Review: Lilith Was Dead

This debut release traps you with your best friend and a number of strangers in a movie theater after a grisly murder. As the mystery unfolds in stranger and stranger ways, look for clues to the murderer’s identity before you become a victim yourself.

The debut release from Heat Wave Games, Lilith Was Here traps you with your best friend and a number of strangers in a movie theater after a grisly murder. As the mystery unfolds in stranger and stranger ways, look for clues to the murderer’s identity before you become a victim yourself.

A free game key was provided to us by the developer for review purposes.

Lilith Was Dead is the first game the members of this team ever made, and in pretty much every way it feels like it. It does some things well, other things not as well, but overall it’s the kind of project I would expect to see as part of a jam or a secondary education thesis project as a opposed to a commercial release. As that’s how it did indeed start, according to the Steam page, this isn’t surprising.

Good Aesthetic, Less Polished Assets

The sprites are very cartoony and, if they were a little more refined, would do well in a slightly different setting. They’re very expressive and the designs themselves are pretty fun, but the execution is still amateur. The backgrounds are very well done, however. They’ve got this lovely textured feel to them and a specific style that feels like it’s had a lot more refinement. Occasionally you’re struck with the feeling that the camera angle is a little strange, but overall they construct a great, coherent space that makes sense for the characters to move through.

Despite any small stylistic grievances, all the art works well together. The UI is simple but functional, and generally looks good. It has a very interesting color story. There’s a lot of deep reds which set the right tone, but it’s not boring, with contrasting color pops that still look great and bring everything together. They also hold back a little on the gore instead of pushing to a possible extreme, which better fits the tone and is an effective visual storytelling strategy.

An Interesting Cast That Could Use Some Tweaks

The character work is a little underwhelming individually but serves the overall narrative well. The written dialogue doesn’t flow very naturally most of the time, and the voice work doesn’t really help in that regard. The casting as far as the physical aspect (pitch, tone, etc.) is pretty good, but the performances themselves are, overall, not great. The characters just don’t feel authentic or like they’re reacting in a reasonable fashion to the situation they find themselves in.

A side effect of this just so happens to be that, because no one’s quite acting like an actual person and you only get a cursory understanding of the characters, it plays well into the “whodunnit” style of mystery setup. Because, as a player, you can’t tell who’s being suspicious or not, there’s some genuine ambiguity that works within the framework of the story.

An Okay Mystery

Its structure as a mystery makes some pretty strange choices. To even accept the initial premise of being stuck in a movie theater with a murderer and a dead body, you have to hand-wave away a lot of details, including some very questionable decisions made by people who are supposed to be adults. It does a decent job of building dramatic tension, however, and introduces one of its first twists at a great place to keep the story popping along. It does fall off a little quickly if you find yourself in one of the “wrong endings,” but the “right ending” keeps up the pace well all the way to the end.

As a mystery in an interactive genre, one expects a certain amount of active investigation, and they do a great job of physically transferring the feeling of investigating onto the player through choices. The general dissemination of information, though, can be a little hit or miss. At the very beginning, the game suggests writing down important information, which, from a meta gameplay perspective, is very strange for a modern game. Any game engine is going to permit a developer to build an “information I know” screen, so it feels like an active choice to insist a player does it manually (even if it actually was just a technical limitation). This becomes a bit of problem for this game because it doesn’t do a great job of signaling to the player what that important information actually is. I figured out who the murderer was on the first try based on drawing the wrong conclusion from completely different information than what the game was intending me to pay closer attention to. So while I can appreciate an approach that’s attempting to embrace the solve-the-mystery aspect as much as possible, I’m not sure they completely pulled it off.

Lilith Was Dead is a game with good bones. The bar they set for themselves was very high, and they put in a lot of work. Including full voice acting for a first game is an admirable feat, for example. It still very much feels like the product of new creators, however. I look more forward to seeing the second or third or fourth game this studio puts out. With a little more practice and refinement, they have the potential to create some very fun, imaginative projects.

Lilith Was Dead is currently available on Steam.

Ashe Thurman

Spooktober 2022 Visual Novel Jam

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