Review: The Mastery of Illusions in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is one of Simogo’s finest achievements, expertly interlocking its cryptic puzzle design with a chilling narrative.

By Kurt Indovina on May 17, 2024 at 2:43 PM PDT

I’ve never really given much thought to the differences between a labyrinth and a maze. That is, until I played Simogo’s Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. A labyrinth, as I know now, is a singular path, twisting and turning, constantly changing in direction. It invokes the illusion of feeling lost, despite the fact that its path always leads to a center. A maze, on the other hand, has multiple paths, filled with dead ends, wrong turns, and requires trial and error to reach its end. The former can be a meditative and reflective journey for some, while the latter is a trying experience that requires patience and perseverance to see it through. Despite these differences, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes brings them together through mechanics, themes, and narrative. The result is a gaming experience that masterfully interlocks storytelling with design, making it one of Simogo’s finest achievements, and one of the most impressive narrative puzzle games in recent memory.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a psychological horror puzzle game that sent me on a winding journey through a black and white, neon-red-accented hotel, to untangle a mystery that blurred the line between fact and fiction. It is dense with puzzles, heavy on story, but both are interwoven, and that is key to the way it unravels. I was consistently thrown off the path to the truth, led astray in what I perceived as a maze, when in actuality, I was being armed with knowledge that led me through a labyrinth to the game’s heart-wrenching conclusion.

From the start, the game plunges you into its world, putting you in control of a stylish woman from the 1960s, clad in a mod-style outfit and sunglasses, standing alone in the woods outside the mysterious Hotel Letztes Jahr. You have no context, no idea of your role, whereabouts, or purpose. Your mission, as explicitly stated in the game’s manual located within the game’s realm, is to unearth the truth. The game’s opaqueness sets the mood, hinting at a challenging yet intriguing journey ahead. The uncovering of concealed truths is monitored through a ‘Truth Recovery’ percentage in the game’s menu. Soon enough, you come across a letter from Renzo Nero, hinting that your presence in this hotel, on this specific date in the year 1963, is no accident.

The game encourages independent investigation, leaving it up to you to unlock and comprehend every aspect, with your progress being tracked from 0% onwards. Each fragment of information is discovered, not handed over. Even the game manual isn’t readily available; you need a key to access it. Completing the game doesn’t necessitate finding the manual, proving the game’s non-linear nature and the faith it places in players to discover elements independently. Thorough exploration of the game’s enigmatic world is rewarded with the uncovering of the complete storyline.

You soon learn that your host, Renzo Nero, is an exuberantly theatrical artist who has invited you to participate in an art project. Entering the eerily still hotel, you begin the arduous task of piecing together the story of your dramatic host in this labyrinthine maze-cum-puzzle box of a hotel. Each clue brings you closer to understanding your involvement in this art project. As the irresistibly chic protagonist, you explore various scenes in a stark black-and-white world, depicted from fixed camera angles showcasing 3D vector-style graphics through a cinematic lens.

The narrative advances by solving a series of intellectually challenging puzzles. Some puzzles require a knowledge of newspaper articles, Roman numerals, strobogrammatic numerology, and the Greek alphabet, acting as stepping-stones to navigate deeper into the hotel. Rather than establish its own puzzle language, the game draws upon real-world logic and brain teasers, giving a new twist to conventional problem-solving tasks. While typical puzzle games use mechanics as a narrative device, this game relies on the player’s existing knowledge base. Although this could make the game somewhat inaccessible for some, it proves to be a rewarding experience for seasoned puzzle enthusiasts.

Remembering all the Latin terminology and comprehension of Greek symbols can be overwhelming. Luckily, your in-game avatar possesses a photographic memory that stores everything you encounter. However, to untangle the game’s enigmas, you will often require a pen and paper to jot down clues and work your way to the solutions. This ties directly into my personal habit of always keeping a notebook handy in real-life situations. Having this habit mirrored in game-play makes progressing through the game, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, a unique and fulfilling experience.

In your journey through a haunted monochrome hotel, all doors, compartments, passageways and records require solving some sort of puzzle to gain access. Some are locked from the other side while others need a key found after successfully resolving another puzzle or are protected with a code that is yet to be found. At times, solutions are hidden in the environment around you, requiring you to peruse posters or solve riddles or puzzles hidden nearby. Other times, it involves cross-referencing prior accumulated information like a particular date in a telegram. While this may seem daunting, the game nicely parcels out information and equips you with the tools needed to solve the riddles without becoming overwhelming. If a certain puzzle is not making sense, it usually means you haven’t discovered all the necessary clues yet.

There were instances where I felt stuck with puzzles that seemed incomprehensible, leading me to invest hours in fruitless experimentation. At one point, I realized that I had overlooked a minor detail hinted at early on in the game. This led to the valuable lesson that if something is not making sense, it’s likely due to missing pieces of information. After this realization, traversing the game became more meditative than frustrating. This taught me that it is not essential to solve everything the instant it is discovered. There was a calming realization in understanding the beauty of pausing, being patient and being slow.

While the game’s puzzles are challenging and at times left me perplexed for hours, they never felt impossible due to the game’s nonlinear nature. It is crucial to keep track of every detail you unearth making having a notebook invaluable. In my 34-hour play-through, I covered 31 pages of my notebook with frantic jottings of significant information, such as dates or names, that could be decoded or combined with other data. I greatly enjoyed how my notebook became a vital companion through gaming, brimming with numerical values, equations and cryptic symbols related to Roman numerals, lunar phases or astrology.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes bombards you with so much information, so many puzzles, and so many enigmatic problems, that having my notebook by my side only managed to pull me into the experience of the game further. Oh, and also, with a cup of coffee there too.

I consumed a lot of coffee while playing this game. This meant having to use the bathroom a lot. While this may seem irrelevant to the game itself, it’s actually an important thing to note. This game will require patience, and oftentimes, getting up and physically walking away from it to process its many puzzles, as many of the solutions will not appear magically. Sometimes all it takes is a break, clearing your mind (or bladder), and coming back with a fresh pair of laser eyes to have that satisfying eureka moment.

This reliance on writing in a notebook and cross-examining my own notes was alleviated by the fact that the game, if you’re playing on Switch, can be played with one Joy-Con. The control scheme is incredibly simple, as everything can be interacted with using a single button press, making holding a pencil in the other hand (or a cup of coffee), an engaging way to play the game. As a result, it makes playing on the Switch my preferred way to experience it.

As the game and story progress, you unlock more halls and areas of the hotel, and with it, a discovery that what you’ve been perceiving as reality is being bent and molded to drag you deeper into its chill-inducing horror. These moments and the revelations that come from them are better experienced than explained, so I won’t go into detail. But there are several scenarios in the latter half of the game that subverted my expectations so effectively that they had me pulling at my hair in shock.

The sheer horror of the game is accentuated exponentially by optimally utilizing the gaming medium itself. Much of the narrative of ‘Lorelei and the Laser Eyes’ revolves around the co-dependency of art and technology and, more specifically, the formation of games as an artistic medium. Through this perspective, game development is employed as an encompassing narrative that meanders through different gaming eras, from the first PlayStation’s crude polygonal horror to the charming simplicity of 1-bit point-and-click adventures. An underlying meta narrative exists in ‘Lorelei and the Laser Eyes’ that enshrines avid gamers and followers of Simogo’s previous endeavours. Interestingly, these conditions aren’t essential to comprehend and relish the game in its entirety, but serve to enhance its appeal.

The game often employs a technique similar to that of ‘The Ring’ wherein VHS tapes are utilised, adopting PlayStation 1-style graphics periodically to bring a sense of premature, worn out presentation of the past, thus establishing an unsettling tone. This makes for a harsh deviation from the game’s regular sleekly modern and clear graphics. It was a thrilling experience to witness this resurgence of erstwhile gaming styles implemented in a somewhat menacing manner. It seemed to skillfully manipulate my familiarity with the PS1-era games, not just evoking nostalgia, but to magnify the game’s scarier undertones. In a similar vein, even playtesting games merits discussion, elongating its meta themes, and occasionally serving as a parody.

‘Lorelei and the Laser Eyes’ is a monumental accomplishment that experimentally explores the concept of a game as a medium and a form of art that narrates a story which could be solely experienced in a video game’s environment. My engagements with the game led me to marvel at Simogo’s talent in counteracting my preconceived notions with a narrative that reflects on the intersection of art and technology, the magic of storytelling, all while grounding me with the rudiments of puzzle design to not only equip me with knowledge but also guide me towards finding the truth. While it often seems to be a strenuous maze constructed out of enigmas and trickery, it’s through determination that you can trace your way to the heart of this complexity and a truth worth discovering.

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