Some of my earliest interactions with video games and gaming culture came from watching my father play PC games as a kid. My father would come home from work and play for an hour or two each day, as my brothers and I gathered around the computer to watch each step of the adventure unfolding before us on the monitor.
At the time, gaming to us was largely limited to our Game Boy Colors, and the rich and vibrant 3D textures of computer video games were astounding to us. Alongside our fascination of this cutting-edge display, my father also allowed us to catch a glimpse into more adult games our mother forbid us from playing—unbeknownst to her, of course.
Little me always felt this ritual to be a modern equivalent of having your father tell you a bedtime story or sitting around a campfire and hearing a spooky yarn spun. There was a certain sense of excitement that came with watching him progress through each game. I’d go to school and tell all my friends about the amazing and fantastic things I’d witnessed the day before, and then I’d race home to pick up where we left off. These are some of my most cherished memories of gaming, and I can recall each game I watched my father play vividly in my head.
Now that I’m all grown up, I’ve decided to try an experiment for the blog. This experiment will consist of me revisiting each and every game I watched my father play growing up and playing them for myself as an adult. The first game I played in this series is a lost survival-horror gem called Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi.
Nosferatu was made by Swedish video game developer Idol FX in 2003. The game’s story and stylization largely borrows from seminal horror works, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and horror film masterpieces Nosferatu and Vampyre. The graphics resemble a more polished and up-to-date id Software shooter, with a film-grain filter spread across the screen to drive home the vintage aesthetic.
In the game’s story, you play as James Patterson—an Olympic fencer who travels to Transylvania after receiving note of his sister’s planned marriage to a mysterious Count Malachi (because that name doesn’t sound suspiciously terrifying or anything).
Upon arrival at the Count’s castle, you quickly realize something isn’t right. As you enter the main courtyard, a sudden CRASH stops you dead in your tracks as you watch a body come flying out of a third-story window—landing right in front of you on the courtyard cobblestones below.
From this moment, I was pleasantly surprised—for a game that’s 15 years old, its scare factor has held up remarkably well. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t startled by the loud smashing of the window and a body landing right in front of me. In spite of the aged graphics and mechanics, the game’s immensely effective tone and atmosphere still manages to scare you from time to time.
The body flung from the window turns out to be a priest who was scheduled to conduct the marriage ceremony. He reveals to you that the Count is a vampire, because of course he is…On top of that, he’s taken the members of your extended family prisoner, deep within the recesses of the castle. From here on out, your goal is to explore the entire castle, saving as many members of your family as you can.
Replaying the game as an adult allowed me to notice things about the game I never picked up on as a kid. For instance, every time you play the game, the arrangement of the castle is randomly generated, so you’ll never play the same game twice. This boosts the replay value, because you can’t simply memorize level layout in the way you can with most games, making it infinitely more difficult to master. I was impressed by this feature, which seems ahead of its time for a game released in 2003.
Another element I hadn’t noticed as a child was the game’s length. The entire game is set on a 90-minute time limit, meaning you have to be relatively quick in your actions if you’re going to succeed. This not only increases the intensity and overall suspense of the game, but it also made me realize just how short and concise the experience ends up.
As a child, the game seemed like a never-ending epic, and now, I’m realizing it was just the opposite. Not a bad thing, of course, just interesting to compare a child’s perception to an adult’s. Nosferatu practically feels like a mini-game compared to the mammoth, 60+ hour titles we see today, such as Red Dead Redemption 2—but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience of playing Wrath of Malachi. If anything, I’ve found this game to be a breath of fresh air and a much-needed break from exhaustingly lengthy gaming experiences.
Because the rest of the game is so fast-paced, the gameplay ends up equally hastened. You will find yourself in full-sprint through most of the game, and the combat is quick and chaotic. You’re given several tools to fight with, including a classic crucifix, a badass cane-sword, multiple firearms, and various weapons that harken back to timeless horror tropes and concepts.
Your access to various sections of the castle relies on finding keys around the castle grounds and exploring the various nooks and crannies of the Count’s estate. You’ll encounter a full cast of vintage horror enemies, from zombies and hell hounds to vampires.
The character models and animations can be a little jerky and buggy at times, but in some instances, this only amplifies the creepiness of the monsters. There’s something so unnatural about their movements, and although the game isn’t always the most technically proficient, it manages to retain its beautiful stylization and dramatic gothic atmosphere.
This brings me to perhaps the most excellent element of the entire game—its level design and lighting. Everything you could possibly want out of a game called Nosferatu is present: fog-covered cemeteries, dank and shadowy crypts, eerie cloisters and pitch-black alcoves. The randomly-generated level design is where the game really flourishes.
There are whole sections of the game where I stopped to take in the Dario Argento-esque lighting schemes and gorgeous fine details. It’s evident the developers are massive horror film fans and tried their hardest to capture the essence of the Golden Age of early horror cinema.
Oddly enough, I never got to see my father finish this game. I remember him encountering a game-ending bug/glitch at some point in his playthrough that he was never able to work around. Frustrated and annoyed by this, he gave up on the game altogether. Given this happened in a time before patches and updates were commonplace, especially for indie, small-budget games like this one, it wasn’t uncommon for a game bug to never be addressed or repaired.
This being the case, I never actually got to see what awaited the protagonist in the final chamber of the castle. I’ve spent most of my life wondering if you ever actually ran into Count Malachi (Count Orlok himself), and I’m thrilled to say you definitely do, and it’s fucking terrifying.
The final set piece is easily the best part of the game, and it felt beyond rewarding to finally see the game through to its end. I feel as if I’ve finally found some closure on a journey I started 15 years ago. It was well worth the wait, and I’ve been eager to tell my father all about it.
I can’t recommend Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi enough, especially considering it’s currently only $2.99 on Steam right now. The game should play smoothly on most laptops and desktops.
It’s a quick adrenaline rush of a game, and it’s held up remarkably well, all things considered. I was happy to see it receiving such a warm reception in the Steam shop reviews, and I’m thrilled other people are discovering this lost horror gaming classic.
I can’t wait to continue this series, and I’d love to hear any similar tales you may have in the comments below!