Frags and frights.
Horror has always been a key element in first-person shooters. The original Doom was a pretty freaky game for its time, as was the original Half-Life. Great games like System Shock 2 and Aliens vs. Predator thrived on their ability to scare the mouse out of your hand.
But aside from Clive Barker's Undying, few games have gone for a flat-out combination of the FPS and the survival-horror genres…which is exactly what little known Swedish developer Idol FX had in mind while developing the upcoming frightfest Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi.
As the name implies, Nosferatu is steeped heavily in traditional, classical vampire settings and activities. The somewhat vague backstory places you in the boots of a male member of the family Patterson. Your sister is planning on marrying Romanian royalty, so off you go to a giant, gothic Transylvanian mansion just crawling with vampires and their pets.
Do we want more plot? Sure. But we only need it about as much as a vampire needs suntan oil, because the real bite behind this beast lies in its scarier-than-Kiefer Sutherland gameplay.
Nosferatu seemingly plays like any first-person shooter, but most of the development effort went into shocking you out of your gaming chair. The opening sequence places you in the mansion's courtyard, a dank, poorly-lit hub surrounded by the massive castle. A well-scripted lightning crack or two briefly illuminates the environment, which promptly fades back to darkness. The sound is orchestrated to match the events, so as you find your way to a door and open it, a blast of strings synchs up with a vicious hellbeast pouncing at your face from the shadows.
And like any good FPS, it's your task to turn these bloodsuckers into blood stains. You're armed with a typical inventory of old-fashioned weaponry, including a Flintlock pistol, a five-shot revolver, a sword and, of course, a crucifix and as many stakes as you can hammer. Each enemy responds differently to your payload, so it's up to you to figure out the best way to aid in their decomposition. Interestingly, certain weapons serve a dual purpose: the crucifix can turn regular water into holy water, and stakes can be lit and used as torches.
Beyond the bloody fragging, your job is to rescue members of your family trapped in the massive castle and drag them to safety. Doing so will net rewards, but thanks to an ever-dwindling timer, you have to move fast to save your loved ones from a future of coffins and cold blood.
This might be easier said than done. In a great twist, Nosferatu features a random architecture generator, so that each time you play, the castle layout has changed. It's a smart addition and should add some replay value.
Though Nosferatu doesn't have the graphical prowess to visually compete with the Half Life 2's of the world, its focus on lighting and shadows plays into the horror theme well. Couple that with the creepy score and the mood is just right.
Fans of horror gaming should keep an eye out for Nosferatu, as it hopes to offer a unique, genuinely freaky slant on first-person shooting and should provide more than a few adrenaline shots to junkies when it ships shortly before Halloween 2003.