The Town of Light Review
The Town of Light is set in the early twentieth century of Italy and tells the tragic past of a young girl, Renée, who is suffering from mental illness inside the confines of Volterra Lunatic Asylum. Although the characters are fictitious, the mental asylum is real and adds an eerie atmosphere to what is already an ideal setting for a psychological adventure game. As you control Renée, you will evnture through this derelict building trying to piece together her time and memories as a patient within Volterra. In an industry that is plagued by cheap jump scares and spontaneous loud noises, does The Town of Light have what it takes to provide us with an unforgettable and engaging experience?
Glorious soundtrack with decent voice work – The music is splendid and pleasant to listen to, be it the main title theme or the ending theme. The title theme utilizes various orchestral instruments, predominantly the piano, and does a superb job of setting the dramatic tone and sinister atmosphere before entering the mental asylum. In contrast, the ending theme provides a feeling of melancholy with the slow, haunting vocals of the singer. Although the music is stunning, the sound effects and voice acting are average and leaves much to be desired but still achieves what it sets out to do and that is to convey the innocence and confusion of Renée.
Historical context – The pre-game warning screen makes it crystal clear that the game will be graphic, dark and barbaric. Although Renée’s story is fictitious, the vile acts that Volterra Mental Asylum once housed makes it an engaging story. Gradually, you will learn that the knowledge of mental illnesses were unsophisticated, patients were living in overcrowded rooms, nurses abused patients and, most importantly, there were inhumane practices that involved lobotomizing patients rendering them catatonic. All of this barbarity induces a sense of helplessness and subtly makes us care about Renée and her story, which also contains its fair share of alluring, yet upsetting, twists and turns.
Graphics and art – The dark moments, as well as the narrative, are supplemented by remarkable cross-hatched, hand drawn cut-scenes that help illustrate the barbarity of the asylum. Additionally, there are smaller details like the handwritten doctor’s notes. The meticulous attention to tiny details truly add to the overall gaming experience and immersion that many other games seem to neglect. Although the art direction is unique, the actual graphics of the game are nothing special. Rocks look like plain rocks and faces look primitive in terms of design. This may take its toll as you will be expected to traverse the same dark hallways and venture into similar looking rooms to find pieces of evidence to further the narrative. On the other hand, towards the end of the game you will step outside and be greeted with the sight of Autumn. The honey brown leaves on trees, green blades of grass and chalk-white boulders provide a sense of fresh air. Some may interpret this as the metaphorical freedom of the outside compared to the claustrophobic and hopeless dread within the asylum.
Technical issues – The Town of Light tries very hard to elicit innate responses from the player and to create a hauntingly appealing environment with an equally eerie atmosphere. All of this effort is lessened, however, by the game-play’s poor technical performance. When exploring the asylum grounds, there are noticeable stutters and screen tears. Moreover, this is present when accessing menus as picking up collectibles has a 10-20 second load time. Transitioning between chapters is especially a pain as players are hit with load times that stretch up to a minute. This may sound like nit-picking but it detracts the player from the overall gaming experience and shouldn’t be happening in the games of this day and age.
Walking simulator – The Town of Light is fundamentally a walking simulator. You assume control of Renée who is unable to recall her stint at the asylum years before. As a result, you are tasked with piecing together her fragmented memories and time by exploring the tormented halls and scenic grounds for various clues. These range from old medical records to Renée’s personal journal. Although finding every single piece of evidence isn’t necessary for the story, it does provide rich insight into the inhumane and horrifying acts that these walls once housed. Ultimately, the game-play is mundane, catatonic and doesn’t deviate from its core game-play mechanic much. Occasionally, you will come across few medical documentations and be given the opportunity to select responses to act as Renée’s inner voice/self. Between Renée’s memories and the doctor’s scientific observations, it often creates ambiguity and mistrust towards both parties as you will never know who to believe. These instances are far and few between and almost act as a reward for the static walking simulator game-play. What makes the walking worse is that you have no option to fast-walk or run. This, coupled with the scripted slow walking speeds during a few phases, will eventually get annoying especially when you see the same hallways and similar looking rooms for the hundredth time.
Overall, The Town of Light is a powerful and emotive experience that is achieved through its harrowing story and real setting of the Italian mental asylum, Volterra. The art and music direction accompanies the story beautifully to provide an engaging narrative full of feelings of unease and pensive sadness. Unfortunately, the glaring technical performance and the stagnant walking simulator game-play detracts from the immersion that The Town of Light tries so hard to convey. Seeing as it was inspired by real events, it would be best to read up on them to gain the full experience and story.
The Town of Light was developed and published by LKA. It was released for Xbox One [reviewed] and PlayStation 4 on June 6th, 2017 and previously for PC on February 26th, 2016. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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