Welcome to the gaming Halloween 2012 creep show
Horror movies are all well and fine to get in the mood for that special time of the year when pumpkins decorate the houses or lawns, costumed people run around and the candy plus booze industry gets its big piece of cake.
But there’s still the remote control which you can use to switch off or fast forward, and if something’s too scary or gruesome, you can simply look away (which, of course, you never do as it’s worse hearing the screams from the screen without seeing what’s happening).
Gaming is a much more suitable pastime to scare the living bejesus out of you as you’re immersed in a world you have to navigate through. A bumpy ride sometimes, nerve-racking and often quite time-consuming, it’s all worth the effort.
So every day til October 31st, this blog gives you a selection of new and old games which might make you scared or laugh at the horror on the screen. Hold on to your mouse buttons, controllers and who’s sitting next to you…oh, you thought you were alone? Think again…
Son of the devil unleashed
We start our journey of terror and fright with a PC adventure like no other. If you’re already prepared by reading the reviews of the Omen movies, then you know a small boy can be of a quite devilish nature.
Do you have what it takes to kill with skill…in a fictional world? Then make sure to grab Lucius tomorrow, October 30, and see what all the controversy is about…or not.
BTW, there’s 15% off the Steam price until November 1st ;).
It’s all in your sick head
The plot sounds familiar because it’s reminiscent of the Omen movies, only with much more gore. The player takes control of Damian…sorry, Lucius, and tries to decrease the number of the manor’s occupants.
What’s interesting is how the story unfolds in three different ways: on the one hand a police detective remembers the tragedies he had to investigate before each chapter, but without giving any clues how they died (not to spoil the solutions). On the other hand Lucius’ perspective is very limited and the player is not only shown the murders he has to take a part in (something quite controversial, and we’ll come to that later), but he also gets snippets of information from other characters.
Unlike most adventure games, participating in dialogues (the typical tree structure of different questions and answers one can choose) is dispensed of, and the player doesn’t even hear Lucius’ thoughts (only what his father, the devil himself, tells him at some points in the story) which makes him a bit hard to identify with at first.
But by roaming through the house (which happens quite often due to the gameplay) Lucius finds the tenants more and more in psychological distress, something which forces the player to make up his own mind about what is actually happening. The plot itself doesn’t offer anything new or original, but it’s at least true to the original possession-occult-horror-cinema of old, even if it is lacking some suspense.
Old school horror with modern technology
Another, this time technical, achievement is the manor itself which shows a lot of love for detail. Of course it has to keep the player’s interest for quite some time as Lucius never leaves the manor complex. Only a small garden which can be used as a short cut to the building’s entrances keeps changing with the seasons. This looks especially nice with snow covering the ground in winter or leaves rustling in the wind on the tress during summer time.
Character models are nicely done as well with lots of details, only lip synch and facial expressions could have been a bit better.
Voice acting and sound effect are nothing to write home about, they’re generally good and fit the action on the screen. Special mention has to be made about the soundtrack which is very atmospheric and could be listened to after turning off the computer as well. The only downside is that the music doesn’t offer a lot of variety, so the tunes get a bit old after a while or don’t always fit to what the player does on the screen.
The graphical fidelity has a price, though: on the highest graphics setting, the game looks amazing, but demands quite a high-end PC. But even with fewer effects and a lower resolution, the game looks rather pretty. What doesn’t look or feel good are the loading times which are way too long. Almost 2 minutes until the level starts and a bit less after a failed attempt and restart (of which there will be MANY), this is simply annoying and almost game-breaking.
It’s a shame though that the creepy manor is rarely used for atmospheric effect and only in very few scenes a feeling of tension and horror is created, e.g. with a storm raging outside and lightning being the only light source. This all makes for an eerie effect, so it’s too bad there aren’t a lot of scenes like these.
666 or 1-2-3 genres to MUUUURDER
Lucius is a strange hybrid of Hitman meets point-and-click-adventure mixed with a light spell system. It’s rather difficult to pinpoint the exact genre, but maybe that’s what makes it so special. It’s more than the sum of its parts, which is a good thing, because the parts themselves don’t always work like they should.
For instance it’s an interesting (even if for some people a sick) idea to have a young boy following the victims, learning their patterns and finding ways to make them kill themselves or accidentally die. The only problem is that except for a Fable-like trail at the beginning shown on the map (which is sometimes hard to decipher as it’s drawn in the child’s handwriting) which leads the player to the target, he is more or less left to his own devices. This can become extremely frustrating, because even his notebook usually doesn’t give enough clues other than what the player already knows. So he wanders through each room hoping to find something which can be useful or someone (as realistically the characters are not always in the same place). As there is no hotspot key and a lot of items are not easily set apart from the surrounding (or they’re hidden in desk drawers or a bit too small), this becomes more of a chore than actual fun.
Inventory puzzles are usually pretty easy as there are not that many items to carry around (if one finds them). Some killing scenes are also quite inventive. Not to spoil anything, but if one has the right tools and knows what to do, one gets a decent amount of twisted fun out of it.
It’s also interesting that Lucius has to be careful what he’s carrying in his hands or when he uses the items, because his actions could easily raise suspicions. This is another thing which could have been put to better use: getting rid of the evidence is only relevant in certain missions. Sometimes it can also feel as if Lucius’ motivations to kill are not explicitly explained, so the player doesn’t always have that sort of motivation why he does what he does.
The road to kill is a straight line
Another point of discussion is the spell system: Slowly building up a small repertoire of abilities (better use this word than spells), Lucius can interact with the environment and the characters in more inventive ways, like controlling a person’s mind or moving objects from afar (even if controlling them via computer mouse, like telekinesis, is not always responsive enough) as long as his mana-or-whatever-it-is bar is filled (and no crosses are close by, another ingenious idea: they have to be turned upside down to make them lose their power).
It’s also a bit disappointing that unlike the Hitman series, the player has to follow a strict path as the killings are very linear and can only be completed in a certain order. It would have been interesting to have different ways of solving a problem, especially since the mansion offers quite a lot of space for experimentation.
Unfortunately clunky controls, absent AI and a general unfairness in game design rear their ugly heads in stealth sequences and some variations on boss fights in which the player rarely understands what he did wrong or didn’t have enough time to react appropriately at the right time.
Sandbox murder time
There are also some tasks Lucius can perform in order to earn credibility with the other tenants. Each time he helps a character to bring a necessary item or do other rather mundane housework things (or tidying up his room), he levels up and is one step closer to get some special reward. Unfortunately there aren’t that many things to do and most of them are not that interesting to do anyway, which makes the open-world nature of the gaming world (which most certainly exists) a bit trivial.
Like any other sandbox game, characters have their own routine and paths to walk, which makes the manor a bit more lively. But as most of the dialogues are repetitive, it gets a bit old after a while to just walk around and see what everyone is up to. The game certainly has the potential, but it’s never fully realized to immerse the player for a very long time outside of the killing missions.
Not suitable for minors or anyone?
Of course the biggest question is also the most controversial one: how do the killing scenes play out? Already not getting a certification in Germany (the USK didn’t want to rate it), is the game really that sick and “in violation of human decency”?
It’s certainly true that there’s a voyeuristic mentality to the killing scenes. They may not be as graphic as in other movies (like the Saw series) or realistic as in recent games (like the questionable airport scene in Modern Warfare 2), but with slow motion and the camera showing quite a lot of detail, one could get the idea the game was only created to spark the flame of offending people and relishing in violence.
Not taking into account the nature of the young boy (after all, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with the Omen movies getting a 16+ or less rating these days), the gameplay of course nurtures a certain tendency to think about killing specific people. But like the Hitman series (the first one strangely enough was taken from the Index in Germany…a bit before the newest release? What a coincidence, eh?), it has to be seen in the context of the game, and this is set in a fictional world just like other horror movies.
It’s also right that there’s not much of a story, and Lucius’ mind is as blank as some flat characters, but it’s still a GAME which is for people who want to remember the old occult horror movies, because of the atmosphere and because it demands more than just pulling a trigger and killing random soldiers (just as Manhunt is a real stealth game which some people apparently like to forget).
If it promotes murder and shows killing as fun, this is probably for tabloids and self-appointed specialists in the field of youth protection to decide. The fact is that it’s more than “just another killer game” as German journalists or politians are too eager to announce as a verdict.
After all, people have different tastes and should make up their own minds, not being afraid to express their opinions. Therefore controversy is a good thing as it creates discussion, or it should…Unfortunately in Germany it seems to be just that case of “not to be talked about”, “better safe not to write about it anymore…who knows what happens if it ends up on the Index”. A sad thing…
Remains…a unique, if flawed experience
Lucius is a love letter to occult horror movies of the past and a guilty pleasure to play. It might not always succeed with its story and characters, but it’s definitely an original idea to transform the Omen movie or possessed-child-exorcism genre into a game.
Sometimes the game mechanics don’t work as they should, but there’s no doubt Shiver Games has to be applauded for their original mix of adventure, sandbox, stealth and get-to-the-target-and-kill mechanics the infamous Hitman and Manhunt series are known for.
In a games industry with tried-and-tested formula (not to mention the same old mechanics in adventure games), Lucius is a rough diamond many will either love or hate (with a vengeance and lots of cursing after every game over and another restart in the missions). But it doesn’t change the fact that the game is a brave attempt to push the boundaries of the genre (and good taste) or dispense completely with stereotyped thinking (even if it depends on classic horror tropes and clichés).