Lucius Review: Murders That Make You Want to Kill Yourself
As such, each murder is different and each murder requires very specific circumstances, items and player interactions, none of which are the least bit obvious. The game is merciful enough to point you toward your target, and sometimes the notebook provides meaningful hints, but the vast majority of the game is guess-and-check. Your target is smoking — maybe you can grab his extremely tiny, hard-to-click box of matches? Maybe then that sends him to the oven to light his cigarettes instead? Maybe then you can mess with the oven somehow, creating a gas leak, and that will (somehow) lead to his death? Yes, that’s a convoluted method to solving one of the early kills; you must locate a tool, screw with an oven, and hope a guy blows his face off. Of course, he does.
As you progress through the game, you get special powers, like the ability to manipulate the weak-minded into doing things and the ability to move objects with your mind. Inevitably, these become additional puzzle elements, replacing or augmenting items in your inventory. Lucius is at its best when it requires you to think critically about your powers and how you can alter things in your area, and once or twice it hits this nail pretty hard. But it’s hamstrung by the fact that you can only interact with very specific things at very specific times. There are items all over the house, but only a small number are actually interactive, and the majority of those aren’t good for anything. You spend a lot of the game searching for a needle in a stack of needles.
The solution to just about every puzzle in Lucius is completely opaque at the start of the chapter, or even most of the way through the puzzle. Very few items in the game can be interacted with; some you can pick up and keep, some you can only carry around until you decide to drop them. Exploring the massive and completely confusing mansion, you’ll find all kinds of items that have no apparent use to you whatsoever. Lucius will dutifully jam them in his pockets, and you know because of video game logic that eventually they will be useful in some way and that you should remember them. And lo, every single one (barring a few that you can pick up purely, it seems, for the sake of an achievement and red herrings) is essential in the intricate murder plot of some unknown person in the future.
The individual steps in the puzzles in Lucius, however, range from perfectly obvious to incredibly ludicrous, and the game design involved in several of them will make you want to put your head through a wall. I spent literally hours attempting to figure out how to progress through one chapter involving a maid doing laundry. I followed her to see where she went, spoke to every other character in the house, even picked up random articles of clothing and ran them back to the laundry room to help speed her through her duties, hoping that that might be enough to trigger the next step.
Nothing worked, until eventually I accidentally used my Telekinesis power on an iron I discovered was interactive, high on a shelf and out of reach in a corner. Drop that thing in the washer and close the washer and all of a sudden, the solution is apparent — the washer breaks, the maid knocks off for the day, and I can move on to the next stage of the puzzle. The solution was so ridiculous that I almost gave up on the game altogether, deciding to write this review without finishing it because it was such a waste of time. I haven’t been that frustrated with a video game in years.
But Lucius is just full of bad design. Sometimes the puzzles come together but they rarely, if ever, require you to be especially intelligent or creative — they mostly require you to have stumbled upon the correct item for the problem, or to go searching for it. And the game seriously struggles with providing you useful information. The map of the (way too goddamn big) mansion takes a while to decipher, the layout is stupidly overblown by any stretch, and even when you do know where you’re going, you rarely know why or for what. Sometimes Lucius makes it obvious what it is you need for a problem, and sometimes it puts an iron up on a shelf and expects you to figure out that putting it in the washer will break the washer, which is essential to the puzzle even though the maid never went near the washer at all.
I’m all for games making me think, but Lucius never tests you intellectually. You never think, “Ah ha — I can use this character’s weaknesses against her!” It’s almost always a case of random circumstance. You interfere with people, largely by accident, and they end up being convenient to kill without being seen. You never can see the forest because you’re always tied to the nearest tree, with almost no idea of what you’re doing or what the greater purpose is.
The game is also littered with instant fail points that result in long-winded game over screens. Lucius tries to put you in stealth situations, and then makes it difficult to stick with them and avoid getting spotted. One puzzle had me sneaking around during a rainstorm. The only path open to me took me through Lucius’ mother’s bedroom, and she spotted me repeatedly before I realized I could cut the power by using telekinesis on a piece of scenery that was actually a power box. But you only get an impression of the ability to interact with an object with the proper power selected, in the right level, and I’ve never seen this object before — so why would I guess that that’s the solution to the puzzle?