Review – Loretta
When I was young, I, like so many others, was entreated to the short play, Trifles. A one act play, it took a very short amount of time for the cast to lay out the story of a woman who has killed her husband and is coldly, confidently denying this to the police. Her friends, perplexed, uncover the source of her rage, and hide it from the authorities. With this action, it’s implied that the woman, Mrs. Wright, has murdered Mr. Wright in retaliation for years of abuse that culminated in a single moment of thoughtlessness that led to retaliation. It’s a memorable, sometimes haunting work that exemplified so many elements of the Suffragette movement and probably made many husbands exceedingly nervous. Which, hot take: if you’re worried your wife might kill you because you’re a dick, maybe stop being a dick?
However, Trifles concludes with allusions and ethereal ideas, not concrete actions. By contrast, Loretta, an artistically convoluted psychological thriller from the mind of Yakov Butuzoff, contains a multitude of actions, consequences, reactions and, in some cases, remorse. The game mostly focuses on the titular character, a woman in 1947 who has, to put it simply, been dealt a terrible hand. While the game’s description might paint this as a simple revenge tale of a woman scorned, it should be known there is much more to Loretta than simply getting back at her husband for infidelity. Living in a time where women were barely recognized as autonomous figures, Loretta exists as a tragic figure who, while not blameless, can easily be identified as a sympathetic villain, or an antihero, depending on the lens you frame both her journey and your own perception.
For the most part, Loretta is a 2D side-scroller of rough pixels that occasionally pulls into moments of intense clarity. This is both for dramatic purposes and to help give a different vantage as events unfold, both in the “real world” and within the mind’s eye. Usually, the player will be walking back and forth in small spaces to identify items and elements of the environment. Like all great point-and-click adventures, there is a lot that can be interacted with just for the sake of exposition, but you’ll need to hunt through it all in order to move the story forward. Offering multiple inputs, I chose mouse and keyboard, and that seemed to best connect me with the world of Loretta. It also helps tremendously when the game bucks the norm and dives into the twisting psychology between story moments, which are presented as puzzles.
The puzzle moments are a mixed bag, so please take that as you will. As the story unfolds, and gives you more and more details as to the prelude and aftermath of the murder, the snapshots are buffered by increasingly complex puzzles. These range from moving pictures to floating words, and all manner of interactions in between. The puzzles have no instructions, so players are meant to intrinsically figure them out, which works to an extent.
For example, in one, I had to click on the correct positive words as they floated in front of a mirror, which I didn’t realize until after I had failed the puzzle several times over. There isn’t a penalty for not passing the puzzle, but it was genuinely frustrating to react to it as I had previous puzzles (click words as quickly as possible) and then find out that I had to just wait and see. I’m not exactly sure how this could have been improved, but it didn’t feel enjoyable to hammer at something in such a way to get a result. It was very counterintuitive to the overall feeling of the game.
Additionally, Loretta is saddled with some bizarre and frankly disappointing sound choices. Clearly evoking ideas of cine noir and the works of Hitchcock (even saying so in the descriptions), it felt both lazy and insincere when moments of the game were met with dramatic stings that felt like they were lifted out of a modern horror/thriller movie trailer. There’s plenty here to enjoy in terms of soundscape, including intensely uneasy discord during cat-and-mouse conversations, some pleasantly unpleasant ambience in “inner” dialogues, and even the appropriate drops of silence to express the peaceful and uncomfortable stillness of the countryside. So when there’s an otherworldly alarm that feels more at home in the trailer for Prometheus than this period piece, it ripped me out of the moment, and that upset me more than anything else.
The reason that it angered me so, is that there is love and detail in Loretta that I appreciate on a massive level. In one aspect, this game is carefully modeled to have directed shots that feel cinematic and caring, that pay homage to the influences and ideas being captured within. The aerial shots of the car, the perspective from inside the well, the tight push to see a conversation that eliminates the room around the speakers…these are all nods to directors and creators of years gone by, and I’m here for it.
Not only are they able to stand on their own here, but they pay respect without beating the player over the head with it. This isn’t Scary Movie, this is High Anxiety without a trace of humor to it, except for the occasional black chuckle. Yakov Butuzoff proves they have the chops without stopping the ride every six seconds and asking, “DO YOU GET IT?”, like so many ham-fisted love letters can do.
But more than anything else, there is a compelling energy to Loretta that keeps the player dialed into the storyline and what may come of it. As a game, you can control what happens to an extent and, as a result, you can end the game exceedingly early. I purposely did something foolish in the first five minutes and got the bad ending that I deserved as a result. You make risks and get rewarded with brazen dialogue choices and extreme behaviors, and sometimes you see your tale get cut short, because why the hell would Loretta think killing a police officer would work out in her favor? She may not be an ornithologist, but she’s far from some hot-headed psychopath. I can’t say this enough, Patrick Bateman was not a hero and people shouldn’t treat him as such.
Loretta is complicated, though, and that’s what will keep the player on their toes. There is so much sympathy for her plight and her situation: a woman in the 40s with no job, unable to bear children, suffering in silence for her husband’s transgressions (of which there are many) and stumbles into a solution that many would consider ghoulish. She isn’t meant to look and read like someone who deserves to walk away scot-free, but she also isn’t a Black Widow in the criminal sense. Her entire world is upended by her actions, yet the player can’t help but realize that she was on her way to ruin regardless.
Loretta is torn apart and reassembled, unsure what’s real and what’s a hallucination, while operating in both with the utmost care. This is how Loretta takes control, even if it’s in a reckless and ultimately destructive way. Anyone who watched Thelma and Louise understands their final actions were not ones of despair, but of defiance and independence. Likewise, though it might ultimately cost her freedom and/or life, Loretta made a heavy decision, one that she is constantly haunted by as it plays out. But, unlike everything else, this was finally a choice she made for herself.
It’s not a perfect game. Loretta has an appropriate soundtrack, shot through with dissonance that yanks you out of the moment. The puzzles are obtuse to a fault at times. I hated being in the shoes of the hungover detective who was too hangdog about how worthless he was to do his job appropriately (though my discomfort in that means how well the scene was executed).
But it’s a captivating tale, and it’s told in such a remarkable way that it does credit to its inspirations and to those it may inspire. It’s a perverse take on empowerment and justice in a world devoid of either, and it won’t sit well regardless of how you swallow it down. I don’t know what I felt in the end, about Loretta herself, but I do know that Loretta is affirmed in what she did, even if it tears her apart on multiple levels. From the moment the die was cast, Loretta shared the sentimentality of “The Cell Block Tango”: “he had it coming.”
Intense swings between pixel avatars and stark portraits, Loretta has a gorgeous juxtaposition that keeps the player engaged throughout. Bonus points for adding a black-and-white mode to really capture the cinematic effects when players want to go fully into the madness of it all.
Exploration and interaction mechanics were clear and clean, and worked very well with mouse and keyboard. Puzzles were sometimes a bit of a pacing killer, leaving me bored, frustrated, and confused, but not enough to throw off the tempo of the story overall.
Why the weird klaxon sounds? The game does so well and handles itself strongly, the sound effects are positive and the quiet sits beautifully, and yet I’m dragged out of the moment by something from a Michael Bay movie.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Constantly torn between sympathy and revulsion, Loretta weaves a complex web of actions and consequences, of explanations and excuses, and it keeps the player riveted to the rail ride until it comes to a final stop, wherever that may be.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Loretta is available now on PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Loretta was provided by the publisher.