Confronting the very uncomfortable truth of mental healthcare in the late 1930s.
Fledgling developer LKA want to educate players as much as entertain them in this psychological adventure game. The Town of Light sets the player in the role of Renée who, at the young age of 16 years old, found herself committed to Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, a psychiatric hospital in Italy which has since been closed down. Now, played out through a first-person perspective, Renée returns to the derelict building to confront the horrors of what happened there.
It is important to know before playing the game that much of what the player will experience is based in reality. The developers have gone to a lot of trouble not only to recreate the hospital in its entirety, but also to faithfully replicate the horrors that patients would have to undergo in this dark period of mental health treatment. In regards to the hospital itself, I will have to take the developer’s word as to the authenticity, but it does look very good. As much of the narrative is experienced through flashbacks to a time when the hospital was actually active, players get to see the differences between a building in both its “alive” and “dead” states, lending to the grim atmosphere that seems to drip from every wall and floor. It is a dark and miserable place which seems to have absorbed the suffering of its many patients through the years.
As to the horrors of the mental health treatment in this time period, again the game is brutally efficient in the portraying. The Town of Light is no cheap horror game, players will not be exposed to shock scares or gore. Instead, they are confronted with the stark reality of how the medical profession used to treat some of society’s most vulnerable. The game can be very uncomfortable, and even disturbing, at times. It plays heavily on the fact that so much is based in reality, and that the real monsters are people. The Town of Light in an unflinchingly adult game, and the reality that is asks players to confront may simply be too much for many.
Another downside for many gamers will be the simplistic gameplay. The Town of Light is another game that would fit into the genre of “Walking Simulator” with very little actual gameplay besides exploration. Players will wander the hospital, triggering flashbacks and memories to uncover the full story of Renée and what she endured during her time at the hospital. The controls are very easy to use, and as the player moves from room to room, the oppressive atmosphere never lets up. Players can find out more about the story as they progress, and a hint system ensures that the player never finds themselves lost as to where to go next, which is surprisingly handy given how ambiguous the game can be at times. Players will come across choices that have to be made, which affect the overall outcome of the game and give access to different endings, adding some replayability to a game that will only last a handful of hours for the first playthrough.
The game can be quite slow, especially toward the second half of the game when the pace noticeably drops, and there are times when more explanation is needed. The Town of Light is visually impressive, and the voice acting is solid. However, the real star is the story that the game tells. Don’t get me wrong, it is horrible, disturbing and sad, and may even traumatize some players. But the fact that it manages to evoke so many emotions, and that those feelings will stay with many players long after the game is finished, shows how successful The Town of Light is.
LKA’s debut game is a grim, unrelenting journey into the real practices of mental health treatment in the late 1930s. With a slow pace and simple gameplay, The Town of Light is certainly not for everyone. But if you are looking for a visually impressive game which will leave you emotionally exhausted by its conclusion, then The Town of Light could be for you.