Originally revealed back in 2010 and eventually launched late last year, the percentage of Lucius’ incubation period spent in the public eye is unusual to say the least, especially for a PC exclusive title. However, such openness did grant Lucius the opportunity to build an eagerly awaiting audience in the way that so few PC releases do without a multi-million pound advertising campaign to support them. Lucius was the antithesis to the argument that the mid-tier videogame is dying then, and in play it only goes to further strengthen the ideal that it’s not all about big budgets and bedroom coders: there is room for innovation without either fact sheet worthy appeal.
Telling the story of a young boy who has a notable incident on his sixth birthday, Lucius is born a of a well-to-do family that is cast in a poor light from the start: keener on letting the staff handle their child’s upbringing than missing out on any potential fun. Lucius goes to the kitchen with the maid, preparing to do his chores before playing with his birthday presents. However, after a vision of an unknown man, smartly dressed and with evil in his eyes, it’s just Lucius and the maid in the kitchen. As she walks into the large freezer, the tutorial tells you all you need to know about Lucius: place the padlock, turn down the temperature, and simply walk away.
Coated with a crisp layer of demonic possession and other adult overtones, Lucius is essentially a more elaborate version of Naughty Bear. It’s far stricter in it’s opportunities for evil, more akin to a Hitman videogame, but nonetheless Lucius revolves around exploration of the surrounding area and carefully rhythmic execution of your plans. It’s rare that players get the chance to be the bad guy, and even more so when doing it without comedic value, but that’s exactly what Lucius does. And it doesn’t delivery this permanent sense of dread with half-measures.
As can be seen in the screenshots on this very page, Lucius isn’t exactly the most approachable looking child in any respect. Taking its queue from 1970s horror movies, the player character in Lucius looks every bit as demonic as a cold-blooded killer controlled by the devil should. There is no question of morality here, by the time the videogame begins true you are already made aware that Lucius has killed over a dozen times – with the story cleverly piecing together how each of his victims were taken out as you actively continue to do so – and it’s clear from Lucius’ constantly vacant expression that this was the destiny that was always intended for him. Lucius is a dark videogame in which the suspicion of something evil is far more powerful than the gratuitous violence and bloodshed that many videogames present as their greatest evil.
Sadly, for all of the inventive plotting and deception that players will partake in, Lucius is often too binary to be considered a true innovator. There is no opportunity to cleverly fool the artificial intelligence (AI) into believing you’re doing good: if you’re spotted somewhere you shouldn’t be or interacting with a mission-sensitive object its game over, but the AI characters will blindly continue about their business should the young boy pick up a box of matches or bottle of champagne. It may seem like a relatively small complaint, an ideal that videogames should live-up to, but in these days of Dishonored and Far Cry 3, these are goals that are already being achieved in titles where such string pulling is less important to the atmosphere than Lucius.
The visual quality of Lucius is of a welcoming standard, echoing that sentiment of middle tier production. This is the standard by which all videogames live, and while bigger budgets can easily achieve more, no one would consider Lucius a poor effort in terms of design. The number of repeated objects and the lack of items cluttering the environments are issues that videogames with bigger teams have already dealt with, but on a substantially different level to the gameplay mechanics these issues are easily forgiven. The voice acting is of a higher standard throughout, though does frequently fall for the same clichés as the Hollywood productions that inspired it, as well as the odd localisation issue.
Lucius is an odd videogame to place, as it would be believed was the developer’s intentions from the start. It has shades of Hitman’s pacing, Naughty Bear’s wickedness and a sinister streak that makes it more adult than either of those titles. It’s odd to be playing a videogame where the greatest sense of threatening atmosphere comes from the character you are playing as, but it’s a liberating device that constantly keeps the player feeling smothered. Lucius may not reinvent the stealth-assassination design template, but it does promote a brand new direction for atmosphere that many titles have overlooked, or fumbled to the point of irrelevancy. And for that, Lucius will go down in history as a landmark title that was enjoyable, despite failing to live you to the promise it brought to the industry.