Lorelei and the Laser Eyes Review – Lasers Off-Target

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes developer Simogo has long since proven themselves capable developers. Their 2012 iOS game, Year Walk, is a haunting horror adventure game that I strongly recommend grabbing on Steam. More famously, Simogo created one of the best games of 2019 and one of the best indie games of all time with Sayonara Wild Hearts, the heart pumping rhythm platform adventure through a pop album. I was hoping that their newest title would live up to my high expectations, but unfortunately Lorelei and the Laser Eyes just isn’t it. While very competently made with a direct vision, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes obstructs the player at every turn and is almost never fun to play.

I’ll try to describe the premise of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes as best I can, but it is truly something you’ll need to experience for yourself if you want to understand. An unnamed woman (the player character) arrives at a fancy hotel in what appears to simultaneously be Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France. The player is given no instructions and simply must walk around to begin uncovering clues about who they are, why they are there, and what the goal of the game even is. There are very few interactions with characters, being that there only seems to be a single character in the game besides the titular Lorelei herself. Also, we might be Lorelei, but also not. Stop asking so many questions.

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This game has loot boxes you can buy with in game currency, but I advise you not to waste your cash on them. There’s better stuff later in the game.

If you spend too much time thinking about why the world of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is the way it is, you’re going to want to throw yourself off the balcony of Room 1847. Just accept it. It is simultaneously the year 1973, 1847, and 2014. This is important because nearly every clue you look at will involve dates, and you’re just going to have to let the timelines not add up if you want to make it through. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes also knows it’s a video game, and will break the fourth wall pretty consistently. Despite what it may sound like, I did actually love the strange meta-narrative setting of this game – it reminded me strongly of the excellent Inscryption and Pony Island from Daniel Mullins.

The artwork is beautiful. Everything is black and white, drawn in something approaching cell shading but not quite. The only other color in the game is red, which appears on specific points of interest, blood spatters, and Lorelei’s laser eyes. Outside of that, it’s purposefully starkly black and white all the way through. It looks amazing. I love the animation style as well, smooth but controlled. Music only plays in specific rooms where you have manually turned on the stereo. It is otherwise dead silent.

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This game is masterful at controlling atmosphere with its directed single camera.

The setup is this: you, the nameless player character, are here to assist with the hotel owner’s interactive art symposium. He has converted his upscale hotel into an impossible escape room with hundreds of locked doors and puzzles, and by exploring this tiny open world you must solve the mystery of who killed Lorelei. If she is dead, that is. That’s not me playing coy, I just genuinely don’t know even after 13 hours with this extraordinarily obtuse puzzle game.

I am very, very annoyed at the chosen control scheme for Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. I almost recommend you don’t play it for this reason alone. This is a single button game, where every button on the controller is “confirm”. You can use the D-pad and Control Stick to move. That’s it. Walk up to something and press any button (I chose A! What will you choose?) to examine or interact with it. If you are not standing near something, every button opens up the player character’s photographic memory record of everything you’ve found so far. There is no “back” button.

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Once you enter the broken window, you will be met by nine gentleman callers. I will not explain further.

This is a game where you spend half of it sorting through menus, and it is the most convoluted navigation system I’ve ever seen in a video game. I’d swear a third of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is me clicking on the wrong thing and trying to back out of whatever I’m doing. This may be an artistic choice, but it is a universally bad one. I have accidentally loaded an old save over my game three times, erasing progress, because of this unfathomable decision. I pray the developers do something about this in the future.

To get right to the meat of it, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is much too complicated for its own good nearly every step of the way. Each puzzle requires collecting two or more hints around the hotel to solve, and then requires not only logicking your way through the puzzles but also figuring out how and where to input the solution. For instance, in one of the poster rooms I have spent nearly an hour on trying to open a single safe. I know the solution – it’s 1846. I have tried every iteration of entering that code into this bizarre safe to no avail. I have spent 40 minutes wandering around the glass maze because there’s no indication of what the puzzle actually is anywhere in the house. I have felt precious minutes of my life slipping away as I stare at puzzles that I, nor the people around me, have any ability to solve.

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What do the tablets in the maze do? I’ve had them for 11 hours and I’ve yet to find out.

In case you’re thinking right now “well I bet this guy is just stupid”, I’ve had constant assistance from two people far more capable with puzzle games than I am. One of them is a university science professor and one of the smartest people I know, and even she was stumped by the unbelievable amount of logic leaps one must take to advance through Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. I should state right now that the puzzles in this game are almost entirely based on numbers and math. Perhaps this is an instance where knowing too much math got the best of us; there was more than one instance where we were trying to do actual calculus to solve a problem when it needed me to simply count to four. Most of the time, however, we simply lacked the clues needed to give full information on what we were even trying to solve.

For instance, there’s a clock on the first floor with astrological symbols instead of numbers and five hands placed on five rotating wheels, each one displaying a year in Roman Numerals. Great. But now we need to find what specific dates of these five years are the solution, and looking through the hundreds of documents that are mercifully recorded in my character’s photographic memory has yielded nothing. There’s a Spade door and Heart door that I have keys to, but looking at the maps I am two to three locked doors away from using them. Meanwhile, the Diamond and Club doors would lead me to a new area, but the Ace of Diamonds and Clubs cards are nowhere to be found. Every room has three to four doors in it that lead to other parts of the hotel, but every single one of them seems to open from the other side only.

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I did not enjoy the Magician’s poetic stanzas or confusing tricks.

Normally, struggling through a puzzle is rewarded by a sensation of feeling smart and successful when you do solve it. Not in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. While I did squeal with excitement a few times, a good chunk of the puzzles I just had to brute force my way through. I still don’t understand how I solved at least a dozen of them, and I doubt I ever will. 13 hours on this game, and there’s still a third of this hotel I can’t even access.

The issue with this open world puzzle design where a clue for every other puzzle is locked behind another door that needs another clue to open, you can easily just get stuck with no way to progress. You can’t just wander to a new area and try a new thing every time. After a while, you’re going to run out of options. If you hit one dead end, you have simultaneously hit 14 dead ends. And there you will stay. I am not claiming the game itself softlocked me anywhere, but it might as well have with how overloaded with information it has left me and with no idea what any of it means.

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*Hacker voice* I’m in!

I get the feeling that despite everything disparaging I’ve said here, Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is operating 100% according to the developer’s intended vision. It is supposed to be this hard, this frustrating, this stagnating. You’re never supposed to feel like you’re actually progressing. You are intended to spend hours on a single puzzle just trying to figure out how to give the game the solution. I am certain there is a very small group of people out there, maybe folks who compete in competitive jigsaw puzzle tournaments, who will find Lorelei and the Laser Eyes to be their favorite game of all time. I also do not think many humans out there will be able to complete it without help from a guide. If you have played through The Witness or The Talos Principle and thought “I wish I could get a version of this that would make Albert Einstein sweat,” purchase Lorelei and the Laser Eyes immediately. If you are anyone else, please trust me, your time is better spent elsewhere.

Nirav played Lorelei and the Laser Eyes on PC with a review code.

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