I was legitimately excited when I heard Rise of Nightmares was coming out. I saw a demo and felt a unique atmosphere building as the main character descended further into the madness that infects the eerie castle he is trapped in. I thought they could pull it off. I thought they could master the Kinect controls, giving me precise and accurate movement when swinging a weapon. I thought the story was going to be full of B-level horror fun, if not frightening and horrific. Rise of Nightmares is horrific, but for all the wrong reasons.
The game’s nonsensical plot begins with two people who get crushed by a wall as they’re trying to escape the dungeon they are trapped in. Suddenly you’re on a train and your wife is yelling at you because you’ve been drinking again. Once I actually took control of Josh, the protagonist of the story, I suddenly realized the horror I had stepped into. The characters are paper-thin, poorly constructed, horribly mediocre, and terribly cliché. There is no motivation behind any of the actions taking place, nor are the characters interesting enough to care. Essentially the story is about this mad doctor who wants to resurrect his dead wife and Josh must stop him. Standard bread and butter that hasn’t really changed since The Island of Doctor Moreau, except here the experiments are on people, not animals. Maybe it is a metaphor for how people are the real monsters… but that is giving Rise of Nightmares too much credit as a narrative.
This being a Kinect game, Rise of Nightmares expects you to use your full body as the controller. The problem is the nightmare these controls create. It feels as though the game is toying with me saying I’m too close to the camera, but then immediately saying I’m too far away. Most of the time I would use arguably one of the best features in the game, the ability to forfeit control and not bump into walls or have trouble with the speed in which you walk. This command is initiated by holding your right arm at a 90-degree angle. If my preferred method of controlling a game is to take the control away from me, there is something terribly wrong with the system of movement. In combat the controls are better, you swing a random weapon you pick up in the world (anything from machetes, to pipes, to exploding test tubes) with the hand that is holding it on screen. The camera will lock onto the nearest enemy and sometimes zoom towards them to help out the player. A very noticeable delay occurs when you swing your weapon to when the action appears on screen, which caused my death numerous times. You can kick enemies as well, but that technique is far from helpful.
While movement and combat are utterly mediocre and actually hindered by the use of Kinect, there are times when Rise of Nightmares shines as bright as the room you need to play it in. During certain moments, you are tasked with participating in quick-time events to solve puzzles or pass obstacles. Since you are the controller with Kinect you perform the events happening on screen yourself. If spikes are about to shoot out of the wall, literally duck out of the way. If a blade is falling from the ceiling, literally side step out of the way. Some enemy types even have neat mechanics, such as a screecher (as I call her) that screams as loud as possible and you have to actually cover your ears to stop from dying. Then there is my favorite enemy, the most tension-filling part of Rise of Nightmares, when you must stand perfectly still to avoid being heard by a big hulking monster. It is too bad none of these motion mechanics are used more than a few times, other than climbing ladders which is a ridiculous motion to waste time doing.
Rise of Nightmares doesn’t look all that great either. There is little to no atmosphere for the majority of the game and the textures look washed out. Nothing screams visual fidelity; it’s just there. Really, it looks like sections from Resident Evil 4, only not as crisp as the upcoming HD remake looks to be. Loud record scratches and a “scary” music score plague the entirety of the experience, and only in one section is sound design accurately used to create a sense of atmosphere that horror games are known to need if they wish to excel. Everything about visual and sound design is just bland, mediocre, and nothing special at all. Of course, this game is rated M and you should expect buckets of blood and gore. In fact there are even a few sections where you’re literally wadding through pools of blood. It isn’t effective and the game doesn’t do anything special to earn a good M rating. It’s as if they just wanted an M to be labeled as the only Kinect game with that rating which only further negates the small amount of good qualities it has. Overall Rise of Nightmares just lacks polish of any kind.
Score: 5 out of 10.