Shiver Games/Lace Mamba Global
Genre: Stealth Horror
The number of horror sub-genres in film are vast- slashers, thrillers, hauntings, killer toys; the groupings are near endless and occasionally ridiculous. One particular style of horror movie that still makes the rounds is the ‘demonic child’ trope. Whatever the reason, the concept of something usually cherished as pure and innocent like a child exacting horrible deeds has unsettled movie goes for decades with titles like The Omen, The Bad Seed, and The Good Son. Shiver Games decided to take their own spin on this with their flagship title, Lucius.
Based out of Finland, Shiver Games has only worked on games in the Lucius series including a ‘demake’ of the original title and a second game, Lucius II: The Prophecy. Their goal, according to their website, is to offer up a unique spin on horror gaming. While there isn’t a lot of other information presented by their site, their devotion to the title is clear. After spending some time with Lucius, though, I definitely have some thoughts on this little tenacious project.
We open on Dante Manor, home to Charles and Nancy Wagner and their son, Lucius, who is just celebrating his sixth birthday. The whole family is in attendance, and the staff of the manor has seen to it that everything is perfect. Once the festivities have died down, Lucius heads to bed only to be awakened by a strange visitor whose shadow casts horns on the wall and whose presence tinges the room a strange hue. He is Lucifer- and he is Lucius’ real father.
The first thing dear old dad compels Lucius to do is to lock one of the maids in the freezer while she is cleaning up alone after the party. After this act- which acts as a tutorial for how the game plays- it is just a matter of time before Lucius is picking off the household one by one in creative and supernatural ways.
Of course, due to the delicate nature of sacrificing an entire household and being a six-year-old, Lucius can’t just work with brute strength alone. No one can notice what he is doing or else they’ll send him away- or worse. With that, stealth and remaining unseen while orchestrating a series of accidents within the manor are imperative to Lucius’ plans going off. Luckily for him, the more blood spilled, the more power Lucifer will bestow upon Lucius to carry out his misdeeds.
As events begin to escalate, however, suspicion grows stronger. Reporters appear and accusations are made regarding what could really be going on by the persistent Detective McGuffin (no, really) who also acts as the story’s narrator. Secrets begin to reveal themselves, however, and the story of the Wagner family will be delved into quite a bit before the credits roll.
Like many adventure games, Lucius involves traveling through the environments and interacting with items and characters to achieve your goals. Unlike in many games such as this, especially in the independent realm, the items aren’t highlighted or obvious unless you’re using an ability with them. Even then, they only glow if they can actually be interacted with via that ability. While 90 percent of the items you’ll find are glasses, pottery, and other things that just shatter upon impact with the floor, the items tend to be useless. It takes looking around and seeing something that appears out of place to realize that it’s necessary to your plot. This is an interesting approach and it keeps the natural look of the game pretty well in hand.
The mechanics become a bit more unique once powers become unlocked. Some are very conditional and will almost always end with a game over screen if you use them outside of the context of your mission. All of them have some use, however, and the further along in the game you proceed, the stronger they supposedly become. While abilities like telekinesis, throwing fire, and mind control can be useful, the best ability by far is the ability to make someone who has spotted you in an unfortunate and compromising position forget that they saw you for a brief moment. At that moment, you can run out of their range of detection to continue doing what you were doing. While you only get a limited amount of uses and that particular power comes into play a little over halfway through the game, it’s a dream for people like me who may not be as great at stealth as they are at other aspects of the game.
A few quirks do make for some fun side mechanics in the game, however brief they might be. One side task has Lucius doing chores like bringing the trash out to the shed and putting his toys into his toy box. Once enough of these chores are done, he receives a gift that can help with the game. For example, a Ouija board that he is given can offer hints as to what to do next while a tricycle can help him move throughout the house faster. They aren’t imperative to finish the game, but they can be convenient.
Those mechanics aside, most of Lucius is comprised of taking things without people seeing, sneaking around to set objects up so that someone can meet their demise, and generally just trying to skulk throughout the hallways and hidden passages of Dante Manor without being found out.
The Good, The Bad, and…
Let’s start with what I feel is a legitimate gripe about Lucius that can be considered a bit less subjective. While the puzzles are inventive, they are incredibly precise and limited in their execution. There is always one solution that will achieve what you are looking for, despite the fact that sometimes it just seems logical that you could do any other number of things to take care of your target. It really isn’t a problem for a number of puzzles due to how short each chapter lasts. Certain puzzles require you to find the exact location to drop something or place something that isn’t always well outlined. Trial and error is a fine method to use in puzzle games, but after your sixth or seventh failure, things can become quickly irritating.
Another quirk that made the game more difficult was that your oft-used Telekinesis skill is easy to use but near impossible to be precise with. Certain tasks involve dropping a particular item into something to cause an effect- for example, you must pull an iron off of a high shelf into an open washing machine so that it will break once it’s turned on. Navigating the iron into the washing machine took me a number of tries, despite knowing how I needed to do it and all of it was due to the control mechanic. This falls more into the ‘ugly’ than the ‘bad’ though, as the team over at Shiver Games has made it generally easy to cause items to reset by moving a few screens away and coming back.
There is a checklist of positive marks in Lucius’ favor, though. For one, the stealth sections are handled well. Any time that I was caught doing something I shouldn’t have, it was because I wasn’t paying attention or I wasn’t cautious enough with my movements. Being able to hide in closets and duck behind objects felt more effective than in a number of other games that attempt these types of missions. So long as you’re smart about how you handle yourself (like not running around the house with a gun in your hand), it’s easy to stay undetected in most situations.
Another point in its favor is that the whole game feels like you’re the antagonist in a horror film. That sounds basic but seeing the reactions of Nancy and Charles evolve toward Lucius as the plot unfolds makes the intensity feel more palpable. Seeing the chalk outline and evidence markers of one of your latest victims in the next scene a few days later lends a sense of continuity that makes the game feel more cinematic. The game is dripping in atmosphere and even when I knew I had to get rid of the few characters I was rooting for, I couldn’t help wanting to see Lucius wrap up much like the horror films I grew up with.
For the most part, Lucius is a pretty game. Dante Manor is large and feels claustrophobic all at the same time due to the environments and how they are arranged. There are plenty of small details that were added to make the house feel like it is another part of the cast. The few levels that play out during rainstorms and winter are of particular note, as they feel like they were crafted to stand out aesthetically. If there is a problem with the graphics, it is that the characters fall into the same pit that a number of independent games do. The main characters- Lucius, Nancy, Charles, and Detective McGuffin along with one or two others that the plot pushes to the forefront- have decently crafted and detailed models. The side characters, though, seem to have been treated as such and while they aren’t unsightly, it is clear that they were not given the same amount of attention.
Listening to the music and sounds of the game is a pleasant experience. Much like the films Lucius derives its basis from, there is a fair balance between silence and strong choral orchestrations that lend a lot to the game. Hollow footsteps echoing in hallways, doors creaking open and shut, and tinny television and radio broadcasts all bring the game to life (and according to the credits, almost all appear to be pre-made sound effects put to fantastic use). Even the voice acting, uneven though it may be, is strong where it needs to be. I was pretty impressed with how the whole game came out through my headphones.
Honestly, Lucius would be right at home in the horror library of the Playstation 2 or any system of that generation. It’s campy and can’t be taken too seriously because let’s be honest- some of us just aren’t great at playing the villain. It’s got a unique premise in the gaming world that echoes the tone of horror films from the late 1970s to 1980s. If you can deal with some brief polygonal nudity and the fact that your motivations are simply ‘being the son of Lucifer’, Lucius is an interesting little work.
That isn’t to say it is without its flaws, all of which are reminiscent of the ‘first game’ kinks that need to be worked out by companies when they arrive on the scene. It’s difficult to recommend Lucius at its full price tag if you’re at all wary, but if you can catch it on sale and the synopsis intrigues you, you probably won’t regret the five to ten hours you will put into the game. What you’ll get is a good faith effort from a team that seems to have a grasp on their subject matter and wants to deliver a solid game, flaws and all.