Lorelei and the Laser Eyes preview: This may be my GOTY

The gameplay guides for this one are going to look like House of Leaves.


I found myself in a variety of odd situations while solving puzzles in Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. I spent some time staring at a mid-century movie poster for a documentary about a decomposing cat, wondering if I should focus on the runtime or the date it came out. I pulled up old hotel blueprints and deciphered the math of dead architects. I played a handful of ASCII-style PC games to receive messages from a 19th-century magician who calls me his sister. I found some toy blocks and shoved them into the walls of a secret cathedral. I slipped between realities and traversed a maze that shattered under my feet. I watched a woman fall to her death. I wondered if that woman was me.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a third-person noir detective game set in a haunted hotel with impossible architecture and a gruesome history. Its hallways are dense with logic-melting puzzles about magicians, mazes, astrology, filmmaking, mausoleums and physics, and it isn’t even clear why the protagonist is there in the first place. With artifacts from the 1800s, set pieces from the 1960s and technology out of the 2010s, it’s barely clear when she’s there. Lack of direction is a key tenet of the game, resulting in a sense of solitude that’s oppressive and supremely unsettling.

It’s also empowering. The hotel in Lorelei is a playground of secrets with no set path for players, and there’s a rich density of riddles and lore to untangle in every scene. Though I still have no idea where I’m heading in the game, I’ve rarely felt lost. It's kind of like Tunic in that regard, but it also feels like something directed by David Lynch, and visually, the game resembles Kentucky Route Zero or Sin City. There’s really no direct comparison for Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. Playing it feels like nothing I’ve experienced before.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
Lorelei and the Laser Eyes (Simogo)

The actual gameplay in Lorelei is straightforward: Walk around and press a button (on a gamepad, literally any button) to interact with objects that glow when you’re near. Otherwise, pressing a button pulls up a menu with the protagonist’s stats, inventory, reference materials, unsolved puzzles and handheld gaming system. Her stats include caffeine, stress, temperature, cash and bladder trackers, her inventory comes with a tampon and the hotel provides both coffee machines and bathrooms that she can actually use. I haven’t discovered a gameplay reason for the bathrooms or the tampon yet, but I’ve enjoyed the fact that they exist, and I will keep trying to insert the tampon into every statue and keyhole until it finally works. If it ever does. With Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, you just don’t know until you know.

Lorelei’s world is built on Roman numerals, Greek letters, zodiac signs and 24-hour clocks, and it’s filled with puzzle boxes, keypad codes, logic riddles, mazes, image reconstructions, memory tests and other ultra-satisfying mystery-solving mechanics. Even then, part of the game’s genius lies in the actions that take place off-screen. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is meant to be played with a notebook and pen close by, and I do not suggest starting without these tools. Yes, even you, the person who just scoffed and thought, “I won’t need to write anything down.” I promise, you will.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
Lorelei and the Laser Eyes (Simogo)

Lorelei definitely has puzzles with straightforward solutions, but the bulk of its queries are challenging, relying on previous answers, significant amounts of reading, object manipulation, deduction and creative thinking. The simple riddles supply a steady cadence of endorphin hits, especially in the early game. They also provide a guide for approaching the trickier puzzles: Trust your instincts. If you think of something, try it, no matter how outlandish it may seem. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes rewards curiosity and the game is incredibly adept at planting the seeds of concepts that’ll be useful hours later.

I hit my first mental wall around hour seven, and that’s when Lorelei’s pacing shifted downward for a spell. I went from consistently — but not effortlessly — solving puzzles and unlocking new areas of the hotel, to lingering on a handful of rooms I simply couldn’t figure out, pacing among them and scouring my notes for hidden clues. After 45 minutes or so, I remembered I still had a simple puzzle from my first hour waiting to be solved; I returned to it, completed it, and the game expanded beautifully in response, offering up an entirely new area of the hotel to explore and increasing the tempo once again.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes
Lorelei and the Laser Eyes (Simogo)

Each eureka moment in Lorelei introduces more questions, and the secrets pile up as a grand, overarching narrative elegantly unfurls around the protagonist. There are classic horror elements here: children in owl masks giving advice from beyond the grave, hell-dark hallways, spooky phonograph music, ghosts with no eyes. A man with a maze for a head floating right behind you, reaching for the back of your neck. The game seamlessly introduces various visual styles at regular intervals, breaking its own reality in perfectly orchestrated ways.

All of this weirdness forms a cohesive experience because Simogo knows how to make a damn fine puzzle game. This is the studio behind Device 6, an iOS title that played with text and physical input methods in trippy ways, and Year Walk, a haunting adventure about Swedish mythology and death. Lorelei feels like a magnum opus for Simogo, an atmospheric powerhouse of a puzzle game that proves how deeply its developers understand these systems, and pushes the genre into strange and unchartered territory.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a rat king of riddles. It’s a game composed entirely of mysteries, with each puzzle twisted around the previous one and strangling the next, solutions knotted with concealed information. Mark my words, the game guides for this thing are going to look like House of Leaves.

I’m ten hours in and plenty of mysteries remain. There’s a six-handed clock with zodiac signs and Roman numerals in the west wing that I still can’t figure out, and there’s a journal with a lock based on moon phases that’s been slowly driving me batty. More than a dozen puzzles are waiting to be solved in my character’s on-screen scratchpad. In real life, the pages of my notebook look similar, covered in hastily scribbled numbers, letters, dates, arrows and symbols, solutions sprinkled among the chaos.

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is due to hit Steam and Switch on May 16.