Lavrynthos offers a fun riff on Daedalus’s Labyrinth using novel techniques. Read on for our impressions!
Update: This preview is based on the recent showing of Lavrynthos at the Venice VR Expanded program at the Venice Film Festival. It’s not yet available to the public.
Impossible spaces is a concept that’s severely underexplored in the VR scene. It’s essentially a means of changing an environment as you walk through it: standing in a room, walking around a corner back into the same space and finding yourself in an all-new environment even though you’re physically in the same location. It takes a moment to get your head around (not to mention a lot of play space to actually utilize) but, when you do, it’s a real lightbulb moment for VR immersion.
We’ve seen this idea explored in games like Unseen Diplomacy and the excellent Tea For God, but Lavrynthos is one of the first story-driven experiences I’ve seen tackle the concept, and the piece mines a lot of gold from it.
Directed by Fabito Rychter and Amir Admoni and produced as a Biennale College project, this is a fun riff on Daedalus’s Labyrinth that introduces us to Cora, a young girl that’s sent into the maze with a specific purpose. It’s not long before she meets the legendary minotaur and, without spoiling too much, enjoys a different encounter than she might have initially expected. The piece constantly plays with your perspective, sometimes embodying a character, sometimes observing as if the play were taking place in a diorama, and sometimes at human scale.
In a nutshell, Lavrynthos feels like promenade theatre (when viewers stand and walk from scene to scene rather than sitting in a seat). Think of it as a dramatized walking tour, making incredible use of its mythical setting as you begin to feel lost amongst the ancient stone corridors and endless sudden turns. At one point you follow the minotaur and Cora together, standing high above the labyrinth and having to duck down through arches that will warp you into new areas. It’s equal parts disorienting and fascinating and helps underscore some of the story’s wider metaphors.
Not only is it as immersive as VR gets, it really helps you feel like a part of the story itself – characters usher you around corners and, on the rare occasions they acknowledge your presence, you realize there are very few barriers keeping you from believing this is a living, breathing story unfolding in front of you. I found myself rounding corners ever eager to see what the experience had in store for me next. And, just like the windy path you’ll weave, it throws some twists at you too, from embarrassingly effective jump scares to total changes to the environment that you won’t see coming.
All-in-all this is something quite memorable, then. Thematically, Lavrynthos explores topics on the way society indoctrinates and pigeonholes in novel and impactful ways, and it left my head frantically thinking up other ways to combine impossible spaces and VR storytelling. Right now there’s no word on if and when it might arrive on home-based headsets, but its Venice showing was available on both PC VR and Oculus Quest, so hopefully we’ll see it hit both in the future. If it does, I’d definitely recommend you make space for Lavrynthos.