The paranormal is usually at the center of a horror game, but not in The Town of Light. The horror in this game is based on historical fact – what it was like to be a patient in a 1930’s lunatic asylum.
In present day, a woman named Renee, returns to the Volterra Psychiatric Asylum in Italy, a place where she was admitted when she was only 16. The building has long been abandoned and her goal is to remember what exactly happened to her there. She has faint memories, and they’ve obviously been haunting her for some time.
Platforms: XB1, PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $9.99
Renee reads diaries and journals by both patients and staff members; she’s reunited with some of her possessions; and she recreates settings in order to remember more. When she remembers something, she either relives it in first person, with player control, or with an animated cutscene.
The game’s graphics are nothing special, but the digital recreation of Volterra – a real, still standing insane asylum – was packed with detail which made for a believable space. There are very few puzzles, and they’re not intricate. It’s more about walking to the next place to try to understand what happened (a hint system minimizes the time spent roaming all over the place).
The first person flashbacks are a highlight of the game and use multiple techniques to mesmerize and disorient the player. In addition to the more standard techniques of portraying confusion, like a swerving or drunken camera movement, The Town of Light does some new things that effectively puts players in Renee’s consciousness.
One such time was a flashback where Renee was being medically checked by her doctor and nurses. In Renee’s terrified and medically induced state, their moments are slowed until they periodically speed up which effectively shows how out of it she was. In other flashbacks, she walks past the other patients which are pale-white, and have minimal detail. They don’t look great but it makes sense in the context of the game – she’s remembering things from a distant and confusing time. Things like the appearances of random patients would be impossible to retain unless something really stood out.
The game isn’t interested in telling a straightforward story, which I feel let it down in some ways. The developer, in a post describing the game says that it has “non-linear story telling that allows the player to choose what they believe”. Exactly, who you are and what it means for the story, when you are making these choices, was confusing, clunky, and ultimately unnecessary. Leaving things up to interpretation is fine, but at times it felt like the developers didn’t give enough information to satisfy.
The town of light does some really unique and innovative things for the horror genre but its adventure game aspects are simultaneously mundane and confusing. Still, its real-life horrors stick with you longer than the more fantastical and gruesome images that are commonly seen in other games.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.