Originally Published: September 6, 2011, on EGMMAG.com

The Good: The first real “hardcore” game on the Kinect
The Bad: The lack of ever feeling in real danger, fatigue from playing too long
The Ugly: The macabre clockwork zombies you’ll face by the dozens

Rise of Nightmares is being touted as the first “hardcore” game for the Kinect as it focuses more on a single player narrative experience instead of the party or fitness games we’ve seen to date. You play as Josh, an American tourist on vacation in Romania, trying to put his marriage back together with his wife. While taking a train through the countryside, you and your wife get into another argument and she storms off towards the dining car. After some time, you pursue her, but when you finally catch up, the unimaginable is waiting for him. A Frankenstein like-monster has your wife in his arms and as you begin to give chase, the train derails and is flung into a river. When you come to, you and the other survivors come across a mansion in the woods and your instincts say that whatever that thing was, it took your wife here.

Rise of Nightmares may break ground as the first “hardcore” Kinect game, but I feel it is more limited by the technology than empowered by it. If you really want to set the mood and try to give yourself a scare by turning off the lights while playing, you can’t because then the Kinect can’t see you and you can’t progress so whether you like it or not, all the lights in the room have to stay on.

Then comes the combat. There are no guns in the game so you have to get up close and personal with nearly every foe you face. And while it does feel satisfying to punch a zombie out with brass knuckles, bash what’s left of their brains in with a lead pipe, or dismember them with a bloody chainsaw, because of all the movement that is involved with setting yourself up for the kill, the game’s A.I. is beyond simple to prevent frustration with the Kinect controls. In turn, this nullifies the fear factor because you never feel like your character is in any real danger most of the time when the zombies shuffle onto the screen. Many zombies will simply shamble right into the path of whatever weapon you are wielding and the larger challenge comes in keeping your real-life stamina up than in mowing down the constant stream of proverbial cannon fodder.

And this leads us to the fatigue factor. Although the movement and combat controls are simplified and picked up rather well for the most part once you get used to them, like shifting your shoulders to turn around, sticking one leg out to walk, and various quick time inspired events like ducking or climbing, you may become too tired to devote a long amount of time to the game per play session. I played for three hours the first time I put the disc in and didn’t realize till afterward that since movement is only controlled by one leg, that what became my pivot leg’s knee had locked up from putting my weight on it constantly for much of the game as I explored the castle grounds.

Despite what are really just minor annoyances though, the game is actually a solid experience overall. You could write off the “shambling” of the zombies to their uniquely written macabre clockwork origins, even if they aren’t that threatening, and the plot is engaging enough, with just enough cheesy B-horror movie voice acting, to make you want to push on with the story and find out the mysteries lurking in the castle. There are also some very satisfying moments sprinkled in like digging through a fresh cadaver or fishing through a blood filled toilet for items, or luring zombies into some of the mansion’s traps like giant rotating blades or electrified water. It’s just at the end of the day, although different from any other gaming experience I’ve ever had because of the Kinect controls, I can’t help but feel that I would have preferred having a traditional controller in my hand during a lot of it. Still, if you’re looking to get some more use out of your Kinect, this is a fine example of the potential for this device if developers turn themselves away from the cheesy party and exercise games and really focus on giving you a gaming experience.

Score: 7.0