Most Kinect games are a great opportunity to get your friends and family over, huddle round the TV and share a few laughs as you flap about in comical fashion. Rise of Nightmares isn't one of those games. SEGA's upcoming Kinect game is one to play alone, with the volume cranked up and the lights left on.
But Kinect doesn't like it when the lights are off.
It starts on a train, which snakes through the countryside of Eastern Europe. Our man, Josh, is enjoying a few brewskies (he's on holiday, after all), trying to block out the sound of his wife's incessant nagging. Eventually, she works herself into such a state that she gets up and wanders off down the train. She doesn't come back. And that's where the whole nightmare begins.
Setting off down the carriage in search of her, you get your first sense of how the game handles - how it uses Kinect (and only Kinect) to take you through its world. Getting your character from A to B is an interesting affair. Rock onto your right foot and you'll slowly plod forward. Turn your right shoulder to your left, and you'll turn left; turn your left shoulder to the right, and you'll turn right. That's all there is to it, really, but even with a setup as simple as this, it's incredibly hard work to get Josh to do what you want him to do. Trying to stop him from walking backwards was the single biggest challenge during my time with the game.
Thankfully, SEGA has implemented a feature that allows an AI to take over for as long as you wish. You can actively choose to put the game on rails, should you feel the need to (and you probably will). Pop your right hand in the air and Josh will walk on his own for as long as you keep it there, taking you to the next objective.
Anyway, Josh doesn't have much luck finding his dear wife, and to make matters worse the train soon derails, crashing in a dark and ominous forest. It becomes apparent that Josh's wife has been kidnapped and taken to an old castle looming in the darkness.
It also transpires that our kidnapper does more than just abduct pretty young women: he creates monsters out of body parts and random bits of metal.
Much like 2007's Condemned, also published by SEGA, combat is distressingly up close and personal. There are no guns (or at least I didn't see any during my time with the game), and you'll rely entirely on melee weapons and your fists to keep yourself safe. To initiate combat and lock-on to an enemy, all you need to do is raise your fists - much like how a boxer might defend himself. Depending on what weapon you've got equipped, you'll need to use the appropriate action to use it. Got a pipe? Swing it. Wearing a pair of brass knuckles? Pummel the air. Found some scalpels? Throw 'em. If you're without a weapon, simply punching and kicking should do the job.
During my time with the game, I saw a pleasant amount of violence and gore. I saw a man cut in half by a huge sheet of jagged metal which dropped from the ceiling. I saw a couple squashed to death by two moving walls. I saw a man being tortured; first his hand was cut off, and then a knife was plunged into his head, a fountain of red gushing from the wound. It's a bloody and gruesome game, but there's a hint of silliness to it all. During the torture scene, the crazed scientist is on the phone to his wife, trying to balance a domestic with his sadistic urges. The fact that the game is developed by the same team as the House of the Dead series (pre Overkill) shouldn't come as a surprise.
Outside of combat, you're exploring the castle, trying to find clues to your wife's whereabouts. To progress from one area to the next, you'll often need to solve a simple puzzle and find a key - a structure not dissimilar to the classic Resident Evil games. At one point, I had to fish a key out of a toilet filled with thick red blood. There are numerous occasions where you need to mimic the action that Josh would do in that situation - flipping a switch, or climbing a ladder, for example. In this case, I had to reach into an imaginary lavatory to retrieve a key from a bloody u-bend. Lovely.
Rise of Nightmares is the most ambitious Kinect game I've seen to date. While movement was awkward and combat quickly got irksome, I was impressed that an experience like this was even possible without a controller. When it's just you and the TV, and you're mimicking the actions of the character you're playing as, immersion is heightened somewhat. Whether the frustrations that come with Kinect manage to take you out of that experience, however, remains to be seen.
Rise of Nightmares is due for release in September, exclusively on Xbox 360