Genre: Survival/Horror FPS
Developer : Idol FX
Publisher : IGames
Release Date : October 20, 2003
Pre-order 'NOSFERATU: Wrath of Malachi': PC
With the exception of the tried-and-true Resident Evil-esque crowd that follows the formula of still camera shots, quick scene cuts, and less-than-satisfactory control systems, there aren't exactly a lot of horror-themed games on the market. Some would argue that not being able to have as much control as you would like adds to the horror factor, but I say it adds to the frustration factor. So it seems like a good idea that someone would make a first-person-shooter in the horror realm, based on one of the most classic silent films of all time, Nosferatu.
It sports several neat ideas that take advantage of the horror atmosphere, to say the least. The arsenal of weapons is clever and makes good use of the setting, an old-fashioned castle from around the early 1900's. You've got a basic sword, which serves well to slice and dice the majority of enemies you'll encounter. It's not particularly effective, but it will usually get the job done. Then there's the one-bullet flint gun, which is extremely powerful and takes down most enemies in one hit; unfortunately, it can only hold one bullet at a time and takes several seconds to reload. There's the deadly stake - one quick swipe to the heart of a vampire will make it fall over dead in an instant. Of course, they're disposable, and if you aren't careful, your supply of stakes will dwindle away quickly. You can also have fun with the cross you find early in the game, which helps you turn a pool of water into holy water. If you come back later with an empty flask, you can fill it up and use the holy water on enemies. The weapons are truly unique and different from any game out there.
Nosferatu's castle also has some nifty secrets of its own. When you start out, the game actually creates random maps and mixes up enemy locations and such, meaning that perhaps going through the second time won't be quite as easy as the first. Or perhaps it will be easier? Nonetheless, while this is a good idea, it doesn't quite work as well as one might hope. While a lot of the rooms you'll go through are really neat (cobweb-laden stairways, deserted dining rooms, hallways lit with stained-glass windows, vacated jail chambers), they tend to repeat or appear only with slight changes as the game progresses. Hopefully, things will get mixed up a bit more before the final release.
The game's enemies themselves are an interesting bunch. You'll encounter a number of creatures, from zombie-like stumblers, traditional vampires, blood-thirsty dogs, scythe-bearing executioners, to black ghost-like specters. The problem, currently, is that they're all really dumb. You'd swear the AI was devised in 1993 because the monsters essentially run at you and attack. They don't use any clever tactics, they don't work together, they don't dodge your attacks, and they don't really do anything but blindly try to kill you. This makes combat degrade into a simple exercise of seeing an enemy and attacking it while trying to back up so you don't get hit as much yourself. Add to this a fair bit of choppy animation and poor hit detection, and you have a combat system that, despite its slick weapons, is frustrating and shallow. This is definitely the biggest problem in the preliminary build, but if the AI and hit detection get ironed out, the game will be that much better.
The controls could also stand to be worked out a bit. This is thanks in part, I'm sure, to the inclusion of a stamina bar, but the game is still missing a few key staples that are practically taken for granted in the FPS world, namely a crouch feature. Jumping is also annoying because when you land after a jump, you pause for a moment, and it really disrupts the flow of the game when you're trying to run away from an enemy because you only have ten hit points left. Thankfully, basic movement is good, and you can easily move forward, backwards or strafe with the standard WASD configuration. If you hold down the shift button and move, you'll go extra fast. It's nice for getting out of a jam, but it also makes your stamina bar jump up rather quickly. Doing other extraneous movements like jumping will also make the bar go up. When it's up, basic stuff like swinging your sword is much slower and weaker than normal. This is actually a pretty nice feature of the game and lends itself to the horror feel.
It's a shame that Nosferatu's graphics are nothing too special at this point in time. The lighting is good in many areas, especially small areas where the only light is from a torch or stained-glass window. Everything else will distract you and bring you out of the game though, the biggest culprit being the animation, which is so poor I could cry. The developers really need to fix effects that you see constantly because actions like swinging your sword and reloading your gun consist of as few frames as possible, and it’s noticeable. Fighting enemies is when the poor animation really shows through, as you could be watching an enemy climb up out of its coffin and be ready to stab it with a stake, when all of a sudden you find yourself being hit and losing health. There's no excuse for that! While the animation is by far the biggest problem, other graphical elements like textures and many of the 3D models look rather poor and lack detail. The framerate is fine most of the time, but it does take some hits when you walk into large, open areas. There are definitely some kinks to be worked out in this area.
The sound is a nice point of the game, and the job is well done in this department. A creepy tune will play in the background, and when you enter a room with an enemy in it, it shrieks up high - creating quite a bit of tension and - dare I say it - a bit of fear. The voice acting is okay, even though there really isn't much throughout the game. Sound effects aren't bad, either, as they tend to fit the appropriate action onscreen.
Nosferatu definitely needs work, no doubt. The biggest problem is the combat: animation is bad, hit detection is weak, and the AI isn't very bright. Thankfully, these are all things that can be fixed relatively easily because it's not as if the game is fundamentally flawed. In fact, it has a lot going for it; the weapons are great, the setting is nice, and the game's music will draw you in. Some work with the graphics and control could also be done. Nosferatu may not revolutionize the FPS genre, but with its kinks worked out, it could be one of the best horror-themed FPSes (or games in general, for that matter) to come along in years.