Review: The Town of Light

TheTownofLight

The Town of Light is an interactive psychological horror experience set around a recreation of Italian mental hospital, Volterra Psychiatric Asylum. Set in the modern day, players explore the decaying ruins of the facility while experiencing flashbacks and images of a young girl, Renee, who is a fictional character reliving true experiences, based on real facts and events, in 1938 and the subsequent years at the asylum.

As past readers of my reviews may be aware, I’m not that into horror games. They scare the shit out of me. I can’t stand the stress. I had seen early promo art and teaser videos a year or so ago for The Town of Light and was curious to learn more, but I was initially hesitant to play a psychological adventure set in an abandoned mental institution. (Outlast, my last foray into such an environment, is not something I care to repeat.) With some assurance from Matt that The Town of Light was more adventure-thriller than horror, I took the plunge and began exploring with extreme trepidation.

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I blame my first night of playing as being too exhausted to count as I didn’t even finish one chapter in the game (which incidentally is the only way to load up subsequent game loads—there is no save feature). I was certain that the game was filled with crazy lunatics waiting to jump from monster closets and I too gingerly made my way through the abandoned playground where the game begins and walked up a dirt road leading to a fence with which to access the main entrance of Volterra. No lunatics so far!

Set during a warm and sunny afternoon, The Town of Light manages to still provide plenty of disturbing moments but ultimately even this big ‘fraidy cat managed to see his way through to the end. Honestly, the game isn’t nearly as scary as I let myself believe. There are certainly plenty of startling and fraught filled moments, but the game doesn’t necessarily want to scare so much, but rather provide a glimpse into the horrors of how mental patients were misdiagnosed, mistreated, and even abused.

While wandering through the abandoned building, narrative is provided through Renee’s memories of her experiences. Her voice guides and recommends where to go next. As the hallways are explored, and doorways are opened, flashes of haunting horrors burn on screen momentarily, providing a glimpse of what was once accepted as modern science and medicine. Old posters are found on walls in certain rooms providing steps and methods for “curing” patients.

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Flashbacks that appear during key moments of the narrative show just how densely packed this mental institution was. It is no wonder that many patients in need were treated so poorly. Ghostly black and white “replays” of moments offer haunting visions of nurses and doctors poking and injecting while a terrified Renee can only move her head to the left or right, other patients waiting their turn in the distant background. At one point a document I stumbled across even pointed out that there were something like 20 or more patients to any one nurse or attendant.

The Town of Light offers different experiences as inferred by split chapters that can be selected from the main menu (once a particular chapter has been unlocked of course) but I can’t say that I was all that compelled to replay chapters to figure out what was different. The Town of Light is interactive in a very minimal way–the cursor will change from a slight dot, to a slightly larger circle, or a closed padlock, indicating that a door or window cannot be opened. Though the game is full first-person exploration, it does suffer from a similar form of “hunt the pixel” object placement that afflicts many point-and-click adventures. Add to that minor problem, the game tends to overly rely on backtracking from the ground floor to the first floor (that was something which confused me time and again—first floor is NOT the ground floor) in search of the next clue or object to interact with to progress the narrative further. A final issue I struggled with was the pace of movement. The player control has two speeds, slow and a hair faster than slow. Walking back and forth in a decrepit and decaying place while what feels like stepping in molasses is just hard to take in long stretches.

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The good news is that I was compelled to find out what the ultimate resolution was for Renee even with the shortcomings I mention above. There is a pain and sadness that is missed and overlooked from the staff that evoked more empathy from me than I expected. The final moments of the game culminate in a terrifying, gruesome act that is more visceral than anything I’ve watched in a video game in years. I think it is so horrifying because of the subtle human connection that The Town of Light is able to weave between the player and Renee throughout the earlier moments of the game.

The Town of Light is a game worth experiencing, but at the same time, it isn’t a game in the traditional notion of interactive fun. The world is filled with decay and desolation and a natural beauty at the same time. Narrative beats haunt the abandoned mental hospital in ways that the cheap jump scares and shock value of traditional horror games never could. Unfortunately, the slow pace of movement and limited interactivity do make the game feel a bit dull and lifeless. True horror is hard to capture, but overall, developer LKA has managed to create a game that is chilling and thought provoking.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Highly detailed world
+ Dark and disturbing flashbacks
+ Horrifying ending

Cons:
– Minimal interaction
– Slow paced movement
– Fair amount of backtracking

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: LKA
Developer: LKA
Release Date: 2/26/2016
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Humble Store, Steam

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.