E3 2011: Rise of Nightmares hands-on preview

Torture porn meets Kinect controls in this survival horror oddity

Rise of Nightmares is borderline comical in its violence. In a scene we can assume is close to the opening of the game, you come to bound to a chair in a dark room. Across from where you’re positioned, another man is also bound, speaking in German – begging probably – with a would-be jailer to be released. Ignoring his pleading captor, this menacing figure, who resembles a mad surgeon (bloody apron included) picks up an axe. Without much warning, and as the German man is still talking, brutally severs his hand. The german screams.
“Why did you that?” he chokes, in a panic.
“Why not?” the doctor-type says.

It’s an odd and unsettling scene – it doesn’t take much longer for the German ends up with that axe buried in his skull – but you can’t help but laugh at the nonsensical grotesquery. This is, from what we played at least, par for the course in Rise of Nightmares. The game seems to be hewn from the same bloody cloth as Eli Roth’s Hostel – a man finds himself desperately searching for his missing wife somewhere in Europe, only to end up in the horrific castle of a mad scientist who has been turning people into hideous monsters with cybernetic implants, and evidently has a fetish for removing body parts and replacing them with blades.

Does any of this nightmare imagery make sense? Not in the slightest. From what we can tell, Rise of Nightmares is among the top-tier of the most ridiculous Japanese horror games. But that probably won’t matter once you start brutalizing monsters and zombies wth a wide array of gore-amplifying weaponry. Did we mention this game is for the Kinect?

If that last sentence has you worried, we’ll give to you straight: Rise of Nightmares’ controls take some getting used to. The game operates using only a handful of gestures – stepping one foot forward or backward controls movement, while shoulder twisting is used for turning. Put up hand to interact with objects or both hands up in boxing position to bring up a weapon. Contextual gesturing is also in play here, so you can open doors or, say, beat back a zombie with a pushing motion.

Although we were assured that the action-heavy demo was only one part of the game’s overall adventure game feel, the combat in Rise of Nightmares has a good, strong feel. A quick jab forward will knock back an enemy with a corresponding move, and you can use your melee by swiping directionally (think Dead Space Extraction’s Arc Cutter). The real fun here comes from the various weapons you can pick up – in the demo we played with brass knuckles (both regular and electrified), rusty tongs, a chainsaw, and an ice saw that happened to look more like a machete. With weapon in hand, you can make short work of the braindead enemies. That said, it’s damn satisfying when you get to watch the effects of several repeated forward strikes on the brain matter of an enemy.

Despite the wonky movement (which can be fixed, to some degree, by gesturing to use an auto move feature a la Killer 7) the Kinect’s responsiveness to your commands is pretty decent, so kicking the crap out of whatever is in front of you is that much more fun. It’s not as fast (or scary) as Condemned, but it gets its points across, spilling buckets of blood in doing so. This is much more a survival horror game than an action title though, and during a few lulls in combat we had to solve simple switch and key puzzles. Don’t let its Kinect trappings fool you – a little polish and this could be one the motion sensor’s most interesting core games. Rise of Nightmares hits sometime later this year.

Jun 13, 2011

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