From Italian developer LKA.it, The Town of Light takes place in 1940’s Italy and what appears to be the modern day. In both time periods you play the same person, Renee, a 16 year old girl diagnosed with mental illness and sent to live at an asylum in the hope of treating her to full health. The backdrop is a real world location in Italy where this sort of dark story was sadly all too common.
Before I go on I just want to make something clear, Town of Light’s purpose is two fold. It’s here to show you the mistreatment and negligence that was common place back in the 1940’s and also to allow a much needed point of view on the mental state of Renee via a first person narrative… it’s aim is to spread awareness by putting you in the shoes themselves. Publisher Wired Productions has announced that a portion of The Town of Light sales will be gifted to non-profits promoting mental health awareness.
Categorised as a first person horror game may not be the best description, what we really have here is a first person walking simulator with a sad, albeit unnerving tale woven with a real world accuracy.
It starts at an abandoned asylum in Italy, you are tasked with exploring the buildings and recreational areas. Through the constant first person monologue the plot unfolds, explaining why your there, why your strolling around a near condemned building looking for answers. Answers to the past, where is your love?, where are your parents? and why are you still there?
This opened up a thought for me… am I really here or am I a ghost, a shade of this 16 year old girl. It would explain your lengthy gaps in Renee’s memory or knowledge and why your still there after easily 40-50 years of structural neglect on the environment. Then again, is it more likely that you have returned as an older woman to recover the past, recover the nightmare that was. This never gets answered…
Wandering down halls, shower rooms, rec rooms, doctors offices, examination rooms, etc… everything you would expect to reside in this type of establishment. Collecting shreds of the past, gaining a foothold to the trauma and cruelty of old sufferings. Despite the dark nature of the unfolding story you find yourself completely engrossed, spurring the need to press on. As I said earlier , this is not a horror game but the cruelty and lack of care displayed throughout seems much more horrific, barbarous even that it was cause by regular everyday people.
Thumbsticks allow you to navigate the world and ‘A’ is your one actionable button, no sprinting and no jumping around the asylum (craving that sprint button after about 10 minutes) but you do have a hint button assigned to ‘Y’ giving you (sometimes) much needed direction. If ever lost and just need to be pointed in the right way, a quick tap of ‘Y’ then a look at the building map saves the day by linearly directing you along, collecting snippets of the past to fill your diary, the text and drawings from your 1940’s ordeal. The game doesn’t hold your hand and I love that, you can’t access the map at will because its mounted on the wall at the elevators.
There are multiple paths to the later chapters, gained by a few multiple choice questions throughout and the achievements are literally thrown at you, you could gain the full 1000 score within a few hours especially due to the chapter select allowing you to go back and repeat or gain access to an alternate path.
A standout for me was the hand drawn cut scenes, comic book in fashion, allowing the viewer to finally see our protagonist, Renee. Through her mistreatment and abuse, her love and hope. Hope that her mother will come soon and rescue her from this dark place. Originally developed in the Italian language, the English speaking voices and translation do an ok job. I could hope for more but it was acceptable.
Overall, this is one of the very few games fitting within this “walking simulator” sub-genre that delivers a compelling and sometimes scarily detailed picture of what life was like in these institutions of apparent healing. A few times I found myself angered at the abusive nature of the so called medical staff, angered that I could not swoop in and put a stop to the cruelty.
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 5/10
I felt utterly determined to finish this story, to get to the resolution… hoping (stupidly hoping) for some happiness at the end of this off colour rainbow. It ends with an unhappy expectation but fitting to the reality that was. The lack of a run button was a little inconvenience and the hints assured you are heading the right way so you can’t get lost but sometimes you just need to move that little bit faster.
OVERALL: 7/10 – GOOD
Reviewed by Michael Jones.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of The Town of Light on Xbox One, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)