For the purposes of transparency this game was provided to me via a review code from Wired Productions’ PR team. This does not affect my judgement of this game.
Mental illness is something that we understand fairly well in this day and age. But it was a very different situation 80 years ago. The 1930s were a terrible time to be an individual living with a mental illness. To put it simply; therapists didn’t know how to treat mental illnesses and so resorted to locking up those with mental illnesses. Electroshock therapy and other barbaric treatments were the norm, but they did nothing to cure the mental issues the patients were experiencing. This is what The Town Of Light aims to shine a light on; these cruel practices that took place in the walls of those institutes. But how well does The Town Of Light shed light (huh? HUH?) on the issues mental illness patients faced in the 30s?
I feel first I should explain that The Town Of Light deals with some rather dark and heavy topics that not everyone will be able to enjoy. It delves into topics such as emotional abuse on children, sexual abuse and the stripping of human rights. It is a very heavy game, but one that is worth experiencing in my opinion.
The story follows Renée. Renée is 16 years old and is suffering from symptoms of mental illness. The game follows her story from entering the institute until present day. In her time in the institute Renée experiences brutal treatment such as being tied down in her bed for 15 days and electroshock therapy. Flashbacks provide a deeper understanding of Renée’s journey, including sexual abuse by those who work in the institute and emotional abuse from her mother. Renée uncovers documents in the institute such as doctor’s notes that help the player to understand exactly what happened during Renée’s treatment. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that, given that The Town Of Light is so story heavy, I really don’t wish to spoil.
Straight off the bat the easiest way to explain The Town Of Light is to explain that it is a walking simulator, but a good one. It’s a walking simulator done properly in that it has a rich story that makes you want to explore, to piece everything that this environment has to offer you. I only once found myself becoming fed up of walking around the world (which we’ll discuss in a bit). As you may have guessed players walk around the institute, interacting with objects to uncover the story of Renée. Very standard stuff. The atmosphere of the game is scary and tense. It feels like at any second something is going to jump out and try to jumpscare you but it never does. As weird as this sounds, it feeds into the mind games. It makes you more tense, more on edge. Which really isn’t helped by the creepy vibe of the institute.
The player can use the touchpad at any time to be reminded of where to go, which is handy as I found myself getting too lost in the world from time to time. The game itself has no map system. Instead there are maps of the institute hanging on the wall that the player can read. They are numbered coded with each key area having its own number. This adds to the immersion of the walking simulator gameplay and really helps you to feel as if you are the one walking around uncovering the story. There are also lots of small details that add to the gameplay. For instance when you find Renée’s doll Charlotte, you are tasked with finding somewhere warm for her. As you are searching you can see Renée’s thumb massaging the doll as if it’s some form of comfort for Renée.
However the game isn’t without its issues. Firstly is the choice section of the game. At certain points in the game you will be reading a document and Renée will pose a question which the player is tasked with answering. You have the choice between good, bad and neutral. However you never know which option you have picked. Once you picked an answer a symbol is flashed up. All of these feature a person on the left and a crowd on the right. One features the person crossed out, another features the crowd crossed out. The last one has none crossed out. I assume this is the neutral choice. I think the good has the crowd crossed out (because it is good for Renée), which means the bad would have the person crossed out (as it’s Renée crossed out so it’s bad for her). This is all entirely guess-work, I still have no clue what symbol means what. It’s not a crazy game changing issue, but it frustrates me that I don’t know what options I picked, and I saw a symbol that was not explained to me.
The final issue I had with The Town Of Light was the section relating to the corridor section of the game. At one point Renée is transported to a corridor with children’s drawings on the wall. these drawings are black and white and when Renée stares at them they become colour and reveal a small part of the story. There are a fair few to collect, at least double figures. The issue I have with this game is that I feel that this part of the game is the one part of the game that could’ve done with some guidance. I walked around aimlessly trying to find all of these drawings, to fully understand the story. Yet as I walking i was suddenly taken to the next section of the game. The move was seamless. Everything went black, and Renée questioned why everything was black before opening her eyes. My issue is that is felt premature. I didn’t get to find all parts of the story. I feel that if there was some form of guidance (either by restricting the player’s path to only one way, or even audio cues to guide the player) would really have helped in this section.
I was given a walkthrough guide for The Town Of Light, however I didn’t want to use it. I wanted to experience the game as you would. Without the walkthrough, no guiding me through the world. It felt wrong and dishonest to do so. Could I have found all of the drawings if I had followed the guide? Sure. But then I wouldn’t have found this issue.
The Town Of Light is one of the best looking games I have ever played. No lie. The institute itself is based on a real life mental asylum. The Volterra Psychiatric Asylum to be precise. The team over at LKA.it (the game’s developer’s) traveled to the asylum and took pictures and video in an attempt to perfectly recreate the feeling of exploring an abandoned asylum. Everything down to graffiti was recreated, and that time and effort has paid off. I felt like I was really walking through a derelict asylum. The art style of the cutscenes is excellent as well. The whole hand drawn style adds to the eerie and creepy vibe of the game, and somehow matches the topics being discussed very well. The audio of the game is excellent. The music again matches the topics being discussed, and when walking around is uplifting yet is capable of becoming dark and somber when needed to. No faults here.
To sum it up, I really enjoyed this game. It looks beautiful, and sounds amazing in all situations. The Town Of Light does a great job of giving an insight into the inhumane conditions that those living with mental illness in the 1930s had to experience. It will take you on a rollercoaster journey but it’s one that you will come out of the other happy that you took that journey. I highly recommend this game to everyone.