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Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

Simogo's latest release is by far their most ambitious game and an instant classic in the puzzle genre.

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For the past two weeks, my brain has been the subject of a full-on takeover. Looking back, there have been moments when I've been practically obsessed. Even during innocent shopping trips, Roman numerals, ancient Greek letters, the lunar cycle in 1847, astrology and things even more mysterious have put my cognitive faculties into overdrive and done their best to open my third eye.

This takeover has partly taken place by design. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a veritable buffet when it comes to puzzle design. As is often the case with the genre, the game's puzzles move within a specific area. Here, it's your ability to find meaning in - and connections between - text, numbers and symbols to open the locks - physical and metaphorical - that stand between you and the truth. But where games like Return of Obra Dinn or The Witness keep a tight focus, Simogo's latest and by far their most ambitious game, goes in a different and more colourful direction. Just when you've settled into a rhythm of cross-referencing texts, analysing abstract artworks and finding patterns in torn posters, the game changes character and asks you to navigate mysterious mazes. It is truly enigmatic.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
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However, the reason also lies in the game's alluring world and story, which time and time again made me overcome the challenging puzzles and accept the periods where I was stuck because the curiosity to find out which way the story would go was so great.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is also a testament to the appeal of small worlds. The game is essentially a small open world centred around the mysterious Hotel Letztes Jahr, whose labyrinthine architecture and eccentric decor are reminiscent of Resident Evil's Spencer Mansion. Because the world is limited in area, it allows the player to get to know its many nooks and crannies intimately, creating a strong connection to the digital world. This hotel is also - narratively as well as mechanically - a true puzzle box that you slowly work your way deeper and deeper into.

And who are 'you' in this equation? The answer to this question is initially also a riddle, the answer to which I will not reveal here. Upon arrival at Hotel Letztes Jahr, you are simply referred to as 'Signorina' by the mysterious film director Renzo Nero, who has invited you to participate in his magnum opus. Initially, this participation comes in the form of a character of a game where he openly presents various challenges to a young woman, but soon doubts arise about the nature of the game and who is in control. In parallel, the hotel's eventful history, to say the least, unfolds and draws threads into the present - and the future. I was initially a little worried that the story would turn out to be an intellectual exercise with the game's characters reduced to glorified chess pieces, but as the story progressed, the characters and emotions became more apparent - although the game still speaks more to the brain than the heart.

If that sounds pompous, it's because in many ways it is, and this impression is only reinforced by the stark monochrome aesthetic, but thankfully Simogo are adept at puncturing the whole affair with humour and self-awareness, preventing the game from falling into the trap of self-parody. And mechanically, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes will actually be a recognisable character for those of you whose gaming history goes back to the 90s. If you imagine the original Resident Evil without inventory management and all the undead, you have a very good idea of what it's like to play Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. From fixed camera angles, you explore the hotel and try to find items that can help you unlock more and more of the hotel so you can get to the bottom of Renzo Nero's game, work or whatever it is.

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However, this down-to-earth description does not do justice to the game's hugely compelling nature. The visuals alone, with their sharply defined low poly style, where strong use of red breaks the otherwise mostly monochrome aesthetic, are a real delight. And the jazzy background music provides a nice counterpoint to the creepy eeriness suggested by the creaking hotel. As the lack of enemies suggests, it's not a true horror game - think a film like Guillermo del Toro's ghost story The Devil's Backbone - but it borrows liberally from the genre, and the absence of danger and jump scares only reinforces the sense of isolation and unease that the game patiently builds. One of Simogo's other masterpieces is the way they intertwine lore and gameplay. The Swedish developer succeeds in building a rich world through books, newspaper articles, game prototypes, installation art and more, while integrating all this information into the game's puzzles. Each piece of information is both an interesting read in itself and a potential clue to the next infernal puzzle, and so I read them with great care, which only increased my immersion in the game's universe.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes

One of the game's major focal points is the art world. A dangerous choice in many ways. Because when developers set out to build fictional industries, they usually end up with untrustworthy depictions that distance themselves from the game and its world. This makes it all the more impressive that Simogo actually succeeds in presenting several of the characters as fully realised artists through their artwork - which in turn plays a dual role as ingredients in the puzzle design. Lorelei Weiss' series of installation artworks in particular was a pleasure to solve with its accompanying text descriptions, which refer to the lofty texts found in various art museums and at the same time provide clear hints on how to approach the work to solve the associated puzzle.

Finding meaning and systematisation in abstract art in this way gave me an intoxicating sense of feeling perceptive. A feeling that is common across most puzzles. There's something literary and highbrow about Lorelei and the Laser Eyes' focus on art, strobogrammatic speech, ancient Greek and manuscripts that I must confess my inner snob finds incredibly appealing as a framework for puzzle design. If I were to let go of my enthusiasm for a moment and put on my critical glasses, some of the game's puzzles are a bit too cryptic and convoluted for my taste (or perhaps rather intelligence), but mostly it was just a pleasure to scribble away in my notebook and put my mental capacity to work at full speed.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, however, is not content to stay within this satisfying basic formula. The game throws obscure 90s-style game prototypes, 80s photogenic arcade games based on Simogo's previous titles, and two different mazes where navigation suddenly takes centre stage. In this way, Simogo plays with both the genre and the gaming medium's past - again, just like the narrative does.

It's this intertwining of gameplay and storytelling that is Lorelei and the Laser Eyes' best and most well-executed quality. But across the board, the game deserves to be celebrated. With its literary take on the puzzle genre, the sometimes obscure solutions, and the overwhelming freedom that can make it hard to know if you have the information to solve a given puzzle, Simogo's game may be off-putting to some. But if you're the type who enjoys making sense of texts, numbers and symbols to peel back the layers of a labyrinthine story that tastes equal parts Hitchcock and Lynch, there are few better places to find your way than Hotel Letztes Jahr. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is an aesthetically pleasing, cognitively challenging and narratively stimulating experience of the kind we rarely get to enjoy, and I already miss the obsession of unravelling all its secrets.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Varied, high-quality puzzle design that plays beautifully with the compelling story. Sharp aesthetics. Plays with the genre and medium.
-
The solution to some puzzles becomes too obscure and can initially feel confusing.
overall score
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