‘Walking simulator’ games often get criticised for their lack of gameplay variety, but are equally praised for their ability to tell an emotional story. The Town Of Light is the pure distillation of these games; graphically beautiful, simple to play, with an utterly absorbing narrative.
Above all else, The Town Of Light has two key strengths: it’s setting and it’s narrative. The game is set in a fairly accurate recreation of the Volterra asylum in Italy, as can be seen from the photo gallery created by Wired Productions and developer LKA.it (which GameOrNought wrote about). From the moment the game begins, you feel like you are in a real place. Of course, designers are so advanced these days they can make locations that look real. The Town Of Light feels real, and that is thanks to it’s real world basis. The dilapidation of the abandoned asylum is the primary draw when you first enter, but you soon become engrossed with the details. For example, the lights don’t work until you find and trip the generator connection which becomes it’s own little narrative moment.
The peeling paint, mould, and invading plant growth quickly turn an uncomfortable exploration into a wonderfully unsettling one. Graffiti adorns the walls in the opening, but fades away the deeper you go as if the artists knew something. Dangling fixtures and leftover asylum equipment all tell their own micro-story. In turn, all these things build a clear world for you to malaise through. I have never been so determined to explore every inch of an in-game world while equally disturbed by what I found. Knowing that this is a real locale, which I could explore myself, only serves to make this digital reproduction more awe-inducing.
Narratively, The Town Of Light employs a combination of environmental storytelling, animated movies, playable cut scenes, and discoverable logs. Thankfully, Wired Productions and LKA.it made the choice to have the logs and patient files you find open to read in the menus, but also are read out aloud as you continue onwards. The path the narrative treads could easily have come across with a feeling of cliché and pastiche, but instead is told so deftly that it washes away any thoughts of similar tales. In part, this is thanks to the in-depth research the developers performed into the Volterra asylum and it’s patients. Logs and files look and sound like true-to-life medical records which allows you to fall ever deeper into The Town Of Light‘s rabbit hole.
The game is described as a psychological adventure, and that shines through. This is a psychological exploration of the character, humanity, and yourself. Like Bioshock, there were times when I questioned my perception of the world (both in-game and in-real life). The Town Of Light also contains several different possible endings dependent on player choices in the game. These decision moments are fairly clearly flagged when playing, even though their consequences aren’t. Each ending presents a clearly different emotion, further pushing the psychological adventure element. Perhaps most impressively though is the fact that The Town Of Light terrified me without any jump scares. The setting and narrative, based on real stories and experiences of patients, are truly harrowing.
The Town Of Light doesn’t come without some gripes though. Renee, the playable character, moves just a little too slowly for my liking. It’s clear that this is a choice made both with thought to the character and to allowing you to take in the set design, but does become frustrating in parts. There are some irritating inconsistencies in terms of what you can and can’t interact with. You can open doors, cupboards, and interact with switches; you can’t disturb bottles, files, folders and other desk clutter. It leads to some accidentally humorous moments where you are just walking into tables with no indication in the environment that you are even there. Similarly, if you are too close to a door or cupboard, it will only open as far as you are way from it. This sometimes tricked me into thinking the cupboard doors were purposefully stuck, and were empty, when in fact they contained important items or documents. This could have been made clearer.
The Town Of Light is fully deserving of your time if you are even remotely intrigued by psychological, exploration, or adventure games. Equally, The Town Of Light should be snapped up by anybody looking for a narrative which will leave them stunned, and with the joy of a reason to replay. If The Town Of Light doesn’t appear on an increasing list of awards nominations, I will be incredibly surprised. It deals with mental health issues in a way which engages without becoming a pursuit in education. Instead, it enlightens you to the mental health plight and towards society’s treatment of those who have (or are perceived to have) a mental illness. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and will stick with you after you’ve finished it. The Town Of Light is, in GameOrNought’s opinion, a must buy.
Developed by LKA.it and co-published with Wired Productions, The Town of Light is available on PlayStation®4, Xbox One, and Windows PC in physical and digital formats from June 6, 2017 for SRP £15.99/€19.99/$19.99. Existing owners of the digital Windows PC version will receive an update and acquire this enhanced release free of charge. The Town of Light has been rated PEGI 18.
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