A disclaimer in bold, red letters greets you when you first play Loretta. The warning mentions “topics that some people may find unacceptable,” especially regarding language. In this point-and-click thriller set in the 1940s, starring a woman who murders her husband, profanity is highlighted as an element to be mindful of. But Loretta’s cussing isn’t just a Grand Theft Auto reminder this is serious business—it elevates the tone of the story.
Developers Yakov Butuzov (who previously worked on a similarly-structured game called Dom Rusalok (opens in new tab)) and Daria Vodyanaya teamed up with publisher Dangen Entertainment on the project, which has a demo available as part of the Steam Next Fest. In just shy of an hour, a strange vendor gave me a sample of poison, I confronted my husband about his escapades with the woman who works at the local diner, and seasoned his steak with nothing but pepper.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is fairly straightforward, although it rarely holds your hand. The story is divided into multiple chapters, jumping back and forth in time to provide context on how your husband ended up deep down the well in your yard. In the 2D perspective, you’re free to examine key objects in the environment—some provide information about Loretta, or the house itself. Others can be used for a number of purposes, depending on the situation. While not every object is properly highlighted, which led me to just hover over the backgrounds to find them, the developers have mentioned they’re working on making them clearer for the final release.
Your actions in Loretta can be interrupted for a number of reasons. In the first sequence, a detective shows up and starts asking questions. Every time you’re in conversation and a dialogue choice appears, you can pick up between two or three options. You never get to see the full response, but the tone and overall message are clear enough without spoiling things, which I appreciated. In other cases, it’s the story itself that leads you to a different room or location altogether, either by concluding a sequence or an event taking place—a phone call, a strange noise coming from the basement, and so on.
There’s plenty going on with Loretta’s story. Although the premise is a standard one for the genre—the developers cite the works of Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock as sources of inspiration, and quote directly from The Twelfth Man—it’s a story hellbent on spinning scenes to keep you on your toes.
Loretta, for example, presents herself as a fairly regular character at first. She shares glimpses of her relationship with her husband, hinting at infidelity, a big move from New York City to a ranch far away she never asked for, and the overall degradation of their marriage over time. But once you learn about the murder, the tone of her writing (since she also acts as narrator off-screen) becomes much more aggressive and personal, featuring plenty of swearing. It pushed me to try and follow her personality, where I’d normally pick the “good” answer in other games, to stay true to her intentions.
Every time you end a chapter, you have to complete a minigame to unlock the next. Some were confusing at first. One had me rapidly clicking on floating words displaying ‘whiskey’, ‘scotch’, and ‘bourbon’ so they wouldn’t reach the center of the screen. Others presented fairly simple puzzles, like clicking specific words that were only revealed when they passed over a mirror, the reflection indicating which were the correct ones. They make for an interesting break, although others felt more familiar, such as the consultation with a shrink where you’re interpreting shapes.
But as promising as the demo was, I can’t quite shake some reservations about what the finished game is going to look like. A 1940s story featuring a woman protagonist is already far more interesting than yet another one where you play as some hard-boiled or lousy guy, but the writing doesn’t always land, getting a bit too close to the tropes and source material it apparently wants to distance itself from.
When it does land, however, is mostly thanks to the use of profanity. I previously wrote about why I love failing in Disco Elysium, and prefaced the piece with one of the funniest results of failure in that game. Slurring “I want to have fuck with you” when you’re trying to flirt with someone is the embodiment of embarrassment, but that’s the kind of willingness to be messy in tone and dialogue that helps show Disco Elysium’s characters and world in different lights.
Loretta, as prefaced by the disclaimer in the opening, is trying to embrace a mature tone as well. The way it deals with infidelity and marital problems from Loretta’s perspective sets a promising foundation, as does the way the writing shifts, increasing the profanity as a deliberate reflection of Loretta’s internal state after committing murder, and the way she chooses to remember everything that led to that moment. Whether or not her attitudes are not undermined by the rest of the game’s writing remains to be seen. Even with just a short glimpse of her deeds, though, I’m willing to hear her side of the story.
Loretta is currently in development, and if you’re quick you can download a demo (opens in new tab) during Steam Next Fest.