Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi
Review by MrLipid
Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi is just a patch or two away
from being a great, great game. As it stands now, it is a great
idea crippled by a few really annoying bugs.
Something Borrowed, Something Grue ...
Nosferatu is not the first title to combine the conventions
and game engine of a first-person shooter with the mood of dread
that characterizes the best survival horror. Clive Barker's Undying
owns that honor. Nor is Nosferatu the first title to
require its hero to escort civilians to safety through a world filled
with the undead. Nocturne
showed how to do that. Nor is Nosferatu the first title
to randomize huge chunks of its game world to enhance replayability.
II added that twist some time ago. Nor is Nosferatu
the first first-person shooter to offer players a single huge
world to explore. Killing Time takes that prize. Nosferatu
is, however, the first game to bring all those elements together
and the result, but for a few unfortunate bugs, is very entertaining.
Our Story So Far ...
The basic premise is simple. You take the role of James Patterson,
a young man attending the marriage of his sister, Rebecca. The wedding
is taking place at creepy old Castle Malachi, deep in the heart
of Transylvania, because Becky is marrying the son of a Romanian
When you arrive, well after dark and a day later than your family
and friends, you find that your family and friends (even your dog!)
have disappeared. Well, not exactly disappeared. They are being
held in the castle by dark forces (or simply hiding in the castle
from the aforementioned dark forces), and it is your job to get
You learn what you must do through title cards of the sort found
in silent films like, for example, Murnau's Nosferatu, from
which the game draws substantial esthetic, though not narrative,
inspiration. Your first clue regarding the previous day's events
at Castle Malachi comes when kindly old Father Aville spells out
for you, after bursting through an upper story window and landing
at your feet, just what sort of family your sister is marrying into.
Oh, dear. Seems the Count is a vampire. (Anyone who wants to say,
"Funny, he didn't look chewish," should do so now. But
never mind that.) Father Aville informs you that "Dr. Amersfield,
Aunt Emelie, Uncle Andrew and Gregory are hiding in the East Wing.
You must find and rescue them!" Father Aville then provides
you with a crucifix with which to vaporize any bloodsuckers you
might encounter. That, and the cane sword you carry in your suitcase
and the wooden stakes you've found scattered about, are the only
weapons you have as you start your quest.
Once you find the key that unlocks the East Wing, you begin your
search for the members of the wedding party. As you explore Castle
Malachi, you'll find copies of Father Aville's Encyclopedia of the
Undead. Each volume offers a bit of vital information on which weapon
can subdue which threat. The cane sword, for example, while perfectly
adequate against a possessed peasant with a scythe, is useless against
Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's off to Work We Go ...
As you find each member of the wedding party and successfully guide
her or him to safety, you are rewarded with items that can improve
your odds against the undead: special keys, powerful potions, a
sacred chalice that can be filled with holy water. (Turning ordinary
water into holy water is one of Nosferatu's best effects.
A flash of power from the crucifix and ordinary water starts to
glow as if residing in a well-tended, bottom-lit swimming pool.
Or the cooling vessel of a nuclear reactor.) And could any vampire
hunt be considered complete without tasty, fragrant, cholesterol-lowering
Fail to rescue someone and you may lose access to whatever item
that someone was going to give you. When that item turns out to
be, say, a machine gun, the value of getting everyone out in one
piece becomes clear. Botch too many rescues and you may not have
enough firepower at the end of the game to take on the final boss,
save the world, etc. And, unlike the previously mentioned first-person
shooters, there is no way to acquire all weapons without actually
playing the game. Imagine that.
You Got Your Nocturne in My Diablo II!
Fans of Nocturne know how challenging it can be to (a) locate
civilians who've hidden themselves from the undead and then to (b)
escort those civilians to safety. Fans of Nocturne also know
that a number of walkthroughs are available to help them find those
hidden civilians. This is where Nosferatu becomes truly diabolical.
Or, at any rate, Diablo II-ical.
Other than a few areas that remain constant, the architecture of
creepy (and enormous) old Castle Malachi randomizes at the start
of each new game. And the randomization doesn't stop with the architecture.
Power-ups, ammo and keys, as well as many of your friends and relatives,
also change locations from game to game.
By placing civilian escort missions in a game world that is never
the same from one game to the next, Nosferatu provides a
level of engagement not usually found in first-person shooter or
survival horror titles. Will I be able to find my friends, relatives
and dog? Assuming I find them, can I remember the way back? Assuming
I can remember the way back, can I keep them alive until we reach
safety? Oh, and did I mention that all of this has to happen before
the sun comes up? And that throughout the night friends and family
will be killed if not reached in time? Sound like enough of a challenge?
Look Here First ...
As the comments of Father Aville indicate, action in Nosferatu
is not completely random. Every game starts in the East Wing.
Developer Idol FX has taken pains to provide players with just enough
direction to keep play moving forward. Of course, it's one thing
to know that one has to make it to the clock tower and another to
figure out where the clock tower actually is.
(Massive disclaimer: I freely admit to using a trainer to
keep me alive. Worrying about my own hide while searching the castle
and escorting folks out of it seemed like one thing too many to
have on my already heaping plate. And, having said that, I never
would have believed that it would be possible to create a game where
making the player invulnerable makes so little difference in the
balance of the gameplay. Even making the civilians invulnerable
would not change things all that much. Still have to find them and
still have to get them out in order to acquire the weapons.)
Looking Good, Sounding Better
Visually, Nosferatu offers an appropriately dark and muted
palette, suggesting a world long devoid of life. One can almost
smell the musty stillness in the empty rooms. Empty, that is, until
something awful falls from the ceiling, erupts from the floorboards,
hurls itself through a window or, in the case of the shadow vampires,
simply drifts like black smoke out of a dark corner.
A lush orchestral score, linked to location and action with a deftness
usually found only at the movies, establishes and sustains a deliciously
spooky mood. Fans of the work of Italian horror director Mario Bava
will feel right at home in Nosferatu. And when the undead
show up to play, the sound effects may have you experiencing the
mystic transcendence of levitation.
And ... Action!
Given the action elements of Nosferatu, it's probably necessary
to point out that there is no multiplayer mode. Too bad, given how
much replayability could be enjoyed through the randomization feature.
One other action-related point. Nosferatu respawns its monsters
every time a saved game is loaded. This means if you save your game
in an empty room, the room may not be so empty once reloaded. While
a trainer will keep you alive, the unexpected beasties may make
short work of anyone you happen to be escorting. One solution is
to save your game only after you've successfully walked someone
to the sanctuary.
Points off for Bugs ...
As much as I would like to suggest that Nosferatu deserves
a Gold Star, there are a few bugs (probably patchablehint,
hint!) that demand immediate and serious attention.
Bug Number One
One is the Isaac Newton Memorial Bug. This bug embodies the second
half of Newton's Law of Inertia: A body in motion continues to move
at a constant velocity in a straight line unless acted on by an
external force. Or wall. Or crate. Or door. The INMB, once it kicks
in, makes it impossible to stop moving. Press and release the up
key and you keep moving forward as if the up key had never been
released. Press and release the down key and you'll back up until
you can back up no longer. Same with the right and left keys. Sometimes
jumping up and down will briefly repeal the Law of Inertia. Other
times it is necessary to leave the room and return. Unless, of course,
one is on a rooftop and there is no simple way off. Except down.
Way, way down. Even with the trainer, falls are fatal.
Bug Number Two
And then there is the Invisible Assassin Bug. The first time I
ran into this one, I had just discovered a friend of the family.
As the fellow walked toward me, he was repeatedly slashed by nothing
I could see until he collapsed. Very odd. And very frustrating to
finally find someone only to see him cut to pieces before he can
even leave the room in which he was hiding. The IAB can also strike
while a civilian is in transit. I had someone halfway to the sanctuary
and thensurprise!big (and ultimately fatal) wounds appeared
with no apparent source. Was it horrifying? Well, yes, though probably
not in the way the developers intended. Was it simply a matter of
the clock running out on this poor fella? Perhaps. But it hardly
seems reasonable to allow the game itself to do the killing, rather
than the enemies in the game, simply because it was time for a civilian
Losing movement control in a time-based action game is very bad,
and having folks die without apparent cause in a game based on rescuing
them is worse. If anyone at Idol FX is listening, fix these bugs!
And in Conclusion ...
Nosferatu, much like Doom and Alone in the Dark,
counts on its energy rather than its gloss to create a compelling
universe for players to immerse themselves in. Unfortunately, the
team at Idol FX did such a good job creating that universe that
when a bug does kick in, the effect is jolting. For the moment,
Nosferatu is a terrific idea, beautifully realized, that
is a just a patch or two away from greatness.
Release Date: October 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium III 733 MHz processor
128 MB RAM
350 MB free hard disk space
4X CD-ROM drive
Direct X 8.1 installed (included on the CD-ROM)
Monitor with 800×600 resolution, 16-bit high color video mode
100% DirectX compatible soundcard and drivers
100% Direct-3D compatible hardware accelerator with 16 MB VRAM
100% Microsoft compatible mouse/keyboard and drivers
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).