Nosferatu Hands-On Preview

We test-drive iGames' upcoming first-person horror game.

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Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi
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Despite the fact that the genre was pioneered on the PC with Alone in the Dark, survival-horror games have seen a lot more success on consoles in recent years than on the PC. Swedish developer Idol FX is looking to buck that trend with Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi, a new first-person horror game for the PC. We recently had a chance to try out a nearly complete version of the game.

The flintlock pistol must be reloaded after every shot, but it's powerful.
The flintlock pistol must be reloaded after every shot, but it's powerful.

You'll assume the role of the elder son of the Pattersons, a poor but noble family. Your sister Rebecca is set to marry the son of a Romanian count who lives in a foreboding castle in the Transylvanian mountains. Ignoring all the stereotypical traits of vampires in the count's family, the Pattersons proceed with a planned wedding at the count's estate, where you are due to arrive a day later than the rest of your family and the guests. Pulling up to the castle, you immediately discover that your entire family has gone missing, so it's up to you to explore the castle and rescue them.

The most unique aspect of Nosferatu is its "architectural generator" engine. This technology allows the game to create a unique layout of the castle each time you begin the game. It also rearranges the locations of the characters you must rescue and important items, such as keys that open up other parts of the castle. You're never quite sure what's lurking behind a door or around a corner, so this feature helps keep the shock value high and adds replay value to the game. Unfortunately, the random layout of the levels is probably the chief reason Nosferatu lacks an in-game map. Unless the developers at Idol FX manage to add one in at the last minute, you'll need a good memory to find your way around the castle.

Another unique aspect of the game is the clock that's constantly ticking in the upper left corner of the screen. Certain aspects of the game are tied to the clock. For example, one of the first scripted sequences you'll come across is the family priest falling from a window. He lands in the courtyard of the castle and is injured badly. He tells you that you have only a half hour to find the doctor trapped in the castle to tend to his injuries. It's actually possible for some of your family members to die if you take too long to rescue them. This hurts you in the long run, because rescuing different prisoners yields hints as to the location of others, as well as new weapons and items. For example, if you can rescue your Uncle Andrew, he will give you a revolver. Rescue the doctor before the priest dies, and he'll give you a chalice that you can use to collect holy water.

The weapons in the game include a sword, a single-shot flintlock pistol, a five-shot revolver, and even a machine gun. Other, more-traditional vampire-killing weapons include wooden stakes and a crucifix. What's interesting is that a number of these items serve dual purposes. For example, you can light a wooden stake on a torch hanging from the walls to create your own torch. Or you can use the crucifix on water to create holy water for fighting the zombies, ghouls, and vampires you meet. Different enemies have different weaknesses--some are more sensitive to certain types of weapons than others, and some can be hurt only by specific weapons.

The game's lighting contributes to the spooky atmosphere.
The game's lighting contributes to the spooky atmosphere.

The graphics in the game do look somewhat dated at this point, as the textures aren't very sharp and the game's models lack detail and animate somewhat stiffly. However, Nosferatu does make good use of lighting to create a spooky environment filled with menacing shadows. The game's sound effects also add to the atmosphere. A dynamic music engine cues up a number of different anxiety-inducing riffs each time you enter a room full of enemies, or if a monster starts sneaking up behind you.

Currently, Nosferatu: Wrath of Malachi is scheduled to ship this Halloween. Though its gameplay consists of simple exploration and survival elements, horror fans who have been left without a creepy first-person action game since Clive Barker's Undying may want to keep an eye out for this game.

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