Published on June 7th, 2017 | by Scot Mackay0
The Town of Light
The guys here at HGR seem to have something against me. It is almost like they are actively trying to destroy my mind by giving me some of the most mentally scarring, twisted games they can find for me to review…. And it’s working.
Coming from Florence based developers LKA, The Town of Light is a game that has a distinct lack of something. It lacks jump scares, varied gameplay, complex game mechanics, a titular villain and even lacks action or supernatural events.
So, why the Hell play it?
Play it for what it does have. An incredibly engaging storyline that has so many unbelievable and unsettling moments that you will struggle to believe any of them have been taken from real life events.
It uses the subject matter of mental health in 1930’s Italy to drag you back to an age when mental health was treated with nothing more than shackles and electric shock therapy. A barbaric time when the screams of the tormented would fill the halls of insane asylums that resembled prisons more than they did hospitals. A time when crimes would go unpunished as no one would listen.
This is how our character’s story begins.
We begin our story on the grounds of a dilapidated Asylum building in Voletrra. Looking through the eyes of Renée, a young woman who is tortured by her memories and flashing visions of her past when she was incarcerated there. We begin to search through the crumbling building for answers to broken questions that Renée keeps asking herself and whilst we can answer some, the others are left vague and unresolved.
Working my way up a lengthy woodland path to the hospital, I personally had flashbacks to that long misty path section in Silent Hill 2. It was designed to give the player a sense of loneliness and isolation. I have that same feeling here as we walk Renée towards the main entrance to the hospital. There is a lack of ambient sound that builds tension which is usually an indicator of some form of jump scare bound to happen but it never comes.
Once inside the building, it tends to be a simple case of find something in one location and take it to another to open new sections of the hospital for you to progress through. Whilst some may call these puzzles, they tend to be very straight forward. The only difficulty I had was working out where to go at times and did the old “go everywhere and click on everything” technique.
As you progress through the hospital, memories and flashbacks take centre stage and it becomes apparent that Renée left the Voletrra asylum with more scars than she arrived with, both mentally and physically. Documents found are added to a diary which is read out by sub-par voice acting which can let the game down and does give the character an almost automated quality.
There are scenes that are played out that can make the viewer very uncomfortable but the game does not shy away from these moments in any way. Whilst these have a powerful impact on the player at the time, I felt there was no pay off to giving me these emotions and no reason for them to help build the story to a satisfying end. I guess that much like real life, sometimes questions are just meant to go unanswered but it is annoying. Games should have goals.
TTOL does have a beautifully designed environment, with some gentle lighting effects and well-placed textures, LKA have done well to recreate rural Tuscany and even make the worn-down asylum and its rusting innards become a character making the game come alive despite not having another physical being in the game other than Renée.
With incredibly simplistic controls and lack of reason to push your progression through the game, you can complete TTOL within 3hrs, even at a leisurely pace. I fear though that even mature players who don’t rely on big action scenes to hold their attention will struggle to care about completing the game unless for Trophies or Achievement points.
I applaud TTOL for what it is attempting to do by putting the horrific nature of coping with mental health issues at a time when it was largely misunderstood but also, uncovering those who used their influence to enable their own perversions without fear of capture. Unfortunately, without any sort of payoff at the end, TTOL plateaus very quickly and doesn’t offer any incentive to complete the game other than to satisfy your own morbid curiosity.
The most apt description for this would not be as a game but more an interactive historical drama that places you on the side-lines of the interesting moments rather than let you experience it.