The Devil might have all the best tunes but his latest game is a stinker. The original Lucius looked like it’d be a sandbox Satanic murder ’em up but turned out to be something closer to a shonky 3d point and click game, with prescripted kills that required specific inputs, objects and (sometimes) timing. For the sequel [official site], developers Shiver Games have built a game of improvised murder and AI interactions, but in reaching for the stars, they’ve fallen shrieking into the sun.
Lucius II is broken. I managed to enjoy the first game despite its rough edges and occasional overload of shod, but in stepping toward emergent situations, Shiver expose disastrous AI, erratic object interactions and a world less credible than a party political broadcast. For about half an hour I thought I’d be able to struggle through to the end, taking strength from the accidentally farcical nature of it all, but Lucius II has defeated me. I made it to the second level and I never want to go back.
Even the plot collapses under its own needless complications. Game one has Lucius slaughtering his family, and their servants and guests, as he fulfills the bidding of his True Father. It all ends with the earthly father arrested for the sins of the son while the terrifying tyke is dumped in a hospital, on a ward for the mentally ill (as you might expect, the patients gibber and gallop around the place – see this article for thoughts on that). There, he finds his powers draining away until a nun is brought onto the premises one day, reigniting his devilish abilities and causing two unpleasant orderlies to burst like blood balloons.
That should lead to a jaunt through the asylum, dodging guards and causing hilarious accidents involving shock paddles and puddles of water. Instead, there’s a second layer of plot, involving the detective who failed to solve a single crime in the first game. This is a man who watched the bodies pile high in the home of a US Senator and just sort of shrugged on the sidelines. In the sequel’s intro he decides that he’s probably been part of Lucifer’s plan all along and promptly drops to his knees to pleasure the profane prick.
OK. Fine. But that’s not all. Lucius has carelessly lost all of his Satanic powers like Samus after a night on the tiles, and there are repeated references to the town of Ludlow throughout the hospital. There’s another devil kid there, is my guessing, because Lucifer gave up on lil’ Lucius during his spell in the psychic slammer.
The point is, it’s all guff and it interrupts the game with meaningless objectives. “Go and find Lucius’ follower on the third floor”, it’ll say, having made no effort to introduce the idea that Lucius even HAS followers inside the hospital. And then when I find the follower, hanging from ceiling of his room, a cutscene waffles on about what it all means for a while. Bad things, apparently. Something about a town called Ludlow. It’s one of those plots that introduces the idea that repeatedly introduces the idea that something is important (Ludlow) but doesn’t care to explain why.
It’s not mysterious, it’s irritating and aimless.
Of course, none of that would matter if the creation of death traps and fatal scenarios was even vaguely entertaining, but accomplishing even the simplest things is as frustrating as hell. Because Lucius is an idiot, he refuses to hold objects in his hands, always levitating them in the air instead. This means if anyone sees him carrying an object, they’ll quite rightly freak out and panic. Even if you’re not in a restricted area, holding an object is effectively a crime. Sure, you can holster things, placing them inside the seemingly unlimited space of your straitjacket/suit, but as soon as you whip something out of your pocket, you’re exposed as a sinister supernatural entity.
Keep in mind that the object you’re ‘holding’ isn’t necessarily anything extraordinary or dangerous – Lucius will get himself arrested by levitating a box of doughnuts or a cup of coffee.
You might think this means the game is extremely difficulty but you’d be wrong. Even when NPCs see Lucius surrounded by hovering snacks, trampling across the guts of their coworkers, they’re likely to panic, run back and forth for a while, and then return to their normal routine. There are two settings monitoring their behaviour – Panic and Suspicion – but there’s no consistency in their reactions. I killed a nurse by throwing a box of poisoned doughnuts into a room FULL of bodies. She stepped over her corpsey colleagues, exclamation points of panic flying out of her head, and wolfed the doughnuts down. Then she added herself to the pile.
The levels I’ve seen are different floors of the hospital, each with locked doors and restricted areas, which are marked in red on the minimap. Running through those areas will cause anyone within line of sight to become suspicious but, more often or not, they’ll fail to react other than with a bark of annoyance. The game, like the best of Hitman, is about reading situations and behaviours, and then toying with them. The unpredictable and simplistic nature of the AI makes it impossible to play with. It’s like an FPS in which your gun shoots in a random direction, if at all, every time you pull the trigger – the key method of interacting with the world is inconsistent and incomprehensible.
That’s true in a more basic sense as well. You’ll spend a lot of time in the first couple of levels throwing things. It’s Lucius’ main method of interacting with the world. He never hands something to a person because, as we’ve already established he can’t even HOLD things, so he chucks items into their path instead. Every item in the game has some basic properties, one of which is ‘compelling’. If such an item does end up in someone’s line of sight, they’ll forget what they were doing and immediately head off to interact with it. In this way, a doctor will walk through a burning room to pick up a wallet.
But let’s go back to the actual mechanics of throwing. Let’s say you’re trying to knock something off a shelf by lobbing a can at it. You take the can out of your inventory and hold down the right mouse button, which causes an aiming arc arrow to shoot across the screen.
Unfortunately, the arrow moves so fast – going from a limp lob to a pitched fastball in under a second – that accuracy is impossible. I end up throwing everything at full power and then adjusting the angle afterwards using the mouse. That means standing in the middle of a room, staring at the floor, while a tin can floats in the air next to me. Throwing accurately is like threading a needle while bouncing on the end of a bungee cable.
There’s so much more, even in those first couple of hours, but why bother? Why bother mentioning the brilliantly weird way in which Lucius immediately becomes a ragdoll when ‘arrested’ by an NPC, allowing them to wave his limp body around like a flag? Or the slippery fluids that can be left in trails on the floor, causing anyone who touches them to slide on their knees, waving their hands above their head as if they’re at a rave, until they crash into a wall and crumple into a heap? No matter how far they slide, they’ll pick themselves up and attempt to return to their original route, often causing them to slide back and forth until the fluid evaporates.
I wish I could say that I appreciate the game’s ambition, if nothing else, but it’s clear that basic systems are barely functional during the tutorial. The idea – of a supernatural sandbox of slaughter – is as good as it was when the first game skirted around it. The implementation of that idea is extremely poor. At first, I enjoyed the idea of baiting NPCs and setting traps, but within half an hour, laughing at the animations was the only source of enjoyment.
If Lucius tried to do a spiderwalk down some stairs, he’d trip over his own arse halfway down and end up in a heap on the floor, wheezing. If he decided to make his bonce twist around so that he could spew pea soup at you, it’d probably fall off and roll around on the floor, propelling itself in a puddle of fizzing vom.