Rise of Nightmares deserves some credit for trying to be different. Unlike most other Kinect titles, Sega's horror title eschews the device's on-rails standard, instead putting you in control of your character as you work your way through its monster-filled corridors. That doesn't stop the game from being a mostly boring, cliché-filled romp through a gruesomely bloody mansion, but it's definitely different.
The problem with Rise of Nightmares' controls is the same problem that plagued early Wii games: they used waggling the Wii Remote as a replacement for pushing a button. But when pressing a button works better than randomly shaking a controller, it just makes you want to play with a controller. Similarly, with Rise of Nightmares, Sega created a scheme that works, but which still contains too many frustrating quirks. And every time your character dies because of some mishap that would never have happened if you were playing with a controller, it just makes you want to give up on using the Kinect.
Still, it's surprising that the controls work as well as they do. I was pretty apprehensive starting out; you step forward to make your character move forward, raise your arms to fight, and flail at your enemies to kill them. It's simple, effective, and is gets you where you need to go. You'll still have plenty of moments where your character spins in circles as you try to navigate through a doorway, or where you're trying to target a specific enemy but are instead getting pummelled by a monster outside your line of sight. But for the most part, navigating the world just works. You (and the monsters you face) move at a slow pace, which is a numbing encumbrance when you're just trying to get down a hallway or put some distance between yourself and danger, but it also ensures that you feel like you're not helpless when facing a mob of enemies.
While exploring the game's blood-drenched halls, you'll come across more than enough weapons to let you dispatch whatever foes you come across. And that's a necessity, since your weapons break too quickly. No sooner will you find a chainsaw, kill a handful of monsters, then have to replace it with an iron pipe. Rinse. Repeat. But it's more annoying that you can't dual-wield, even if you're carrying a smaller weapon. Your off-hand is always a puny, useless fist. There's no inventory either, so if you're weapon does break at an inopportune time, you're pretty screwed.
The battles themselves work OK. You can swipe at your enemies and try to dismember or behead them...but throwing at a flurry of quick blows pretty much always works just as well (or better). But it gets tiresome after the tenth time you've been grabbed by a monster from out of nowhere and shaken him off, or dispatched yet another enemy in the same flailing manner -- despite having a lot of different weapons, they don't tend to change the way you fight.
While the stage layout is almost painfully linear at times, I still appreciate that the game includes a way to keep you on track: raise your right hand, and you'll follow the pre-set path you're supposed to take. Putting your hand down drops you right back into the game, and it saves you from wasting time when you're stuck in another samey looking corridor or you're just tired of accidentally spinning in circles by the wall because the sensor can't tell that you're trying to face forward.
As an experiment in creating an interesting control scheme, Rise of Nightmares is a success. The game itself is a heinously boring gore-fest filled with laughably bad writing and combat that quickly grows stale, and there's still a lot of room for improvement in the Kinect implementation. But if the game had been as unique as the controls, and it didn't just try to directly map first-person action gameplay onto a less responsive format, Rise of Nightmares could have been something pretty special.