We all love a good horror game, right? Something that has jump scares or hordes of monsters trying to kill you. Well, that’s what I thought I would get with The Town of Light but instead, I got something completely different. The game takes the form of a psychological horror that uses narration as its main weapon. Set in Tuscany, Italy you will find yourself in Psichiatrico di Volterra, a long abandoned psychiatric hospital trying to piece together the story behind poor Renee life.
With this review, I am going to look at two main factors, the location where the game is set and the narration used to tell the story of Renee’s life at Psichiatrico di Volterra psychiatric hospital. I will also discuss the elements used within the game from scraps of paper and images to flashbacks and of course, gameplay mechanics.
You play as a 16 year old girl called Renee who is revisiting her past time at the Psichiatrico di Volterra after its closure; she’s trying to find out the truth about the events that happened to her in this terrible institute. Everything is told through Renee herself and you progress through the game, listen and watch the terrors that happened behind closed doors.
When the game first loads you are told that the game is based on real events, places, research concerning mental illness and patients lives within this psychiatric hospital, from the beginning of the 20th century until its closure. However, Renee and the other characters featured in the game are all fictional.
When you first enter the psychiatric hospital you can’t help but feel an array of different emotions, it looks like a terrible place to be in and you start to see the living conditions in which patients had to endure. I thought to myself, it couldn’t have been that bad right? After all, it was a hospital meant to help people with serious illnesses, so I went to google and typed in Volterra Asylum… I came across numerous articles that named the institute ‘The place of no return’. The pictures I saw were of it abandoned and I couldn’t help but recognise every single one of them, I could navigate through the pictures and I knew what the locations were before reading the caption, purely because I’d played The Town of Light. Then I came across stories of what patients went through in this institute, ranging from torture to all kinds of abuse.
The game hits hard and it is not for the faint hearted, I mean at one point Renee is searching rooms looking for her doll Charlotte and the next she having a flashback to when one of the doctors was sexual abusing her and I was thinking to myself again did this really happen? Well after reading the articles online, there is a high chance that the answer I am looking for is a yes. As her tale continues you realise what a monstrous and corrupt place these asylums were and how anyone could have been sent to one. How these institute’s where allowed to get away with such atrocities is beyond me, in today’s day and age, I doubt this would happen, but never say never. As you can see, the game makes you question its authenticity; this is a great aspect of the game as I went out of my way to learn more.
When playing Renee, you know when something is affecting her, as the narration turns more emotional you can feel her pain and suffering through the way she is projecting herself to us, it makes a huge impact on the game, and you can’t help but want to help her more and more.
Now sadly this is where the game starts to lose points, gameplay for me is something very important. If it’s not done right it can make or break a game. The game is set in a first-person perspective, so you see through the eyes of Renee which instantly sets the scene. I forgot to mention at the start of the review, my bad sorry, this game is also compatible with PSVR and I was already in VR overload, I was hoping this game was going to have me wetting myself, I’m going to be scared brainless. Then I started to move and all I could do was walk…. An average slow walk, you know the type of walk where you, simply chilling out, relaxing, enjoying the day, sort of walk. I know it might seem like I’m being picky but when you have to go from one end of the Asylum to the other and all you can do is walk; it might make you lose interest in the game.
Now sometimes you will have this amazing narrative or cutscene and Renee will tell you where to go next but by the time you have reached the other destination you have lost interest because of how slow the character moves. I suppose this is where you can see the true detail that has gone into reconstructing the Asylum down to the very tiny details of the vandalism on the walls and the wheelchairs scattered around, but if the developers added in something to make Renee move quicker, I would have probably enjoyed myself more. There is also the fact, that I need to understand, that Renee is returning to a place, where her worse nightmares where and still are, they are all around and in her head, I have to admit, I would be walking slow myself, as this is a game though, I would have liked the option to be able to move a little faster.
While exploring the asylum you will come across doctor’s notes about patients, photos, and personal belonging but the one that I personally liked was trying to find the pages from Renee’s diary. Collecting all the missing pages will give you more information about her sad tale, you also get the added bonus of it all being narrated; I liked this because you’re able to feel for Renee and can feel her emotions when she was reading through her diary and all the doctor’s notes.
You’re also able to check and read through these again on the menu, one of the main things that I felt with this game was I always seemed to got lost, even though if you tap the touchpad Renee will tell you sometimes where to go, I still found myself walking through big empty corridors trying to activate the next segment. There are maps on the walls that tell you which room is which and how to get there but somehow I still managed to get lost, I have no sense of co-ordination in this game it seems. My lack of co-ordination got even worse later on in the game when you start leaving the asylum and exploring the grounds.
The last real bug for me with The Town of Light is that its mechanics are pretty basic, as you aren’t really doing any puzzle solving or shooting. All you seem to be doing is walking around an asylum, picking objects up, and going from one location to another, I thought that there might have been some puzzle for me to crack but all I really got was wheeling Charlotte (A doll) from one ward to another to keep her warm or turning on the boiler to make sure the water is warm.
You will come across sections where you get to answer certain questions as Renee while reading through doctor’s notes and letters; this allows for alternative dialogs and events to happen, all depending on your choices. Maybe thinking there would be shooting in this game was a bit overboard, but hey, I like to shoot stuff in games.
Positives & Negatives
So the positives for me are, graphically the game looks amazing and captures the Asylum perfectly and combining that with a story that keeps you guessing really makes for a memorable experience. It’s also nice to see how historically accurate and true the game is about mental illness and Asylums in the 20th century, especially this Psichiatrico di Volterra.
The Negatives are that I personally would have like more to the gameplay side of things rather than just walking around an asylum and interacting with a few objects along the way. I also did not like how slow-paced the game felt, I do understand that Renee, is returning to a place, that has changed her physically and emotionally and walking slow is to be expected, though, as this is a game I would have liked the option to walk/run faster on times. Due to the slowness in pace or my lack of co-ordination, I found myself able to put the controller down and walk away from it from time to time.
LKA have done a good job with The Town of Light. Even though in the review I state the gameplay is basic and I personally didn’t enjoy certain elements, you can’t help but notice the amount of effort and work that have gone into capturing Psichiatrico di Volterra and the history behind this terrible institute.
From the amount of detail put into the environments to the doctor’s notes that tell you of treatments that patients received, it’s a real eye opener to how people used to be treated with mental illness. At times the game made me very emotional and I felt truly sorry for Renee, when she was getting abused and tortured, I wanted to lash out and punch the doctors doing this stuff to her. It made me feel uneasy and I really started to feel for her, but then the gameplay mechanics came into the fold, and as you already know, the gameplay mechanics for me, are not the greatest.
Please understand that this is my opinion on the game and shouldn’t put you off of playing it if you’re a big fan of games which tell a story and has you going through the emotions then I would definitely recommend this game as it will be one you will remember. They took a sensitive subject and pulled it off and have shown us what they are capable of showcasing. I will 100% be watching LKA to see what other games they will have to offer in the future but for now, I’m going to say that The Town of Light is getting a score of 8 out of 10.