Kinect has been on the market for a less than a year, and in that time has amassed no fewer than six dancing games, five fitness titles and an alarming number of minigame compilations, but where are the more mature titles for single players after a story? Rise of Nightmares may not completely fill the gap, but it'll do in a pinch.
The first 18/Mature-rated game for Kinect, Rise of Nightmares isn't like anything out on Kinect so far: There are no minigames, no dancing and definitely no Avatars. A first-person adventure horror game, it walks the fine and sometimes uncomfortable line between full-body control and sacrificing buttons.
The story does a decent job of bringing you in: You play as Josh, an American tourist travelling across Eastern Europe with his wife, Kate. An accident befalls their train and before you know it you're off to rescue Josh's wife from a crazed doctor and his part-mechanical bodyguard. Inspiration-wise it draws from Saw, Resident Evil 4 and any number of other horror titles, but if you can look past the lack of originality it does the job.
It's elsewhere that Rise of Nightmares has the most to prove. For being the first first-person adventure game for Kinect, as you'd expect it gets some parts right and some very wrong. To manoeuvre through the world you turn your shoulders to "aim" your character, putting one foot forward to walk in that direction, going faster or slower depending on how far forward you step, and there's a reverse command too. The system works reasonably well, although there are times you'll be bending your torso in positions to make Your Shape: Fitness Evolved look like a simple sit-down. If putting one foot in front of the other is too much exercise for you, most sections let you engage automatic movement by holding your right fist aloft. It might be convenient, but you'll miss out on hidden collectibles including weapons and tape recordings that flesh out the surrounding story.
Gestures are often used to activate certain in-game elements, from swiping to open a door to climbing ladders, running on the spot or ducking and crouching. For the most part they're recognised accurately, but the 100th time you've opened a door with a swipe of your hand you'll find yourself wishing the gestures had been dropped altogether.
The real meat of the motion controls lies in the combat, but anyone expecting an experience of any depth won't find it here. Although you can pick weapons up with either your left or right hand there's no dual-wielding, so while you might find yourself in a room full of ice picks and electric stun guns combat is a one-weapon affair, with your free hand used to punch ineffectively. Each weapon has a limited lifespan, too: Once expired you're left with just your fists, and punching your way through the undead isn't quite the thrilling experience you'd expect, your opponents proving so hardy you'll wonder how they ended up dead in the first place.
Although the main gist of the game is walk until combat, bludgeon enemy to death and repeat, when the combat gets fired up it offers some genuine fun — carving zombies open with a chainsaw really is as fun as the movies make it seem — but it lacks the versatility of something like Bulletstorm, where the combat is honed to adapt to your style. Rise of Nightmares is restricted in many areas including combat, but it muddles through.
The game itself won't last particularly long, but if you enjoy your first trip there's plenty to grab on repeat viewings, although the experience is largely the same save for an optional increase in difficulty. For anyone else, once will be enough.
Rise of Nightmares neither excels nor fails in the grand way some were expecting: it's riotously fun when it gets going, too much of the game is spent wading through dull, empty areas, and it never musters any real scares or sense of atmosphere. It's not a shining beacon of hardcore gaming on Kinect, but as a starting point it'll do.