STAFF REVIEW of Town of Light, The (Xbox One)

Monday, July 3, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Town of Light, The Box art I had no idea what to expect from The Town of Light before I began playing it, what I ended up experiencing though is a dark and heavy narrative based on real life events. Mental health isn’t an issue tackled very often in gaming as gaming is meant to whisk you away from the real world for a short time, free to clear your mind of any issues and and allow you to have some fun, so when a game tackles serious subject matter like this, I always become intrigued as it’s not something you get to experience often in a game format. But after the credits rolled, I asked myself if The Town of Light was really a game, or more of a slightly interactive story.

The Town of Light takes place in the 1930’s and 1940’s, revolving around the mental health care system in Italy. Mental institutions, as their aptly called, are a backdrop used in many creepy or scary games and movies, and for good reason; sterile rooms, long dark hallways, screams of patients and staff that usually take advantage of their patients, all of which apply to The Town of Light’s story as well.

By its looks alone you’d expect The Town of Light to be full of jump scares, but that isn’t the case at all, as you explore an abandoned mental asylum years after its doors have been closed, finding bits and pieces of information relating to a young 16-year-old patient named Renee. The further you dig the more horrifying the revelations become, as developer LKA does not shy away from any of the adult content, which includes abuse, rape, and lobotomies. Needless to say, The Town of Light deals with some very heavy subject matter, and even though some topics are simply alluded to, it gives you an eerie peak into atrocities that actually happened not all that long ago.

What makes the game's content even more disturbing is that much of this tale is based on facts and evidence found years later. As a matter of fact, the building you explore, is an actual place as well that was in Italy, named Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, is an actual mental health institution from years ago. Seeing pictures side by side makes the tale even creepier, and ultimately, incredibly saddening knowing that these events have taken place in some form or another.

So, while the narrative of The Town of Light is rooted deep in fact and horror, the gameplay can be simply described as a walking simulator. You interact with certain items by pressing ‘A’ with your reticule over them, but the majority of this interaction consists of simply opening doors or finding the item you’re looking for. There’s no HUD at all, so you need to listen and pay attention to know where to go next, as the character will say things like “I should check the nurse’s room” to give you a clue of where to head off to next. Sometimes the hints are a little less subtle, but you shouldn’t really become stuck at any point. This is the majority of the gameplay, simply finding where to go next in the massive building and progress the story along.

As you explore you’ll learn more about Renee, finding out why she’s there, and more importantly, what horrific things happened to her under the care of her doctors. There’s no combat, there are no jump scares, there’s simply walking around at an incredibly slow pace to read letters, diaries and look at pictures so that the narrative can unfold before you. The pace of the gameplay is much too slow, and if you don't have any patience for walking simulators, slow ones at that, you’re going to grow tired of how long it takes to get places, not even including becoming lost and wandering aimlessly.

You can press a button to repeat the last hint to tell you where you should head next, but I ran into one part where it didn’t actually tell me that I needed to find a specific room and close the door and windows to trigger the next event. After an hour of aimlessly wandering at a snail’s pace, I had to resort to looking it up online, which made me wonder why I wasn’t told what to do it in the first place; possibly a bug I guess.

For those that want to explore everything, there are a handful of Renee’s diary pages to be found, giving you some more insight into her character and the tribulations she faced. At certain points you’ll be given options of what to think and how you can respond (to yourself), which can lead the narrative in a slightly different path. You can either play into Renee’s thoughts or completely disagree and disparage her opinions, which results in different branching paths. So, while this is a great way to add some replayability once you see the credits roll, the painfully slow pace kind of made me not want to play it again, even if I’d experience some slightly different cutscenes. The initial loading times are also excruciatingly lengthy and the menu is sluggish, which clearly doesn’t help encourage you to want play any longer than you have to.

While the environment looks very detailed and fitting for the setting, there are numerous graphical issues, like lots of framerate drops and some serious screen tearing. While you’ll only see other characters in Renee’s memories, they appear quite dated, slightly taking you out of the intended immersion. On the other hand, the voiceover work was done incredibly well, as you should really be able to relate to Renee through the narrator, like I managed to do. The rest of the audio has a very distilled soundscape to it, making the deserted building almost come to life.

Gameplay didn’t add anything to the experience, and to be honest, it probably took a little away from what this gaming experience could have been. It’s a journey of discovery, but one I would have rather watched than ‘played’. It’s hard to believe that situations within this narrative actually happened, but we know it has at some point, and this is quite an eye opener, for myself at least.

The Town of Light’s narrative is incredibly heart wrenching, and at times very disturbing and difficult to watch without eliciting some sort of emotional response. The ending I received will be remembered for quite some time, and I appreciated the short live action summary once the game was concluded, but that made me realize something very important; The Town of Light would have been much more engrossing and powerful as a short film instead of a game, it simply feels like the wrong medium for such a tale.

Overall: 5.6 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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