Yep, Who’s Lila? is definitely my thing.
From Garage Heathen, a point and click where you use facial recognition instead of verbs, it’s unique from the get-go. You could imagine someone like Jim ‘Rubber Face’ Carey as Will, what with his range, but instead, we get a sociopath who has to rehearse his reactions to fit in with the others.
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Not only that, but the score is spot-on too. Before even getting into the game, the eerie repetition put me on edge, as did the noise emanating from the High School, all the while giving me goosebumps like back in the days of Silent Hill 2. But it’s time to experience the demo for the gameplay and not just for the feels.
In case you missed the news piece, Tanya Kennedy has been missing for some time, and you, Will, are the last person to have seen her. Your classmates know this, and they want answers. It’s all rather ominous from the write-up, but you immediately come to conclusions based on Will’s behaviour and the associated events that take place. No spoilers, as it really would spoil it for you.
Who’s Lila? is well structured. The low-res dithering matched the audio – a gritty, dirty feel to it – almost like when you were a kid, and you find something like Child’s Play or The Gate on VHS, then watch them in your friend’s caravan on a 14inch portable. There’s something wrong about it, but all the while alluring. Too specific?
The Who’s Lila? demo doesn’t run at full screen, other than maximising the window [correction – it does…]. It’s split between the interactive area and your face to the right. Note that there’s no let-up. Your character, Will, is unsettling and constantly staring at you. While the facial recognition is original, the gaming window is a traditional point and click with an icon changing based on what you can do.
When it comes to reacting with your face, it’s a little weird. It reminds me of those Goo plugins from yesteryear, or what you see on most YouTube channels with a distorted face. The expressions don’t always look natural, but the game, or A.I., recognises that you’re attempting a smile or frown. It’s pretty sinister when you’re practising in a mirror – worse when you slide an eyelid up to expose the top of your eyeball! But what was even crazier was me trying to replicate an expression and then translate that to the game within the timer.
In case that sentence is confusing, you manipulate the protagonist’s face with the mouse, not a webcam capture of yourself.
Deciphering some of the assets on screen can be like detective work due to the art style, but when you can see what’s going on, it has a visceral aesthetic – as if the animation is rotoscoped. With just two colours on display, you’ll often find more meaning in the presentation than immediately with the story.
I grow a little tired of that cry of ‘inspired by Studio Ghibli’, and what we get is a nice animation, but a story not remotely on par. Or more relevant – a David Lynch reference, when in reality, it’s just a bit quirky. Who’s Lila? is quirky, but it’s also sinister, ambiguous, profound and confusing – and they’re all good descriptions.
I won’t pretend to understand everything now. There’s bound to be people who can regurgitate the Möbius strip from Lost Highway, explain that there’s only one interpretation for Mulholland Drive and that What Did Jack Do? is tailored to an upcoming essay somebody has to write. Interpret it how you will, as Lynch has said about art in general. And on that note, Who’s Lila? is very much the same and open for interpretation.
As a demo, you aren’t going to get your answers yet, but there are multiple endings to experience, and I’d be lying if I said I’ve got them all.
I know this title will be a niche, and many people are likely to find it too weird, and all the write-ups on it attempting to understand it all and make it all academic. Dumbing things down further and using art as an example once more: I know what I like, and I love Who’s Lila? so far…