Let me start by saying that I love SEGA’s House of the Dead series. Not only are they my go-to games anytime I stumble across an arcade, but I also have very fond memories of playing House of the Dead 2 during the early days of the SEGA Dreamcast. The on-rails zombie shooters are fun rides that combine two of my favorite things--video games and cheesy horror movies.
Rise of Nightmares is produced by Satoshi Ito, who worked on the original House of the Dead. With Rise of Nightmares, Ito and the development team have done a fantastic job of building on what’s great about the HotD games while taking full advantage of Microsoft’s motion-sensing Kinect peripheral. The result is an immersive experience that is an absolute blast to play.
In Rise of Nightmares, you take on the role of Josh--a guy with a bit of a drinking problem who is taking a romantic trip through Europe with his wife in order to try and salvage their marriage. Not long into your train ride through the countryside, a metal mask-wearing maniac shows up and kidnaps your wife, killing a bunch of people and derailing the train in the process. As you escape the wreckage, you track the killer to a mansion that is home to a depraved scientist that has a thing for human experimentation. In order to save your wife, you’ll have to battle through hordes of his “experiments,” undead minions that have been fused with clockwork limbs and weaponry. The story is pure B-movie horror, complete with a supporting cast of soon-to-be-dead twenty-somethings and Hostel rejects who you can’t wait to see dismembered. And you don’t have to wait long. As soon as you make it to the outskirts of the mansion grounds, the zombie hacking and slashing begins.
The controls in Rise of Nightmares are pretty easy to pick up, although they can be a little clunky at times. To walk forward, you put one foot forward. One foot backward gets you walking that way. To pan around, you just move your torso in the direction you want to look or move. In the early part of the game you get to spend some time getting used to the basic movements, and although I walked into my share of walls, I had a pretty good handle on movement once the action started. The game encourages you to walk around and explore, as there are collectibles strewn about the different locals, not the least of which are weapons, which you will absolutely want to pick up. You hold your hand over an object to interact with it, and the game does a great job of recognizing realistic motions when you have to open doors, crouch to get under objects, swim and even brush leeches and bugs off your arms. For those that struggle with the basic movement controls, there’s also an auto-move function, which you can activate by making a hand signal like you were about to take a right turn in your car.
While movement can be a little hit and miss, combat is where Rise of Nightmares shines. Without a weapon, you can punch and kick zombies into submission, and the Kinect does a fine job of recognizing your panicked, flailing movements. Weapons are more fun however, and there’s a lot of them in Rise of Nightmares. Pipes, machetes, throwing knives and chainsaws are some of the instruments of destruction you get to wield. Most of the weapons feel pretty unique when you use them--the pipe feels like a bludgeoning weapon, while you “guide” the chainsaw through the decaying meat of the zombies’ bodies (that never gets old). Surprisingly though, it was the Meat Mincer that I liked the most, even over the chainsaw (think an old-school manual egg beater, but with blades instead of whisks). Weapons will break after several attacks though, and for me some of the most panic-inducing moments in the game were when I strolled into a zombie-filled area and lost my weapon a few kills in. Make no mistake--you will be kickboxing zombies in this game--a lot.
You'll also need to combine movements when it comes to the boss battles. As you might expect, each one of them has a tell, so you’ll need to watch for it. For example, an early battle features a couple of undead ballerinas (former fellow travelers of yours), and you’ll need to crouch to avoid their attacks, leaving them vulnerable for you to bash their brains in. Other enemies will have you side and back-stepping to avoid attacks, or even covering your ears to protect yourself from sonic attacks. All in all, you can expect to get a pretty decent workout from this game, especially if you play for extended periods.
But is it scary, you ask? No, not in the traditional sense, but the immersion provided by the Kinect does create a sense of tension, and the game plays upon that in some great ways. An example of that is the masked maniac that kidnaps your wife in the beginning of the game. He roams the grounds and hallways of the mansion, and he detects enemies by sound. There are moments when he is in the same space as you, and you have to remain perfectly still or he will sense you and destroy you in one decapitating blow. I took a step when he was still too close to me, and it was a quick and gruesome death that made every future encounter with him that much more nerve-wracking.
All in all, Rise of Nightmares exceeded my expectations in just about every way. It’s a funhouse ride through all the B-horror movies that are near and dear to my heart, except this time, I get to be in them.
4 out of 5 Man-Faced Dogs
Check out the trailer below for Rise of Nightmares, but be forewarned--it’s not for the squeamish.