Developed by LKA and published by Wired Productions, The Town Of Light is an adventure game with a difference – it’s based on true historical events, and it’s probably all the more disturbing for it. Releasing originally on PC in 2016, the game has been overhauled for console with new puzzles, new content and new voice work to tell the story of a 16 year old experiencing signs of mental illness during wartime Italy. So it’s not a typical videogame, but with the ground laid with the likes of Dear Esther and Gone Home proving successful for providing unique tales, there’s potential here. What might be telling is whether people have the stomach for what’s inside the asylum.
The Town Of Light is a difficult game, not because of the what it asks you to do – it’s an FPS exploration game. No, it’s difficult because of the subject matter. Setting it’s stall out very early with the details of the setting, historical accuracy and that there will be disturbing elements to come, it’s a game that forces you to consider what you’re seeing and hearing on more than just a superficial level. Putting you in the shoes of Renée exploring the ruins of the Volterra Psychiatric Asylum in Tuscany in which she was once incarcerated, you’re tasked with figuring out what happened during her stay there, and re-living the highs and unnecessarily brutal lows of the way she was treated.
Not really understanding that she was acting in a way that showed signs of mental illness, and being locked away in an asylum with archaic methods for treating her, Renée suffers abuse, degradation and loss of identity alongside finding love and hope at a young age. As you move through the dilapidated corridors and graffiti scrawled rooms, objects trigger memories of what happened there, and create the imperative to dive further into the mysterious goings on behind locked doors. Renée guides you with an interior monologue that’s both innocent and distressing at the same time, pushing you to solve simple puzzles that will open up the next part of the building or grounds. It creates the atmosphere of a psychological horror really well with only a single character as your focal point. Other players appear in either the hand-drawn flashbacks, or the interactive game engine memories, but trudging around the decrepit building is something for you alone.
Visually the game hits all the right notes when you’re static: lighting, textures and rendering is superb for defining the world, and there are some excellent touches in the way the game transitions between time periods. However, it’s built in the Unity engine and for all its graphical prowess, performance is not great on the PS4. It won’t ruin your experience, though you’ll see tree branches suddenly sprout leaves when you’re within 10 feet, and things get stuttery when you’re out in the open with a decent draw distance. At least you don’t have to cope with motion influencing the rendering, it’s all done at a snails pace with one single speed… slow. It does give you time to enjoy the soundtrack where it ranges from hauntingly melodic to sinister, brilliantly matching the mood of what you’re seeing and experiencing on screen.
There’s a strong and dark tale on display in The Town Of Light, and a couple of scenes that require a cast iron stomach because you’re setup from the start to know that whilst Renée is fictional, the experiences of 1940’s mental patients were like this. It’s as harrowing at its conclusion as it is at the beginning, and succeeds in drawing attention to the plight of people held at Volterra. Fortunately you’re not forced to experience it for long, with a fair wind you can get through the game in around 2 hours, with some replay value to pick up diary entries if you’ve missed them. As an educational tool it’s very effective and should be experienced if it’s an area of history or psychiatric care you’re not familiar with. This definitely isn’t to all tastes and I’d advise making sure you know what type of game this is before going in.
A review copy of The Town Of Light was provided by Wired Productions PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, PC and Xbox One.