Review: Shiver Games’ first offering, LUCIUS, attempts to saddle The Omen to the 3D adventure game mould, but is this one better consigned to the fiery pits of hell?
As videogamers we visit violence on our make-believe enemies so often and with such prejudice that we’ve whittled the act of thumping a man until he resembles a beef sausage down to the punchline of an old joke: Max Payne‘s slow-motion gore geysers; Hotline Miami‘s death-dealing doors; Bulletstorm‘s, er, drilldo. One of my favourite memories of the last generation was booting up Rainbow Six 3 for the first time and giggling as the first of many tangos went cartwheeling to his death with great enthusiasm.
We long ago transformed murder into comedy.
And so it is with Lucius, a 3D adventure game that owes more than a trifling debt to The Omen and other such works from cinema’s deep library of horrors starring weaselly, bastard children.
Plot-wise, things begin on the night of Lucius’ sixth birthday. Lucius is, of course, the son of the devil as well as our hero – and I do mean that for reasons I’ll get to, he’s no more an anti-hero or a villain than any of Call of Duty‘s moustachioed meat puppets. Regardless of moral alignment, Satan visits Lucius in the dead of night and, without so much as a “happy birthday kiddo”, demands he sacrifices his family and all their chauffeurs, servants and chefs for top-secret reasons. Lucius is a mute, so he can’t argue, and if you’ve spent as much time as I have in the company of these numpties living throughout his house, you’ll be keen to oblige.
And so on with the killing. Over the course of a game carved into seventeen chapters, Lucius murders everybody he knows in ever-more comical fashion. This is not a horror game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a game that conjures the atmosphere of classic horror movies, yes, but it transports you into the mindset of its predator. You are death, your scythe is your mouse and your victims are no better than the cretins you love seeing maimed in slasher movies. In fact they’re worse; they’re not attractive.
For the most part you’re free to reconnoitre Dante Manor, the stately home-cum-madhouse that provides the backdrop for the whole story. You can putter about the place picking up matches and bullets, steal adult movies from your uncle’s porno lounge and barge in on family members copulating with the maids. While Dante Manor provides a lengthy list of amusing distractions, the true goal of each chapter is to find your target and then wretchedly figure out how the game wants you to kill them.
You may have heard that Lucius is Hitman by way of The Omen. Prepare to be punched by the callous fist of truth: it’s not. When it comes to killing, Lucius is as linear as a children’s bedtime story, choo-chooing you down its tracks to a destination set in stone. Any deviation from this course is met with written bellows of “Game Over”. You kill who you’re told to kill and figure out how to kill them largely through trial and error.
Shiver are miserly with the clues, too, which isn’t so much of a problem at first, but there’s only so many times you can jog through Dante Manor in search of a tube of super glue. Or earrings. It’s vague at the best of times but more often simply obnoxious. One mission demands you kill your Uncle Tom. Fine. Uncle Tom’s an alcoholic and an adulterer. In a game that endeavours to justify its killings with excuses like “his smoking gives me a headache”, these crimes carry several life sentences apiece.
This murder’s a case of finding a bottle of booze, mixing it with some painkillers and placing it within reaching distance of Uncle Tom – Lucius’ notebook tells you as much, although stops short of suggesting where you might find the only bottle of alcohol up to the task. The obvious place to head would be the wine cellar, right? Wrong. Next up, the bar. Of course! Any bar worth its salt ought to be rammed with alcohol. Not here, the game cries. Turns out the correct bottle of booze is sat waiting in your uncle’s wardrobe. Obviously.
At another point Lucius finds himself trapped in a cage. Escape is a matter of grabbing the keys from the wall opposite using telekinesis. Simple, but when you break free an achievement pops: Frank Morris (Morris famously wriggled free from Alcatraz in ’62). This is the logical extent of the puzzles in Lucius; they’re either comically obvious or utterly bewildering.