Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi is billed as a horror first-person shooter and is the first title from Swedish game developer Idol FX. This is a creepy and fun game featuring a well-realised spooky old castle and a host of classic horror monsters. Standard FPS game-play and a good overall atmosphere are let down slightly by the obvious low budget nature of the title and some nasty design flaws.
You play as James Patterson, a British sabre fencer on your way to Carpathia to attend your sister´s wedding. However your new brother-in-law is a nasty vampire and he has been tormenting your family in his huge castle. You have to rescue them and see them safely to the sanctuary, slaying a lot of ghosts, vampires, demon dogs and other assorted nasties along the way. There is also a time limit to consider, and as the clock ticks down to the witching hour family members you have been unable to save will die. The story is the usual cliched horror tale and the game is really focused on exploration and battle.
Upon entering the game you find yourself in a courtyard with the three wings of the castle before you. The setting looks great, and despite cheap textures, a creepy atmosphere is achieved through the use of lighting and a grainy effect on the screen. Scripted events such as the priest crashing through the window into the courtyard to land at your feet are very effective and even the sepia toned read out of important events which flashes up is nicely done and seems to work.
Initially access is extremely limited and you must find keys to access new areas. It seems as though every room contains some kind of evil creature and you have to work out what is the most effective way of killing them. For example the ghosts can only be destroyed by the crucifix while vampires can be beaten easily if you stake them before they get out of their coffins. The combat itself is not great, poor animations and a clunky feel let it down. The sword is an attractive prospect but Nosferatu provides yet more evidence that you can´t do swords effectively in first-person.
There are some nicely straightforward ideas behind the game-play here, each family member you successfully rescue and take back to the sanctuary will open their suitcase and give you a useful item. This re-enforces your desire to save them and you can see how many more need to be saved by glancing at the remaining suitcases. The time limit is another good idea which works well with the game and really adds to the suspense.
The maps themselves are supposedly randomly generated and so upon exploring the same facade you will find a different configuration of rooms within every time you play a new game. This sounds great and I thought it would provide a lot of replay value but the maps are so basic and generic that it is very hard to tell whether the map has really changed at all. Identical corridors and rooms with nothing in them are hard to tell apart and sadly you have to run back and forth through them a little too much as you find new keys and access areas which were previously blocked to you.
The main flaw is the random nature of the spawning creatures. They seem to spawn in different amounts, in random fashion, across the rooms of the castle every time you play. This really annoyed me, I especially dislike going back through rooms I have already cleared only to find more monsters spawning there. Not least because the combat is very tough, limited ammo and a very slow reload rate make the guns almost as ineffective as the sword and so three enemies can quite easily pin you in a corner and devour you. The AI is rather poor, they lack basic path finding skills and this makes them look more than a bit buggy at times.
The voice acting is passable and terribly British old chap but the music really makes the game. Nosferatu achieves most of the tension and atmosphere through a fantastic musical score which genuinely has you jumping in your seat at times. A mixture of foreboding noises and dark violin really sets the scene. The only negative is that sometimes the big scare music is cued and then nothing scary happens you´ll glance around panicked only to find the room empty.
There is no doubt that this game was cheap to produce (by game development standards) but they have done a very good job with their limited resources and produced an enjoyable title which is worth a look. I´m not a fan of the random spawn features, the shoddy AI or the boring map geometry but the overall atmosphere is very well done and as a horror fan I did have some fun playing this game.