Motion gaming and me. Where to begin? It's been a bit of a roller coaster, but for the most part, my experiences with motion gaming have been either decent or disappointing. The Wii never lacked in terms of quantity of motion titles, but it has always lacked in quality. PlayStation Move and Kinect suffer from similar shortcomings right now, but Sega's latest release, Rise of Nightmares, has become my favorite motion game to date, and I'd like to share why.
Survive the Mystery
Rise of Nightmares (RoN) was developed in house at Sega by the AM1 team, the same team that created The House of the Dead franchise. So it's no wonder that RoN looks a lot like HotD. Most of the story in RoN does indeed take place in a large mansion, where zombies are eager to chew on your brains. Players find themselves in this mansion in search of their wife, who was kidnapped just before the train they were both on mysteriously derailed. The story does a fine job of being mysterious and compelling throughout. Anyway, one of the key differences between RoN and HotD is that RoN uses melee weapons, while HotD relies on firearms.
Rather than compare and contrast those two, which is pointless, I instead tend to compare RoN my other motion gaming experiences, and that's where RoN really stands out. The biggest factors contributing toward this are a compelling story and atmosphere, fun and engaging gameplay, and motion controls that work really well. Furthermore, the gestures used make sense, and they make the experience far more satisfying, engaging, and enjoyable than it would be with a controller.
The experience begins with a sneaky tutorial mission that is actually just a short prologue. You wake up in a dungeon cell with a woman who is hoping you can think of a way to get out of this creepy place. Over the course of the next ten minutes, you learn some of the most basic gestures RoN employs, such as walking, combat, and item interaction.
Walking and looking around took a little getting used to, upwards of an hour, but it's a minor and forgiving learning curve. From the default standing, relaxed position, to move your character forward, simply move either foot forward and leave it there. The distance between your original position and where you place your foot determines how quickly your character will walk. Running is saved for scripted events, and you don't have to step out to any comfortable distance at any point in the game to get a very comfortable, realistic walking speed. To walk backwards, simply move one foot behind you.
To look around in the game world, you simply twist your shoulders to the left or right slightly. The first person camera view in game shifts smoothly in the direction of the shoulder that is moving towards your back. Of course you cannot look up and down, which would take your eyes off the screen, but the game adjusts your view up and down at certain points where it makes sense to do so.
Walking and looking around at the same time takes some coordination, and it wasn't long before I decided it's not a lot of trouble to simply stop walking and then look around. It's worth exploring the RoN world too, even though it's a linear level design with dead end alternate paths. 'Archive' items act as this game's collectibles, and include numerous cassette tapes from a detective who seems to have studied the dark forest and mansion before your arrival, and tarot cards from a creepy Romanian fortune teller who has an important place in the story. There are a few 'Look' interactions as well, where you can choose to look at a brief, in-game event.
But say you take one of these alternate paths, or just get lost, or heck -- just don't want to 'walk' yourself? The solution is simple, look for the 'auto' icon in the upper right of the screen. You will see an image of a person with their right hand up. Anytime you see this, you can simply hold your right hand up, as though you were about to ask the Kinect a question, and the game will automatically turn and walk you to the next plot location. Using this 'auto' feature does mean you will walk right past alternate paths, weapons, and collectibles though, so just be aware. Of course, you can stop the automatic motion by lowering your hand at any time.
I found getting around easy, reliable, and smartly designed. In addition to walking, there's a lot of zombie bashing to do, and for that you will primarily be using melee objects and striking motions. Sure, you can always use your fists, but that's not a sustainable alternative. Weapons are readily visible in the game world, but they aren't so obtrusively marked as to take much away from the atmosphere. There are over forty weapons -- hatchets, machetes, giant tongs, brass knuckles, ice saws (love these), fireplace pokers, even a chainsaw. The variety of weapons is commendable and finding new ones is a treat. You can only carry one weapon at a time, and the weapons either have a finite limit -- such as the explosive test tube vials -- or they break after so many uses. You can tell when a weapon is about done by a glowing icon in the lower left of the screen when in combat mode. Fortunately, a replacement weapon is usually never too far out of reach.
Combat works well; you can kick with either leg, punch with either hand, and wield one handed weapons in whichever hand they picked the weapon up with. With the other hand, you're free to punch, making for some decent combos. Weapons can be swung vertically, or to the side, although not in upper cut fashion nor diagonally. Oh, and aim for the fleshy parts, unless you have an electrically charged weapon, as some of the zombies have metallic replacement body parts.
By holding up both hands in a typical boxer's stance, your player automatically focuses on the nearest enemy, and will block their attacks automatically. Plus, if you are using one of the few throwing weapons, like the scalpels, you will be locked onto them. Target switching was smooth and in general, the combat favors success -- as long as you block, keep yourself out of the middle of a group, and aim even slightly well, you should be ok for most encounters. Dying, either from combat or a trap (of which there are many), leads to a brief death animation followed by an annoying, ten second 'your dead' video.
The variety of enemies is pretty good, although I got bored of seeing several of them over and over again. Some zombies charge at you, creating face to face encounters until you push them away, others will instantly kill you if you aren't perfectly still as they slowly pace by you. Fortunately, the game prompts you to know when it's safe to move, but these encounters are intense nonetheless. Another enemy screams really loudly, and if you're close enough, you take damage quickly. Your defense? Literally cover your ears, which I thought was a really neat use of motion control.
Interactions, in non-combat situations are nicely done, too. Climbing ladders, pulling levers, ducking,
turning a crank, swimming, swatting bugs and flies away, and opening doors are fairly common actions. I liked the attention to detail with the doors, as silly as this sounds -- when you come up to a single door, you can open it with one hand, but a double door set requires that you use gestures from both hands to open it, which I thought was a nice touch. The good thing about all of the gestures is that they're reliable and sensible.
As far as presentation quality goes, RoN looks good, but not great. Graphics have a constant light grain to them, which I think was intentional, but overall the visual appeal is kept in check by a lack of sharpness and detail across the board. I didn't experience any clipping issues or framerate problems though, so while it's not a graphical powerhouse, it does well for itself. About my only complaint would be the re-use of a lot of the zombies, so you'll see the same ones almost a little too often. Sound design is similarly good, but perhaps not all that memorable.
To the summary...