Home Tech Lorelei and Laser Eyes review: Creepy visuals and a thrilling story

Lorelei and Laser Eyes review: Creepy visuals and a thrilling story

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Lorelei and Laser Eyes review: Creepy visuals and a thrilling story

YoIt’s both a pleasure and a relief to discover that while the titans of the mainstream games industry are tearing themselves apart in their insatiable thirst for shareholder value, there are still smaller companies creating brilliant, original games. This month, we’ve already seen Crow Country and Animal Well, and now here’s the latest highly stylized puzzler from Swedish studio Simogo, previously responsible for the haunting, folkloric Year Walk and the groundbreaking audiotextual adventure Device 6. It’s, in short, one of the games most compulsive mystery game I’ve played in years.

Lorelei and Laser Eyes’ setup is classic adventure territory. A woman is invited to an abandoned hotel in Syracuse, Italy, by an eccentric artist who says that he needs her support to complete an ambitious, perhaps even revolutionary project. But what is really going on in this labyrinthine building and what has happened to the family that owned it for generations? The answers lie behind a series of locked-door riddles, the solutions hidden in strange movie posters, notes, and strange phone calls. There are artifacts related to an avant-garde film director, a Dadaist artist, a stage magician; There are secret rooms and hidden passages, and at the center of it all is an atavistic, time-spanning mystery told through multi-layered narrative threads that the player must unravel in a brilliantly non-linear manner.

Secret rooms and hidden passages… Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. Photography: Annapurna Interactive

Confused? You will be. Combining the original Resident Evil with the excellent smartphone series The Room, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a massive puzzle box, and each room contains some clue or question to tantalize you with the promise of new revelations. Can’t solve a clue from a picture that includes strange red paintings? Well, try that locked safe you found in another room or a dark hallway; Try that statue that is clearly missing a key component. The answers require logic and memory, as well as knowledge of Roman numerals, zodiac signs and strobogrammatic numbers. It’s obtuse and often baffling.

The expressionistic, almost monochromatic images combine wonderfully with the noirish feel of the story, with its sinister men and helpless heiresses. Dizzying camera angles turn rooms into twisted fairground rides, shadows protruding from each scene like daggers. It’s never clear what time period you’re in, although time is an important theme throughout: key dates in the family’s history emerge again and again, as the story folds in on itself. Too often, any game that even hints at surrealism is dismissed as “Lynchian,” but Lorelei has much more in common with Argento or Jodorowsky in its use of repeated symbols, strange threats, and sickly sensual aesthetics.

From the beginning, players are advised to grab a notebook and pen, and yes, you will need them. Instructions are kept to a minimum, and while there are plenty of clues to continually collect and re-examine (every note, image, or object you discover is stored in your character’s inventory so you can go back and review them), the narrative and structure are both completely oblique. One moment you’re analyzing CCTV footage, the next you’re consulting a shadowy fortune teller; Ghosts wander the hallways and at some points the fourth wall is broken to spectacular effect. I filled pages of my notebook and, for the first time in many years, hand-drawn a complete map of the setting on the A3 graph paper I usually use to plan my own novels. It was a very pleasant experience to be allowed this responsibility by the developer. It took me back to the era of Scott Adams, Lucasilm, and Sierra On-Line, when players were treated as co-authors (and co-cartographers) of the narrative experience; when you would always have an inventory of seemingly useless objects, although at some point they would all become necessary.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a fascinating puzzle game, using its eerie visuals and elusive story as an intrinsic element of the experience rather than a mere design affectation. It’s a game that raises subtle questions about the nature of creativity and play, and then takes a stunning meta twist that will thrill those who remember Kojima’s tricks in the Metal Gear Solid series. It’s also a reflection on the problematic relationship between art and commerce, and frankly, there couldn’t be a more timely concern for a video game to explore.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is available now for PC and Switch, £19.99

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