How does one become the Antichrist?
Apparently, a little bit of blood and prayer go a long way…
(Trigger Warning: This game has intensely graphic depictions of gore and violence. It also stars a six-year-old child who murders the majority of his family in the name of Satan. You have been warned.)
In Lucius, you play as the titular antichrist: a little boy from a wealthy family named Lucius Wagner, whose jet black hair, sunken eyes, and generally unnerving quietness would make even the most clueless of parents have to say: “That boy ain’t right.” The game is the first offering that Shiver Games – a relatively new studio, as far as I’ve researched — has put out, and it’s therefore a little hard to define what kind of genre they were shooting for. As their first game ever, it’s most definitely a well-constructed entity, but has problems deciding whether or not it wants to be an old-school point and click adventure game or a puzzle game in the same vein as Silent Hill.
One thing is for certain, though – if you’ve ever been a fan of movies like The Omen or The Orphan, then this game is going to be both a treat…and incredibly boring. (This isn’t to say that the game isn’t enjoyable, but more that the story pays such an homage to The Omen that it’s really easy to consider it less a tribute and more of a straight-up rip-off.)
The story of the game is simple: at its onset, Lucius is in the middle of being born. You hear the child cry out, and all the while the cinematic goes back and forth between Lucius crying in the hospital while a man in robes somewhere else chants his way through an assuredly demonic ritual. The game then jumps to Lucius at age six, whereupon he’s about to have a birthday party to commemorate the occasion…only instead of being visited by a kind uncle or aunt, Lucius is introduced to his real father: a man who the subtitles tell you is Lucifer in no uncertain terms. (As if your room catching fire and his shadow having horns weren’t enough of a dead giveaway.)
Ol’ Scratch then tasks you with collecting sacrifices for him. There’s little reason for it given on his part – Lucifer being evil for the sake of being evil? What else is new – but, he assures you, every death will also strengthen you, allowing you to draw upon more of your demonic heritage. You spend the rest of the game murdering everyone that lives in the Wagner mansion, all the while structuring each kill to make it look like an accident. As you can imagine, many of these deaths begin to look suspicious, which draws in the attentions of the police, the press, and eventually the church.
Bring it on.
While the story is nothing to write home about – seriously, if you’ve watched ANY movies that have the Enfant Terrible trope in them then you’ll see the “twists” in the plot coming from a mile away –it is suitably creepy and manages to catch the atmosphere and general morose decadence of the genre it draws direct inspiration from. Each character is used adequately to move the story along, and Lucius himself is vile enough to skeeve me out throughout the tiny snapshots of his personality we’re treated to. Many of the subplots you discover in the game, however, are your general horror movie fare. Your stern grandfather hints at knowing more than he lets on, your mother doesn’t believe you to be evil, your uncle is having an affair with both maids, your father is running for election and every murder hampers his chances at office, etc, etc, etc; it’s all been done before.
And, for a game that – I think – hinges on telling a familiar story, this is a problem. There’s little in the way of characterization to go around, and how the drama unfolds is at times as implausible as it is hilarious. Fans of the genre will see all the hallmarks of what made films like The Omen so instantly recognizable: each character is more of a template for a character than an actual person. From the kindly butler who refers to Lucius as his best friend, to the well-intentioned but failed detective trying to piece together what’s actually happening to this family; they’re set pieces that talk and die at Lucius’ will, little more than names and bland character designs moved around to get the story from place to place.
(One standout, however, is how they portray the declining sanity of Lucius’ mother. Moreso than anything else, I applaud the writers for expertly pulling that off.)
The flatness of the characters, however, isn’t that big of a deal . So long as you’re not expecting some masterpiece of storytelling, the drama itself remains solidly constructed. And every move you make in the game feels like you’re propelling the story forward, rather than the events themselves happening one after another – its Lucius’ bloodthirst that changes the Wagner estate for the worse, and ultimately what drives the entire narrative.
Visually, the game is a horror movie in videogame form. The palette is dark and dingy, with very little use of bright colors or loud noises. The character designs reflect the era the game takes place in – the later 1960s, early 1970s – and the house itself is oddly reminiscent of the House of Usher, all long and empty hallways constantly creaking and groaning whenever someone walks through them. Though dated, the graphics aren’t bad enough to make you want to rip out your eyes, and the atmosphere remains consistently creepy and somber throughout. The music, too, is like something torn out of a nightmare: all low whispers, gorgeously subtle changes in mood that set the tone of any scene beautifully. Whether it was listening to the music of Lucius about to go in for the kill, or generally listening to how the ambient noise in the house changed to something more sinister as the game went on, I definitely found myself entertained.
(The voice work, on the other hand, ranged from just barely being phoned in (most of the NPCS) to being suitably creepy (Grandfather Wagner) and deranged (Lucius’ mother.) And HUGE props to whomever played Charles Wagner, Lucius’ father, because he had the best performance of the actors bar none.)
Now, I do have one small, miniscule gripe about the game. The story stuff I can overlook since I wasn’t expecting much after the tutorial, but as a point and click game…Oh geez, where do I begin?
Each chapter of the game revolves around Lucius finding a way to kill his current target while making it look like an accident. He’s aided both by his own ingenuity and the general stupidity of the people around him, but also has a number of dark gifts he can call upon for aide. The one you’ll end up using the most, Telekinesis, allows Lucius to pull objects toward himself, break them, or start machinery from a distance. The third (Mind Control) and fourth (Memory Erasure) are used much more sparingly, and almost never as cleverly as Telekinesis. This made me sad, because it really seems like the game wanted to try a lot of cool ideas at once…and then ends up never capitulating on them.
Though you can grab many objects in the game, more often than not they have no use. And, though you can Mind Control many of the NPCS, it usually ends up being for nothing – either the current puzzle has no use for the power, or the NPC simply cannot be controlled in their current state. (This leads you to think that maybe they are part of the solution and need to be messed with to get in a state where their mind can be controlled — because SOME puzzle solutions require this — but this usually ends up being a waste of time.) This, in turn, makes the endgame a bit frustrating since you have loads of options power-wise, but very few things that you can actually use those powers on.
Each murder is a self-contained puzzle that needs to be solved in a single way, and many “extra” items found around the house are, more often than not, used in later murders. There’s no signaling which item is which, however, so though you might find, say…a nail gun at one point early on, don’t expect to use it. The same goes in reverse, as well, as finding items early can circumvent some parts of the game – for example, I’d taken glue from somewhere in the house early on and ended up completely bypassing a stealth portion of the game simply because I had it in the inventory. This may act as a treat to some, but, again – the game is primarily about its puzzles, and solving them by accident may feel “cheap” to some players. (None of the puzzles are Nintendo hard, or dwell in the realm of the absurdly obtuse — ala early Resident Evil games – but expect to get stuck at least once or twice. Especially on Mission 12, which gives almost no hint as to what you have to do to proceed.)
You can also do a number of chores around the mansion to get special “gifts” from your parents, but they act more like cool additions to the game than anything else. (I’d suggest getting the first two and completely bypassing the third, since those are the only two that directly influence gameplay by making it somewhat easier. The game also gives you several hints on how to proceed in the introductory voice-over for each chapter, so pay attention!)
The game doesn’t have any kind of multiplayer – why would it? – and doesn’t have much in the way going for it in the replayability department. An “extra” mode exists where you can try to get a high score on chapters 1 and 2, but as of this review I didn’t really care to revisit the game enough to try them out. There’s just not much to go back to – honestly, it’d be like watching a movie I just finished watching all over again, and got my fill of Lucius my first time through the game. In the end, I ended up liking Lucius way more than I thought I would. When all’s said and done, the game is a very solidly built first offering from Shiver Games, and I’m certainly looking out for more from them. It’s decently long – I clocked in eight hours or so – and worth checking out if you’re even remotely interested in the genre it pays homage to.
(And, in the meanwhile, stay away from any kids with glowing red eyes.)