The Town of Light from Italian developer LKA.it and Wired Productions deals with the terrors of mental illness and institutional abuse. Based on real events, this first-person adventure game deals with dark subject matter rarely seen in games.
A terrible place to visit
The Town of Light takes place both in 1940s Italy and the present day. You play as a 16-year-old girl who suffers from symptoms of mental illness. Her family sends her to an asylum for treatment. Once there, she experiences cruel treatment at the hands of the staff. Part of this treatment is simply a sign of the times, but most of it could just as easily happen today.
This is a first-person adventure game, vaguely similar to Resident Evil 7. But unlike that horror game, The Town of Light has no combat. You simply explore the asylum, both in the past and present, looking for clues as to the condition of your past self and the fate of the other patients.
The asylum itself is meticulously based on a real-life location, so it feels quite real. You'll explore each floor, sifting through run-down rooms and finding files and other interactive objects. Some of the things you find will trigger cinematic sequences told from the perspective of the girl in the 1940s.
The hand-drawn cinematics are a bit shoddy looking, but their events are tragic and disturbing. The actual English translation is unfortunately awkward at times, which applies to the protagonist's voiceover as well. Still, the narrative content is engrossing enough that if you buy into the game's basic concept, you'll probably look forward to the cinematics anyway.
Slow and steady
As for the gameplay, you move with the analog stick and have a single interact button, so the actual gameplay is a bit simple. That mostly works in the game's favor, keeping the emphasis on exploration and simple puzzles. Still, the game badly needs a run button. The protagonist's walking speed is frustratingly slow.
That plodding movement doesn't help when you're at a loss for where to go. Initially, the protagonist will hint at the locations she wants to visit or things she wants to do, such as finding a warm spot for her doll. But farther into the game, your hand gets held a lot less. Sometimes you'll just have to search around for a while, which is when a run button would really come in handy.
There are also wall-mounted maps to aid with navigation, but you can't pick them up or view them at any time. So that's more backtracking if you want to check on location names. The asylum isn't all that vast, but we should still be able to view the map whenever we want.
The Xbox One version of The Town of Light has 20 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. A couple of these involve finding diary pages, the game's sole collectible. There are only eight pages and you can replay chapters at will, so it's not hard. Plus the diary is pretty interesting to read.
The harder Achievements involve finding out of the way locations and paths. You'd likely miss some of them during a normal playthrough, but they'll be a cinch with the help of a guide and chapter select. It should take about four hours to get every Achievement.
First-person adventure games without combat are sometimes derogatorily referred to as walking simulators. You could make the same claim against The Town of Light, as it really is a game about exploration and advancing the narrative. But that story is so interesting, touching upon heady subjects and themes you just don't see in other games.
The atmosphere is dark and melancholy as well, occasionally getting quite trippy during dream and hallucination sequences. The Xbox One version suffers from lengthy loading times and occasional frame rate hitches, though the strength of the story and atmosphere mostly offset these issues. If you're intrigued by The Town of Light's exploration of mental health and abuse and can stand a slower-paced, less-than-challenging game, this one might just cure what ails you.
The Town of Light costs $19.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
- A fascinating real-life location to explore.
- The story deals with disturbing themes seldom seen in games, plus a few uplifting ones too.
- The troubled state of the main character's mind comes to life via creative visual effects and imagery.
- The loading times can stretch to over a minute.
- Your character walks slowly and there's no run button.
- English translation and voice acting are not up to par.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.