Lorelei and the Laser Eyes review: A peerless puzzler

Simogo delivers a stylish puzzler no fan of the genre should miss out on
Simogo / Annapurna Interactive

You’d think flashes of violent pink in a monochrome world might stand out. But no, my brain saw blobs of red adorning black-and-white trees in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes and just chalked it up to a bit of style. To be fair, that’s a reasonable assumption to make about a game from Simogo, the studio behind the fantastically stylish Sayonara Wild Hearts. It’s also an important part of what makes Lorelei and the Laser Eyes so damn good. Those unmistakable blotches were, I eventually realized, part of the solution to a puzzle that stumped me for the past quarter of an hour. I just didn’t see it. 

No other game I’ve played toys with your perception and pushes you to think in new and inventive ways like this one. No other game is so confident in itself that it bucks trends in favor of doing its own thing – and, more importantly, fulfills its promises so effectively as a result. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a game with few, if any, peers, and though the term often gets thrown around like cheap slang, it’s Simogo’s masterpiece.

On the subject of puzzles, Lorelei’s run the gamut from deceptively simple to plain deceptive, or, sometimes, just simple – but so simple that you overthink it and spend 15 minutes trying to find what’s surely the solution, despite said solution literally being right in front of you. Even the most straightforward puzzles that involve general observation and little else are elevated thanks to Lorelei’s exceptional atmosphere, where “spot the difference” turns into “spot the difference in a movie poster featuring a decaying cat.”

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes screenshot of a fractured labyrinth.
Prepare for some mind-bending puzzles. / Simogo / Annapurna Interactive

There’s a selection of math problems, sequence recognition, general logic, geometry, and probably a dozen more types of number puzzles. Riddles are common. You occasionally have to find floppy discs and play the games wired into them on old computers. Some puzzles are self-contained, with the solution either in sight or tucked away somewhere in the room you’re in. Others require deeper thinking and synthesis, where a clue you picked up 90 minutes ago on another side of the hotel and forgot about is suddenly the key to moving forward.

I and every other critic who previewed Lorelei said you should keep a notepad handy while playing. That’s still true, but I ended up with what must’ve looked like a child’s amateur detective kit – a notepad, a drawing pad, a compact mirror to decipher reversed text, a calculator, even a paint app where I could make physical (well, “physical”) connections, trace patterns, and give my thoughts tangible form. 

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes has a level of tactile immersion you usually only get from a really good tabletop game. Not every puzzle requires that kind of multi-tool solution, which is a good thing, since it would get overwhelming pretty quickly. However, even the simple ones leave you with a distinct sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing the unorthodox ways of thinking you picked up while banging your head against a proverbial wall during an earlier challenge are the reason you succeeded so easily this time.

Granted, all this enjoyment crashes to a halt when you get stuck on something, which you will. That’s an issue common to most puzzle games, though Lorelei feels particularly unforgiving at times. It very much expects you to know certain math concepts – or at least to be cognizant enough to figure it out on your own. Don’t play this one when you’re tired, or it’ll just frustrate you.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes screenshot showing two people sitting on a dining table with a third standing next to them.
A glass of wine might help stimulate your puzzle-solving skills. / Simogo / Annapurna Interactive

That demand to meet Lorelei and the Laser Eyes on its own level is part of the puzzler’s identity, though, and even when it irritated me, I rarely wanted it to be anything other than what it was. Besides, you have record of every note and clue you find in a – admittedly slightly clunky – series of menus that you can look back on at any time. There’s nothing to indicate which of the dozen letters and random scribblings might be helpful in a given situation. Figuring that out is your job. But all the resources you need are within easy reach. 

There is one absent feature that feels like an oversight, though. Getting lost didn’t occur to me in the first few hours. I wandered the forest outside the hotel and pottered about the foyer and first floor thinking surely each area’s distinct layout and decor would be enough to make me remember what and where it was. Well, I was wrong.  Our heroine remembers everything she reads and sees, but that impressive ability stops short of creating a mental map for some reason. 

I kind of see the logic here. A map could undercut the sense of discovery you get from going in with no knowledge, and some puzzles do hide basic layouts of certain floors. However, a blank sheet that fills itself out as you explore with no markers for important objects or even doorways would’ve helped keep players oriented without giving away any of the hotel’s secrets. Ah well. Just plan on making your own map.

Any sense of frustration is worth it in the end, anyway. I said in our preview that I wouldn’t spoil any of the story beyond a brief outline, and that’s still what I’m doing here. Lorelei is best experienced with as little knowledge about what happens as possible. The gist is this: You’re a woman, presumably named Lorelei, who finds herself in the woods outside a grand hotel. Why you’re there, what your connection is with the people in the hotel and their filmmaking business – these are just a handful of the mysteries at the center of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, and unlike the puzzles you’ll solve while trying to track down the truth, there’s no simple answer to these questions.

Much of the story, especially in the early hours, unfolds in letters, posters, business cards, and half a dozen other pieces of documentation you find lying around the hotel and surrounding areas. It seems twee and perhaps a little heavy-handed at first, like the kind of scenario building you might find scribbled on note cards guiding you through a detective game at a party – background about some person or other, snippets of information about where you are, just enough to keep you curious and moving forward.

And then it isn’t so twee. I vividly remember when I realized what Simogo was doing with these bits and pieces, because it was 1am and the production assistant’s diary I was reading at the time creeped me out so much that I didn’t go to sleep for a while after. Comparisons with Resident Evil are inevitable and, given the number of similarities, probably something Simogo intended. But Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, with its dank, creeping gothic dread, long-buried secrets, and hidden madness reminds me just as much of a good Edgar Allan Poe or William Faulkner as it does any horror video game.

Without going into too many details about this particular incident, it chronicled one important person’s descent into what seemed madness. It suddenly upended my perception of everything I’d seen and read so far and made me wonder if I really knew what was going on after all — the kind of thing Layers of Fear tries doing, except it actually works, and it wasn’t the only time it happened. 

Simogo plays a trick on those of us familiar with the modern design trend of stuffing worlds with well-intentioned, but essentially pointless flavor text, stories of All-American Dads who ended their days as a zombie’s brunch or urgent missives detailing where to find a hidden lever for anyone who comes along and needs to find a hidden lever. I made the mistake of assuming the same about Lorelei and was so very wrong. Yes, these letters and documents have puzzle clues, but they’re also the key to understanding what’s happening in the hotel and, more importantly, why.

The what and why are surprisingly complex, and it turns out I didn’t know what was going on, not for a while anyway. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes deftly handles multiple layers of storytelling and perception as it leads you along, teasing you here and there before pulling the rug out from under you and asking you to look again. One of Lorelei’s biggest strengths is how it never falls into the many traps that most similar games and films leap into. It could easily be just another mystery box or a shlocky attempt at artsy horror with trite, heavy-handed messages, but its confidence in what it has to say – and how it says it – give it the thematic cohesion and narrative strength it needs to pull everything together.

Lorelei moves into your brain and gets comfortable. I found myself mentally rifling through my collection of documents with as-yet unsolved riddles in the middle of the day or thinking about a puzzle that stumped me while working on another project. I also expected a letdown in the end. With that level of absorption and hours of narrative setup, it’d be easy to fumble the finale and disappoint expectation, leaving you with little more than the sad feeling you get from seeing unfulfilled potential.

Most modern TV shows do it. Hell, even most movies do. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes doesn’t. It doesn’t leave you alone, either. I thought I’d be finished thinking about it after the credits roll. Instead, I just started playing again.

Score: 10/10

Version tested: PC (Steam)


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Josh Broadwell

JOSH BROADWELL

Joshua Broadwell is a freelance writer with bylines for GameSpot, NPR, Polygon, and more.