The Town of Light Review

A truly horrifying experience

Posted by B1ueSeptember   06th June 2017

Related Games

Developer has collaborated with publisher Wired Productions to bring us a new title called The Town of Light. The game debuts today via the ID@Xbox program, so let’s check it out.

According to the game’s official website,

The Town of Light is a psychological adventure told in the first person. The story is set in Italy in the first half of the 20th Century in a place which really existed and has been meticulously reconstructed. Exploring and interacting with the environment you will relive the history of the main character through her confused viewpoint and on the basis of your choices, the story will develop in different ways.

As the game begins, you find yourself in the beautiful Italian countryside. You take control of Renee T. as she walks the lovely path to a large derelict complex of buildings. You quickly learn that this is what’s left of the asylum in which Renee was placed at the age of 16 in 1938; she has returned, still deeply troubled, to sift through the wreckage of her psyche and her past. While not a horror title, per se, the game is deeply horrifying, disturbing. Nothing jumps out of the dark; no monsters chase you down the dilapidated halls, but the game is based on true events, so seeing this girl’s treatment and knowing such things really happened gives the game a painful edge.

The game is not called a point and click, but that’s how it works. The primary action in the game is exploring. You will interact with various items, mostly documents, to gain insight into what happened to Renee. You aim a small circle at what you want to examine; if you can interact with it, the circle will darken. The game is thankfully very linear in many ways. Areas that are unneeded will stay locked until you need to go there, cutting down on the wandering around you might have to do. If you return from a flashback and need to find something in the room to progress, the doors will lock to prevent you from searching everywhere when the thing you need is right under your nose. I liked that since it prevents lots of excess searching.

The art work in the game is beautifully done. As you explore the asylum, it’s very creepy at first, but as you spend more time there, it becomes just a deserted building. The demons are all in the protagonist’s wounded mind. The developers re-created the asylum at Volterra just as it is today, and that accuracy reveals conflicting images. It’s an accepted fact that insane asylums until very recent times were places of torment and cruelty. Yet, this place was built with care. The huge arched windows in almost every room let in a great deal of air and light. The bathtubs are roomy and comfortable, and the kitchens supplied with the most efficient, expensive equipment. In many ways, the inmates here were well cared for.

We also see care and concern in many of the doctors’ notes. When Renee loses privileges, it’s often for her well-being. After she becomes extremely agitated following a visitor, doctors cut off visits because they seem to hurt her more than help her. She stops receiving letters, again, after a letter sends her into a frenzy. The doctors’ notes indicate no malice, but they plainly didn’t consider what the resulting isolation would do to their patient.

We also see the barbarity of some of the treatments that asylum inmates were subjected to and the reasons. Renee, for example, is often punished for “pleasuring herself,” considered aberrant behavior at the time. Her punishments (i.e. “treatments”) included strait jackets, painful injections, being tied to the bed, cold showers, semi-suffocation, and electro-shock therapy. We also have scenes of abuse, such has a heartbreaking rape scene by a hospital orderly. Whether this scene actually happened or is a product of Renee’s psyche is unclear by the end of the game, but such terrible things commonly happened among patients considered crazy – no one listened to the mad.

The game does a very nice job of keeping the player’s interest. Despite the horrors, you really want to know what happens to Renee. As the story progresses, we see Renee’s mind becoming more and more fractured. In Chapter 6, the story takes two different paths, depending on the choices you make. Chapter 12 disintegrates into four possible paths, so we can literally see Renee’s mind falling to pieces. After completing the game, a brief film clip unlocks that puts a truly human face on what you’ve just seen, which adds even more to the story’s impact. It also gives us a glimpse of the genuine Volterra asylum on which the game is based.

On the downside, the game is very confusing. While I appreciate that this is part of the game’s function as a reflection of Renee, it’s confusing enough that at the end, many questions are still unanswered. The most confusing for me was the game itself. You play the entire game as Renee returning to the asylum, so the assumption is that you’re an old Renee since the asylum is in such advanced disrepair. Renee even speaks in the voice of an old woman from time to time. The ending, however, throws that right out the window, making the premise itself illogical.

For some, the price could be a negative, considering the game's length. If you take your time exploring then go back to mop up achievements, as I did, the game can be completed in about eight hours. If you're dashing through just for achievements, it can probably be done in three, so its $19.99 price tag might be considered a bit steep if that's your primary criteria.

The game also suffers from very slow load times. This isn’t an issue as you’re playing through the game. It only becomes very evident when you load up a chapter from the Main Menu screen. This is a small thing.

While not a negative, it bears repeating that this game carries a Mature rating for a reason. It’s not just the nudity and sexual themes; many disturbing subjects are raised – rape, child molestation, prostitution, abuse. This game is deeply distressing. If you have children in the house, you should be aware that nothing here should be witnessed by your little ones, so you might want to save this for when they’re safely asleep.

Finally are the game’s achievements. Only a handful of the game’s 20 achievements will be earned in the natural progression of the game. One could easily finish with fewer than half found along the way, but it’s very easy to backtrack and pick up what you need. The developers very thoughtfully set up the chapters so that when you load a chapter, you’re usually right where you need to be instead of having to slog through half a chapter to get an achievement. Several achievements involve making different choices at key times in the game, which will unlock different chapters, such as 6b or 12c. Others are simply reminders of Renee’s life at the time, such as finding the vegetable garden or small vineyard. The most difficult is the timed achievement in Chapter 13 that requires you to find all of the children’s drawings before Renee’s world goes dark, but again, the game makes it easy to give it another try.

All in all, The Town of Light is a great game – horrible but great, much in the same way that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is horrible but great. The game is a beautifully rendered, brutal depiction of mental health, its treatment, and the victimization of its sufferers in the 1930s and ‘40s. Volterra’s bright, airy spaces may have seemed like a town of light, but for Renee, light brought only pain. It was in darkness that she found peace, but it was peace purchased at a terrible price.

Score: 8 out of 10

Price: $19.99 / €17.99
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Platform: Xbox One

Written by B1ueSeptember

    Administrator Stealth David 7 Jun 2017 12:43 am

    Sound like the game can get very dark at times

      Kyuubi Alpha 7 Jun 2017 11:29 am

      sounds like an interesting game. Probably will look at getting this once I have made a bigger dent in my backlog, A good review

        Administrator XeWoN 7 Jun 2017 11:56 am

        Interesting game. As long as there aren't any jump scares I would give this game a go. Superb review.

          cnirvana 7 Jun 2017 12:11 pm

          Very well written. I look forward to playing this in the next few days. I purchased this at the presale sale promotional price. I've watched some mixed video reviews on youtube but limited myself to prevent spoilers. Your review solidifies my purchase decision! Thanks!

          You need to register or sign in to leave a comment.