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Lucius

"Unfortunately, this complete waste of time is asking for $20 when it should be paying you $5 for trying to play it."

I've done a lot of proofreading in school and as a teacher, and it's not really a pleasant experience. When proofing, I read through a paper, make sure it makes sense, check arguments and logical connections, and look for any grammatical errors. It's like hunting for things that don't work or don't belong, and it can be a very stressful and tedious undertaking. Game testers take this to another level, ensuring a game makes logical sense and can in fact be completed (at the same time making sure you can't fall through the floor running along every surface in the bloody game). Playing Lucius for a few days made me feel like I was proofing an unfinished paper or making sure a game was ready for release. I ran into so many flaws and poor design decisions that I started to wonder if Shiver Games were going to send me a check in the mail for helping to make their game. Unfortunately, this complete waste of time is asking for $20 when it should be paying you $5 for trying to play it.

You play the demonic spawn of Satan himself, in this case named Lucius because calling him Damien would probably get Richard Donner's legal team in a tizzy. Hell, the game even takes place in a mansion (named Dante Manor, seriously) and Lucius' father is an up-and-coming political figure. Maybe the developers couldn't afford The Omen license, but they pretty much went all the way without the added benefit of resurrecting Gregory Peck. There's no subtlety in this experience, either. Satan just appears before you and instructs you to kill people without any rhyme or reason. I gave up playing this game around the halfway point due to frustration and anger, so I never saw a fundamental reason for Lucius' callus behavior. Usually video games provide a reason for slaughter, but these (mostly) innocent people really don't deserve any of the things that are being done to them. You should probably avoid this game simply for the story if you have a problem with this kind of behavior.

The plot unfolds in some rather laughable cutscenes, complete with piss-poor voice acting. Special "praise" has to be given to the main detective on the case, who speaks more like a concussion victim than a real officer of the law. This worthless pile of meat can't put together that something is amiss at the old Dante Manor after the fourth freakin' lethal accident. His ineptitude knows no bounds, and the whole affair will have your eyes rolling before long. This could all be a result of a rather poor translation, but it's hard to excuse such awful dialogue and characterization.

Lucius is essentially a 3D point and click adventure game. You're locked in the Dante Manor (with the whole floor plan opening up before long) with a bunch of idiots and you're tasked with killing them. Seems like a pretty fun idea for a game, right? I mean, the Hitman series has been making money on this concept for well over a decade. The problem is that each target can only be killed at a specific time. You get a task to kill someone from dear old dad and have to stick to his grand plan. A welcome idea in theory, but this linearity extends to how you accomplish your goal. There is one way to kill each target. ONE WAY. And each of these murders plays out in a Rube Goldberg fashion that forces you to figure out the developer's thought process. Lucius gets only the vaguest of hints, and even those can leave you with no proper idea of how to kill each target.

This might seem like a rather limited, linear game, with nothing insurmountable in the name of fun, but everything starts to spiral out of control from here. The linearity and puzzle nature of each kill means you'll be searching around Dante Manor for the correct items and sequence of unfortunate events. But the developers littered the environment with every item present in the game regardless of whether or not it's a useful tool for your current goal. That means that you could pick up a completely useless item in Chapter 3 that is the key to everything in Chapter 8. Complete bewilderment permeates the game if you find something that doesn't really help your current predicament. "There's no way the developers would give me all of these items if they don't help," I thought to myself as I stumbled through the hallways. Turns out I was wrong.

The game's internal logic is also spotty at best. At one point, I had to break a light behind my target using my telekinetic powers (Did I mention Lucius gains more and more Evil Power over the course of the game? No? That's because I don't care). Why I can't use my mind to fling a butcher knife across the room into his temple or blow up his car as he leaves with my ability to set things on fire is beyond me, but you work with what you're given. The blithering idiot asks me to find a new "lamp," which is obviously a mistranslation of "bulb," but sent me looking for a nonexistent lamp all the same. Perhaps I was being too literal, but I figured the game was spelling everything out when the freakin' Devil showed up to claim me as his seed. Whatever. I get a helpful hint from my journal saying that the janitor, a previous victim, was working with lamps earlier. Fair enough. I return to where the target used to be and find his toolbox. Nothing. No bulbs, lamps, glow sticks or other luminescent devices. I scamper off to the janitor's murder scene (complete with bloodstain and chalk-outline despite the fact it's been a month since the murder). No lamp. I start to wander the halls like an idiot, picking up every item I can like the worst kind of pixel hunt brought into a 3D Hell. You can't even tell if an object can be manipulated unless you point the cursor directly at an object, meaning you can easily miss something if you aren't patient or anal enough to care. Oh, and let's also play some awful looping music that stands out in the worst way the whole time you're wandering around like an idiot.

Eventually, I find the living quarters for the staff of Dante Manor. Perhaps the janitor kept all of the lamps (yes, I'm still calling them lamps because that's what the game calls them) in his room. A shoddy bit of logic that would have sent Sherlock Holmes up a wall, but it's all I've got right now. Nope, nothing in his room either. Oh sure, there's some socks on the ground that I can pick up, but still nothing of use for the current objective. I also find some bullets in an office. "Maybe I have to trade them to get a lamp from somebody," I think in an optimistic fashion. Nope, wrong again, Mr. Steinman. I also manage to find a garage and storeroom on the first floor, which would be a perfect place for spare daily use items. But alas alack, no help from the friendly NPCs or any clear direction as to why this room is important (though the car turntable will probably prove to be an effective murder implement later).

After roaming for the better part of a half hour, I give up and resort to a strategy guide online. The lamps are apparently in a study on the third floor that I never saw the janitor in or interact with. They might as well have put the lamps in an outhouse if the clues weren't going to help in any way. I run upstairs and quickly discover another little quirk of this game; nothing is properly listed on the in-game map. Even though I know the name of the room I'm seeking, I have no clue where it is because they don't just write "study" on the map. Turns out the study is represented by a martini glass. Who knew?

Having found the lamps, I return to my target and prepare myself to watch a gruesome kill that would make all of this tedium worthwhile. Oh, but be careful, Lucius. If anyone notices you being evil (which can range from using telekinetic powers in front of them to walking around with a screwdriver) you have to restart the entire level. And no, we aren't going to tell you when you reach a checkpoint, so you might as well prepare to replay everything all over again. With everything in place now, I watch as my target dies in a spectacularly boring fashion that verges on comical rather than ominous. Maybe the developers wanted to hearken back to the old 70's and 80's slasher films of yore, or perhaps they have no sense of shot composition, dramatic tension, irony, or payoff.

I took the time to explain this entire early mission because it sums up my thought process while playing Lucius. So many things don't fit, so many things work against each other, and everything just reeks of half finished game ideas. There's also a host of technical issues: doors vibrate and rip off their hinges, broken objects magically repair upon return to a previously explored room, characters disappear and flash back into existence, and the whole game is so damn dark that you'll struggle to find that one key pixel in the environment. There's a really interesting premise here, but it's hard to recommend when other assassination franchises have focused on player choice and ingenuity for the best possible reasons. Linearity isn't a problem, but you have to give some feedback to the player and make the world and interactions logical. I felt like I was testing a gameplay idea rather than a fully finished title, and that's about the worst thing I can say about a video game.


© 2012 Lace Mamba Global, Shiver Games. All rights reserved.




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