The set-up to Rise of Nightmares is pretty straightforward stuff. Josh is a drunk and a bit of an idiot. He's going on a marriage-saving trip through Eastern Europe when the train he's on is hijacked by scary weirdoes and his wife ends up kidnapped by an evil scientist who lives in a nasty castle and likes to do very strange experiments on people.
The pitch for Rise of Nightmares is a little more complicated. This is a free-movement first-person Kinect game for the survival horror audience: a title that is effectively going to test whether the Fruit Ninja and Dance Central crowd want to bash in shambling corpses and barrel through a campaign filled with grim horror and sickly amusing torture. It raises some interesting questions. Is Kinect up to it? And, beyond that, is the audience up for it?
The second question will only be answered on release. As for the first, though, it's looking tentatively positive. Sega's AM1 team, which is making the game, has implemented a back-to-basics control scheme with some clever asides - and while there's a bit of a learning curve, after a few minutes with Rise of Nightmares you'll pretty much get the hang of it.
Movement is admirably simple: step forward to start walking, and lean your shoulders to the left or right in order to turn. Cornering suddenly is still a bit awkward, to be honest, but if you get lost you can always raise your hand and the game will snap you onto rails and whisk you to your next objective. Traversal's also filled with clever shortcuts: items you can interact with show up as little icons, and you can surf through some parts of the game by seeing an icon in the distance and activating it by holding out your hand. This pulls you right to it, and feels a little like clicking on interesting parts of the screen in Myst. (Not that there were that many interesting parts of the screen in Myst LOL.)
Combat's not bad either: raise your fists to enter focus mode, and then swing your arms to attack with whichever melee weapon you currently have in your possession. The targeting lock-on seems intelligent enough, and there's a gentle layering of tactics, since Kinect can sense the height and angle of your swing, meaning you can take off arms and heads if you're good enough. Meanwhile, all your weapons will degrade over time, so you're always on the lookout for something new.
The weapons are everything you'd hope for, too: machetes, bits of pipe and chainsaws amongst the melee offerings, throwing knives and little test tubes of volatile chemicals - think grenades - when it comes to ranged combat. These tools of the trade are liberally scattered around the game's roomy environments, and when you're down to just your fists, there's a nice shove move you can fall back on to make room while you look for something else to get bludgeoning with.
Beyond the controls, the game's shaping up to be schlocky and pleasantly eccentric. It may not be on rails anymore, but it's still everything you'd expect from the team that made the House of the Dead arcade titles.