foot forward and ran head-first into the deep end of motion controlled gaming. People said it couldn’t be done, people said it shouldn’t be done; but, by god, they went for it. The results are maddening and fascinating.

Coming from the folks behind The House of the Dead, Rise of Nightmares is appropriately both campy and ludicrous. Joshua and his wife Kate are on a trip, traveling abroad, on an unnamed train in an unspecified portion of Eastern Europe. Their relationship has clearly seen better days. Upset with her husband, Kate retreats to another compartment, needing some time to reflect. At this point players assume the role of Joshua, poking about the train and looking for his wife, with the hope of apologizing.

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While Rise of Nightmares was billed as a full-bodied, first-person zombie slasher, it is also an honest-to-god horror game. As Joshua searches for his wife several travelers are introduced aboard the train. The characters’ languages and accents differ, as well as backgrounds; the train is filled with a mishmash of personalities all thrown together, just like any horror movie setup. Soon after finding his wife, the train comes into a spot of trouble and this is where the meat of the adventure begins.

As a title completely controlled by gestures, Rise of Nightmares does its best to provide as responsive and intuitive a control scheme as possible. Place a foot forward to walk, step back to backpedal and the camera is controlled by twisting your shoulders. There’s little way around it, movement is inherently awkward, but more than adequate with practice. To fight, fists are raised in front of the player’s face, telling the game to take a combat stance. From this neutral position attacks can be blocked and the camera will automatically lock-on to a target of its choice. From there, the player can kick enemies to create distance, punch wildly with both hands or brandish a myriad of devilish, preposterous objects.

Where Rise of Nightmares falls into the most trouble is where many Kinect titles struggle; in transitioning from one gesture to the next. It’s too easy to die during combat, either trying to transition from an attack back to combat stance or from combat to walk, in hopes of escaping. Some of this blame falls on the shoulders of the player, failing to exaggerate certain gestures clearly enough for the Kinect to read, but knowing you personally screwed up is little consolation toward the fits of blind rage every death incurs. And, of course, these deaths are further exacerbated by Rise of Nightmare’s relatively stingy checkpoints – considering the nature of the game and the monotony of long stretches of combat, replaying any portion of the game can be a tall, infuriating order.

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What saves Rise of Nightmares from simply being an intolerable, mediocre Kinect experiment is its surprisingly engaging story and various forms of gameplay. Sega starts the game with an obviously cliché band of travelers, and like any slasher flick, the odds are not in their favor. People are going to die and it’s really a matter of whether you see it coming, or not. But, what elevates the story beyond the usual Halloween popcorn fare are the rolls your friends wind up playing, along with the unexpected revelations involving the game’s antagonist, Viktor.

Despite the engaging plot, Rise of Nightmares is still primarily a game concerned with letting the player dismember the undead in an escalating series of comical ways. There are dozens of weapons, including scalpels, machetes, explosive vials, a chainsaw and a pair of giant tongs. Different weapon types all have their own unique gestures associated and the chainsaw type and giant tong type clearly stand out as the most satisfying. Chainsaws are wielded with two hands, dragged across the screen, eviscerating anything stupid enough to get in its way. Tong types, also two handed, require a thrust of both hands towards the screen, yielding a ridiculous, satisfying sound effect and result. Both weapon types make the player look like an idiot, but remain a sadistic joy to brandish – not by coincidence, they also happen to be the easiest attack gestures for the Kinect to recognize.

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As fun as chopping up the mechanized undead may be, combat can become stale, even with the hilarious weapons available. To mix things up, most levels are highlighted by small variations in gameplay, along with a few huge alterations later on during the story. Gesture based quick-time events, moments of stealth, trap avoidance, bosses, all are fair game throughout the adventure, and wisely, Sega never overuses any of them. Everything is introduced to offer the player a different look and break up the experience, just enough so that each variation shows up when you need a breather from the title’s meat and potatoes.

It turns out that Rise of Nightmare’s mere existence is not its most surprising characteristic. What’s truly shocking is the fact that there is a real, substantiated horror experience tucked behind its Kinect veneer. It will test your patience, urge you to give up each and every time it doesn’t perfectly understand your gestures, but, if you stick with it and find a way to channel the fits of madness, Rise of Nightmares will reward you with Sega’s most daring in-house developed title in years.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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