Title: The Town of Light
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Wired Productions
Release Date: June 6, 2017 (PS4 and Xbox One), out now for PC
TL;DR: A disturbing stroll through the history of mental health
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The corridors are barely visible as you make your way clumsily across the floors. Doors are locked tight or else hang ajar, teasing you to peek inside. A voice guides you through the wreckage of wheelchairs, perhaps your own, but you’re never sure. The voice is relaxed, speaking about the doll she had, but quickly becomes strained, anxiety fuelling a panic for the doll’s safety.
“She’s cold and alone,” she tells you, directing you through the decaying staircase. The glare from the bright Italian countryside creates an uneasy contrast against the bleak innards of the asylum, long abandoned. You approach the doll slowly, the voice exerts an almost maternal affection, or a child being reunited with a lost treasure, but the relief is temporary. The anxiety returns as the voice pleads for you to take the doll to safety once again, leaving it to rest under the harsh light of the surgical lamps.
These are the opening stages of The Town of Light, a game that I had initially thought was going to be an Outlast clone. The comparisons are there; the abandoned asylum for a setting, the only source of light being a worn-out torch instead of a video camera, the remnants of an archaic paper-based medical history being your only insight as to what has taken place in the years before your arrival. But really, the Town of Light is an altogether different beast; there are no loose inmates baying for blood, you won’t be forced to hide in lockers or under beds, and most tellingly – you won’t be sprinting.
Despite what I first thought I was getting into when I started the game, the Town of Light is very much a walking simulator, making it a far easier experience for players who can’t handle being the prey in a game. However, the game is by no means a passive experience; the tension created is done so through sound and environment.
When you wander through the grounds of the asylum, the only noises that accompany you are the chirps of birds and in any other setting, those sounds would be peaceful; here they seem to emphasise the solitude and alienation.
There are moments when your journey is interrupted by screams echoing from nowhere, scratches coming from behind locked doors, but these moments are rare; the real tension in the game is rooted in the all too human fear of being alone, and that sense of isolation is produced through every way the developers could think of.
The theme extends into the environment that you explore, too. The asylum is based in the remote Italian countryside, with every measure taken once more to fuel this alienating tone. Within the opening moments, you come across a playground, the equipment rusted and unused. This sentiment persists as you continue through the greenhouse, vegetable garden, and the now decaying scaffolding; each area you explore all look as if people have just dropped whatever they were doing and left. And whilst the environments are beautiful, the lush woodland area and plants slowly overwhelming portions of the grounds, there is a distinct eeriness to the layout as the glorious sunny exterior of the game only works to offset the darkness of the asylum each time you enter it.
As the Town of Light is a narrative driven experience, it’s difficult to speak about the story without giving away too much of the plot, but the underlying premise is that you visit an abandoned asylum in search of information about a patient called Renee T. There are portions of the game where you, as the player, will converse with the narrator. The different choices that you have all shape the conversation in small ways, and inserts a way of challenging the player’s own opinions of mental health.
The Town of Light isn’t the horror game I was expecting – it’s certainly horrific in places, more so because of the way it highlights ignorance surrounding mental health during the 1930s and 40s. Far more than a scary game, the Town of Light is a desperately sad journey that feeds off the tension it creates through its detailed environment and sound. The game lasts around four hours, but there are reasons for you to take another run at the game; there are small side stories for you to explore, hidden areas of the asylum, and the gnawing sensation that eats away at you because there are still different items for you to collect. If you’re not the biggest fan of horror, or walking simulators, the Town of Light offers up a strange hybrid of the two that finds a relatively good balance.
Our own Viki Taylor spoke to the LKA team in the lead up to its 2015 PC release, you can read the full interview here.
What Rocks :)
- The game looks and sounds wonderful
- The horror aspects are spaced out well, meaning you’re never expecting the scares until it’s too late
- It tells a harrowing story without feeling too preachy or trivial
What Sucks :(
- There were a few framerate issues, especially when the game is loading a new chapter
- Some parts of the story strands just fizzle out without any real closure
The game is rated 18 in the UK and M for mature in the US. Expect strong language, references to sex, graphic scenes of violence, and a mature subject matter.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail code provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.