Maybe I’m just a little bit twisted, but the minute I heard about Shiver Games’ new title Lucius, I wanted to play it. A game in which, as the anti-Christ, you murder people using telekinesis, odd household objects, and your own ingenuity, sounds too good to be true (well, maybe not good). Here’s a hint: It is. While the premise and design of Lucius are excellent for an indie title, there’s a distinct lack of soul and imagination that really hurts what could have been a superb game.
Steam will tell you that Lucius is an action adventure Indie title. It’s lying: Only one of those is an apt descriptor. As a new Indie title, I was actually blown away when I started up the game up for the first time. If there is one thing I can truly commend Lucius on it is its setting and sense of atmosphere. The visuals are surprisingly good for an indie title and I actually rather enjoyed the story. For me, it’s the simplicity of the premise that actually makes it work so well: You are the son of Satan, and dear old dad wants you to kill all the members of your surrogate family. Set against the back drop of a New England manor house, the atmosphere of the game is perfect. Lucius, the 6 year old demon-child you play as, is so god-damn creepy that you often feel that you are the element making this entire house as creepy as it is. In fact, Lucius is one of the best examples I have ever seen of a protagonist influencing the atmosphere of the game around him.
One of the slickest parts of the game is, oddly enough, the tutorials, which are peppered throughout the game, appearing when you need them. While the game doesn’t give you a lot of direction once you are inside the house, the tutorials tell you everything you’d need to know about the mechanics of the game. These tutorials take place inside Hell and they feature a creepy, business suit wearing Lucifer, who instructs you not only how to use your powers, but how to kill with them too. Seeing his shadow was probably one of the high points of this game for me…
..and when seeing a characters shadow is a high point, you know something is off. What hurts Lucius more than anything is the carrot that it promises, which it never even lets you get close to. You’re given a massive, item-filled mansion to explore, the goal of murdering a target , and then you are left to your own devices. Or so it seems. I told you that Steam was lying to you: This is not an action game, nor is it a horror title. This is, in full form, a Point-and-Click adventure, and suffers form the worst parts of that genre
In each of the games 16 or so missions, there is only one way to kill your target, that’s it. However, you are given a massive number of potentially deadly items to use, as well as three psychic abilities. You receive telekinesis early on, followed by the ability to control people’s minds, then to make them forget things. Finally, of course, there is your ability to create fireballs. Surprisingly, all of these potentially deadly powers are largely unused, making them unappreciated, and uninteresting.
It’s not that the game is necessarily structured badly, it’s that it has no imagination, and gives you no freedom to use your own. Let me explain:
In one of the games early missions, your given the task of killing off your family’s butler, Alistair. While I would have much preferred to have been set loose upon the house, rather than filling contracts, I understand the choice as it is helpful in moving the story forward. What I’m not happy with is how you end up killing Alistair.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the deed takes place outside, and involves slipping on a patch of ice. This is a great, time-trusted start to thing. However, you can only make the patch of ice in one VERY specific spot. This spot happens to be below an icicle, and by this point you can probably put 2 and 2 together. It’s a fine murder, but it is not MY murder. I happened to figure out very quickly that the murder had to happen outside and that I should use the bottle of water I created three missions earlier to make a patch of ice. However, you’ll notice the two statues in the garden to the right side of the screen shot are wielding spears. My immediate thought was that Alistair should slip on the small bridge and impale himself with the help of one of these statues, or even both if I could figure it out. I’d just need to use my telekinesis to move the statues, and my mind control (which I had just received) to convince Alistair to walk in the right direction. Instead, you place the pool of water where the game wants, unplug the Christmas lights the game wants you to, and once Alistair slips, cause that dangling icicle to fall. You ‘re doing what the game wants, when the game wants it.
Which is why Lucius is more a movie than it is a game. This would be a little more palatable if the deaths were more inventive and gruesome (Seriously, for a game that is clearly trying to court the gore factor, the death are hardly over the top. Maybe I’ve just been desensitized by too much Gears of War). It would also be a much better experience if the voice acting and writing in the game’s many cut scenes was better. Instead, we have a series of bland, ham-handed cut scenes that do little justice to what is really going on. The game plays out like a series of acts, each with a distinct tasks that you have to do, and have no control over.
What’s worse is the fact that Lucius kills even the sense of pacing it has worked so hard to establish, and does so in the most unimaginative way possible: Boss Fights. There are three ‘boss fights’ throughout the game, each jarring and over-simplistic. Outside of one or two other instances, this is the only place you end up using your pyrotechnic abilities, and its horribly underwhelming. Circle strafe, fire, move on. The one mildly interesting part of these fights is what the game does with the crosses. Throughout Dante Manor, there are a number of crucifixes fastened to the wall which disrupt your abilities, making you next to powerless. However, quickly running over to them and turning the upside down restores your demonic powers. In these boss fights, crucifixes are hidden in hard to reach places, and must be dealt with in different ways. One of the only times I was actually impressed with the use of telekinesis in the game was when you had to move a series of busts to make a nervous cop shot the crosses behind each of them. THAT’S INVENTIVE! If Lucius had more of these types of challenges in it, rather than an unending series of “Find Object A, combine with Object B: Place at Location 1” fetch quests, I’d be far more lenient to the game as a whole. That and more inventive deaths.
So, how could Shiver Games have improved on this game? First, ditch the missions. Make Dante Manor completely open, have all the targets there almost all the time, and make everything available: the areas, the items, the people. This would have given you the freedom to kill a target not only when you wanted to, but when you figured out how to. I found the Nail Gun very early on, figured out how to get power to the shed, and had all but set up the eventual murder of Mrs. Wagner well before she sat down at the bench outside. But could I use this tool to kill the Gardener mowing the lawn just a few feet away? No. This would be the most beneficial change Lucius could undergo: Give us multiple paths to success. Would Agnes really have cared if I used rat poison or crushed pills to kill her? Couldn’t I have made my teacher jump out that open window next to him, rather than shoot himself? Not only would this have made the game more interesting, it would have given us a reason to play it again. As it stands, I cannot see one reason to replay Lucius, but perhaps there was no plan to make this a game you’d go back to. These changes of course would have made it problematic to move the plot forward. So, simply make sleeping in our bed the vehicle for leveling up, unlocking new abilities and changing the environment of the mansion. These additions would have given Lucius some much needed freedom and spirit, which is certainly lacks in its current iteration.
I think what most disappoints me in this game is not necessarily its faults in game design, the number of bugs I encountered, or the unimaginative deaths. What really disappoints me is the wasted potential. When I heard about Lucius and watched the trailer for the first time, I was intrigued. I thought Lucius would be Final Destinations: The Game meets Rosemary’s Baby. Instead, it was a Myst knock-off wearing an Exorcist Costume.
Final Score: 5 /10 Upended Crucifixes
The Best Things: The Devil’s Shadow, The Hint Giving Ouija Board, A Creepy Demon-Child killing his family in a New England Manor
The Worst Things: A Lack of Freedom, Unnecessary and Underwhelming Boss Fights, Unimaginative Death’s