A survival horror game with twisted undead monsters, gory set-pieces and bloody action with ridiculously brutal weapons. Not exactly the kind of game you’d expect on the Kinect, is it? But SEGA has taken the first noble step to a core-based motion-controlled future with Rise of Nightmares, and a fine job it’s doing too from the looks of things.
Things get squeamish right off the bat, with an introductory level set in some kind of underground dungeon ala Hostel
. You play a prisoner who attempts to escape, with the help of a female companion. As you get to learn the controls, things take a turn for the worse as your character finds himself in a Star Wars
garbage crusher situation. You think they’re going to survive. They must do, you’re playing as one of them. Ah. Nope. They get squished. Roll title credits.
Rise of Nightmares
isn’t just getting attention for its gruesome content, however. It’s one of the first games for Microsoft’s camera device that allows the player to move freely in a 3D environment, much like a first-person adventure game. As a result, it offers a more sophisticated gameplay experience than any previous Kinect title.
The game’s producer, Satoshi Ito, has been toying around with the Kinect hardware for quite some time in order to achieve this free-roaming experience, and is a bit of a fan. “It’s really revolutionary and I see a big future for it,” he tells me, explaining his thoughts of the hardware. “In particular, what attracted me to the device was that added sense of depth that can be applied to motion-sensing games. With previous motion controls your objective was mostly about moving left and right, or up and down. You can move forwards here and account for depth.
Movement in Rise of Nightmares
is registered largely by turning your shoulders to direct the camera, and placing your right foot forward to walk ahead. This takes some real getting used to obviously, but it’s a really intriguing and immersive system when you put in the work. There were one or two niggles in registering your movements accurately - and it’s quite difficult to move forward at any real speed without the game telling me that I’m standing too close to the camera - but hopefully these will be ironed out before release. They’re not so bad to be game-breaking either way.
Once you’ve gotten used to basic movement, the game will ask you to perform various other actions to explore the world. Climbing down ladders requires you to squat, and to survive certain scenes you’ll need to be literally running on the spot as fast as you can. In calm situations though, if the constant shuffling of the shoulders is getting to be too much for you, you can raise your right hand and have your character move through certain areas automatically. It won’t work all the time though - you’ll have to figure out the puzzles and survival sequences yourself.
The best way to avoid dying is to have a weapon to hand. Luckily, pickups are clearly marked on the screen as you progress through each level, and grabbing items is a simple case of holding your hand out over it. Taking up a fighting stance will allow you to swing your arms to beat down horrific-looking attackers - these range from crazy undead nurses to bizarre looking Japanese rockers wielding electric cattle prods.
Satoshi Ito told me that it was a challenge to find the right balance for player input without making them feel too tired. “From a very early stage, we wanted to have a free-roaming world where you could around and explore. We were quite determined to achieve this - we originally tried making your steps register 1:1 movement with the character, but we abandoned that for various reasons. We wanted players to explore the world with minimal effort.”
The producer also explained that the slow-paced nature of the game wasn’t down to any kind of limitations with the Kinect hardware. “I think it’s more about the limitation of the player - requiring you to do lots of very quick actions with little time to do it would not be a feasible game idea. It’s not possible to move too fast and have that register. We went for a speed that is quite natural for the situation that you find yourself in.”
I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a typical situation though. After the opening sequence, you take control of a man who will become the game’s main character, who’s on a train in Romania on holiday with his other half. They have a bit of a barney and she goes running off. In your attempt to find her, a crazy-looking demon dude totally flips his shit and derails the train. From there, you embark on a rather twisted adventure where almost everything is trying to kill you.
As you can tell from the screens, it’s all reminiscent of a classic SEGA survival horror title - House of the Dead
. In fact, Ito-san’s past works have included the light gun series, as well as other visceral titles for the Japanese publisher. “There were other inspirations as well though - as part of our research we watched quite a lot of movies and studied their contents. Hostel
is a good example, but the train sequence was actually inspired by the mystery film Murder on the Orient Express
Your journey after surviving the train crash takes you to a cave with some fellow survivors, through a swamp and down to an underground dungeon - which you’ll recognise from the start of the game. From there, you come close to certain death at the hands of a Frankenstien
-esque scientist, but are busted out by one of the crash survivors.
As you solve puzzles and explore tight passageways to reach the surface, you’re very quickly separated from said friend in a very messy way. I won’t spoil it for you, but there are many surprising twists and turns in a Final Destination
kind of way. And by that I mean the first film, not any of the toss that followed.
It’s certainly very gruesome and really quite immersive to play, but does Ito-san think that enough people with Kinect will want to run out and buy Rise of Nightmares given Microsoft’s heavy marketing push to families? “I think the Kinect audience is roughly split into two kinds of users. One kind is the user that knew about the peripheral even before Microsoft started marketing it as a family-friendly device. Those gamers have been waiting for this type of game, so they’ll be expecting it. I’m sure they will accept it quite readily.
“There is of course, another kind of audience which is the family-friendly market. We will have to wait and see how the parents and older players react to the game, but Rise of Nightmares
is not something that has been done on this device before. So hopefully they will give it a go on that basis.”
Another family-friendly console in the market that uses motion controls is the Wii - could Rise of Nightmares
eventually see a port of sorts to the Nintendo platform? Perhaps even Sony’s own PlayStation Move? “It’s really different mechanics, so it will be hard to port it,” Ito-san said. “We don’t have any current plans to make this game available for other platforms.” Having said that, having checked out the Wii U recently the producer does think there is potential for Nintendo’s next console to innovate in the horror space.
“I think there’s opportunity and potential in the Wii U, for creating a horror game. It would be interesting, just as a really rough idea, to have something that you would only be able to see on the handheld controller. You won’t be able to see it on the TV, and you’d need to be really attentive to what’s going on. I think something like that would be great.”
For now though, Rise of Nightmares
has all the hallmarks of a classic SEGA horror game, with innovative motion controls that work pretty well to boot. Compared to a traditional controller-based first-person adventure, this may seem quite rudimentary, but the added level of immersion and interactive story twists are likely to make up for that.
Ito-san laughed as I recalled to him the surprising things that happened to me during my playthrough, and said “As you play further into the game you will see an unexpected turn of events. I mean, really big - I can assure you, you’ll never guess what’s going to happen!”
Rise of Nightmares is heading for an exclusive release on Kinect in September.