GAME REVIEW – Lorelai (PC)

By Marty Mulrooney

Lorelai

Lorelai is the third and final chapter in the Devil Came Through Here trilogy, created by auteur horror adventure game designer Remigiusz Michalski. Following on from The Cat Lady  (“a life-affirming experience thickly coated in death that deserves to be received by as wide an audience as possible”) and Downfall Redux (“brilliantly written and beautifully put together”), Lorelai tells the story of a young girl trying to escape her toxic family home while protecting the ones she loves most.

Lorelai doesn’t have the best life as the game begins and she will have an even worse death – multiple deaths, actually – before it ends. Her mother is a domestic abuse victim in denial, her baby sister is vulnerable and helpless, and her stepfather is a dangerous drunk. Like Susan Ashworth before her, Lorelai dies an unjust and unpleasant death and must make a deal with the devil – the Queen of Maggots – to come back to life and set things right. However, there is always a price to pay…

Remigiusz Michalski certainly knows how to set his audience on edge. From the opening scene where Lorelai’s mother tries to downplay a black eye, the air is thick with dread. In the background, a neglected baby cries: Lorelai’s sister. Drawn to the wailing, Lorelai is horrified to find her on the floor next to her crib. Things couldn’t get much worse… and then her stepfather comes home.

John Doe is an Afghanistan war veteran, violent, unemployed and a full-time drinker. His return to the flat on Rosebery Lane on that fateful night will change Lorelai’s life forever; in a fit of rage, he’ll take it from her with a smashed glass bottle. Those who have previously played The Cat Lady – and if you haven’t you should, it’s fantastic – will be all too familiar with what happens next. Far from facing a game over screen, players are instead given the opportunity to return to life and kill John Doe.

That’s the basic premise in a nutshell, but this is a Remigiusz Michalski game; there is a lot more to Lorelai than mere revenge. The story continually jumps between the past, the present, and a world of dreams (or nightmares, depending on how you look at it) that seems to sidestep time completely. One moment, you’ll be helping Lorelai on her first day working in a nursing home; the next, you’ll be running through a twisted, blood-soaked recreation of her flat attaching dismembered heads to their misplaced bodies.

Disjointing the narrative in this manner can prove somewhat confusing at first, but the experience soon settles into a satisfying rhythm. Lorelai is a lot easier to follow than its predecessors and there is a leanness to the story being told that suits the determined drive of its titular protagonist. Lorelai is clearly a young woman that’s had to grow up far too quickly and Maisy Kay does an incredible job voicing her, perfectly balancing the character’s vulnerability and toughness. The rest of the voice actors are excellent too, although some characters can border on the pantomime at times.

The original soundtrack by micAmic is affecting and trippy (‘Suspended Memories’ is a highlight, channeling the otherworldly imitation ’80s soundtrack of Netflix’s Stranger Things), and the original songs that have been selected are perfectly placed. This reviewer particularly enjoyed the more contemplative songs such as ‘Waltz for Bonnie’ by Warmer, and there is even a beautifully haunting tune – ‘Blood Filled Tears’ – that is sung by Lorelai’s voice actor Maisy Kay. Songs such as ‘Sickening’ by Junkie Brush may feel a little heavy-handed at first, but Michalski knows what he’s doing; when it comes to selecting songs that seem tailor-made for the scene they appear in, he’s right up there with Hideo Kojima (just wait until you hear ‘Rachael’ by Skinjobs as the final credits roll).

The graphics are just as impressive as the voice acting and soundtrack; heightened yet grounded, they’re highly reminiscent of a little-known satirical cartoon called Monkey Dust that aired from 2003 to 2005 here in the UK. This is Michalski’s first full HD, widescreen game and the move to the Unity engine and a wider aspect ratio has truly paid off. There is a nice blend of 3D and 2D assets and the only time the game looks a bit rough is during extreme close-ups on the latter, which can surely be forgiven for an indie game that otherwise has such high production values.

The controls are intuitive – especially with a gamepad – and do a great job of putting the player in Lorelai’s shoes. This reviewer used to think point-and-click controls were always the best option when it came to adventure games; The Cat Lady, Downfall: Redux and now Lorelai make a compelling argument for direct control schemes. Michalski has done an excellent job of making this game feel ‘alive’; a lot of the decisions the player makes are just smoke and mirrors, but in the moment – directly controlling the character in high stress situations – the stakes feel incredibly high. The puzzles are a cakewalk, but Lorelai’s journey feels anything but easy.

Lorelai’s main weakness is that it feels somewhat derivative of The Cat Lady at times; it’s at its best when it does its own thing, such as a lengthy section of the game where Lorelai works in a care home. Washing, dressing and feeding the elderly, the scent of death is heavy in the air. It’s something we all try to ignore, until a cold skeletal hand grips our arm…

Some of the violence is borderline gratuitous, but thankfully the story justifies its inclusion 99% of the time. There is a chapter later on in the game where Lorelai can choose to ruin a recovering alcoholic’s life, but this course of action is entirely optional and easy to avoid with a little bit of creative thinking. The main target of Lorelai’s anger is her stepfather; finally defeating him is one of the most satisfying video game payoffs of 2019.

If there was ever any lingering doubt that Remigiusz Michalski is the Stephen King of video games (something this reviewer has been telling people since 2009), it has been squashed by Lorelai. It has been such a pleasure to watch Michalski develop as a game designer over the past decade; comparing the original Downfall with Lorelai is astonishing, and the key to the success of the Devil Came Through Here trilogy has undoubtedly been the deeply human element that has been present in each game.

Beyond the blood-soaked corridors, narrative twists and turns, incredible performances, memorable songs and evocative visuals, each game has been built on the immovable foundation of the indomitable human spirit. Much like his games, Michaelski’s protagonists aren’t perfect, yet they’re fascinating because they tell us something true about ourselves. They’re highly polished mirrors that nonetheless retain a few cracks, smudges and smears, subtly warping reality. They remind us that good and evil are not only balanced; they’re a personal choice we make every single day. In short, they’re life-affirming. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

9 OUT OF 10

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