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 A little imagination and creative freedom go a long way in our industry. At a time when video games with eight-digit budgets try and fail to be “cinematic”, it’s quite astonishing that a low-poly indie title made mostly by two people achieves just the same. Loretta, programmed and designed by Yakov Butuzov and Daria Vodyanaya is a morbid fever dream of amazing presentation and engaging writing. Similar to Yakov’s previous game Dom Rusalok, Loretta explores the stuff that makes the human mind tick by placing the player in the driving seat of a ride on a descent to madness. The psychological thriller cum choose-your-own-adventure game will land on all major PC platforms on February 16, 2023. This review is based on the game running on the Steam Deck (It runs flawlessly btw).

A Smalltown Gal…

Set in small-town America in the 1940s, Loretta revolves around a woman handling betrayal, her husband’s infidelity and reclaiming her agency during troubled times. Since Loretta is a heavily story-driven game, it’s hard to talk about the narrative without getting into spoiler territory and I’d like to avoid doing such. Simply put, Loretta’s narrative is a whirlwind of violence, betrayal, guilt, and every other human emotion. Inspired by the psychologically haunting works of maestros, the game presents a story that’s gripping, suspenseful, morbid, and at times, surreal. It’s equal times Crime & Punishment as it’s 1922. In fact, the narrative shares many similarities with Stephen King’s underrated novella in that it’s uncanny. Still, Loretta manages to stand on her own two feet thanks to the branching narrative and the player agency the medium provides. 

I have to warn you, the surreal stuff kind of goes a bit overboard towards the end, and making sense of some story beats becomes hard. But I guess that’s kind of the point. As I said, it’s hard to talk about Loretta without getting into the specifics. Similar to other games of this genre, there are several moments where the player would wish to have more choices and feel that the game may be railroading them down specific paths. But that’s unavoidable. After all, there are only so many branching paths even games can offer.

One other nitpick I have is that, unlike Dom Rusalok, the game doesn’t fully explore the socio-political nuances of the time period. There are a few nods here and there, but the story largely takes place inside a self-contained bubble and shies away from utilising the opportunities provided by the setting further. The obvious reason for this may be that the developers are not North Americans. One other reason could be a wider appeal, something which was restrictive in Dom Rusalok. Still, it doesn’t take anything away from Loretta.

So Much with So Little

As I’ve mentioned above, Loretta is a highly cinematic experience. You wouldn’t know that just by looking at the game’s Steam page. By combining various cinematic camera shots, framing and snappy editing with spot-on sound design, Loretta elevates the morbid atmosphere to a level most AAA games do not. Each frame is screenshot-worthy thanks to the richly detailed environments and clutter-free UI. Each frame transitions into the next reminiscent of classic film noir.

Then there’s the sound design that makes up for the lack of voice acting. Period-appropriate background music and fitting ambient sounds elevate the mood and tone of each segment of the game. From the haunting OST to the painful grunts of Loretta as she’s pulling a nail from her feet, masterfully implemented. Loretta is truly a testament to how so much can be done with so little. 

Choose Your Own Mis-Adventure

By this point, you probably guessed that most of Loretta’s gameplay is rather simple and mostly features walking from point A to B. There is an inventory system even though it’s barely used. As the marketing says, there are plenty of “cryptic puzzles” in the game. While I’m sure about the “cryptic” part, these are more like mini-games than traditional puzzles. While these are very simple, they appear totally out of the blue and it may take the player some time to realise what they have to do. Moreover, they do not contribute anything to the story and can seem totally random at times. Even if you take out these “puzzles”, it won’t make much of a difference.

A single playthrough of Loretta may last you anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. But don’t fret, the game is highly replayable and there are lots of variations to see and branching paths to go down. As far as I know, there are five endings that are not of the “red pill/blue pill” type. You can easily get your money’s worth of playtime out of the game.

Real Talk

TL;DR, Loretta is a highly engaging and expertly crafted psychological thriller that wears its inspirations on its sleeves. The snappy presentation and player agency manage to elevate the gripping story to a whole new level. The branching narrative and the replayability that comes with it are bonuses. An essential recommendation from Gameffine!



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