With memories of The Park still ringing in my ears, there was no way I was going to miss out on getting my hands on The Town of Light, a stark look into the treatment of mental health patients at Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra – a risky topic to address – but one that Italian developer LKA.it has handled sensitively.
The narrative of The Town of Light is superbly crafted and excellently delivered by the voice talents of Flaminia Fegarotti. The subtle changes in her voice as each character is talking is beautifully delivered – not to the levels of Andy Serkis’ Golem – but a clever and subtle mix that conveys the wrestling contradictions and thoughts of Renée. The voice acting is truly commendable and one I could listen to for hours on end.
Unlike some walking sims, the asylum is far from linear, but with lots of backtracking and numerous rooms to explore for collectibles, the slow pace of Renée can become rather frustrating, as is the nature of selecting objects in the environment – a small twitchy reticule that often missed my desperate attempts at selecting something.
As you explore and find key documents, Renée’s inner voices conflict and ask you to ultimately decide upon what secrets she discovers on the journey about her past – disregarding, reading on or agreeing with the statements she uncovers. If anything this wonderful mechanic isn’t used enough, with only two chapters offering different paths that depend on how you answer her inner mumblings, but seemingly always arriving at the same ending. When making these choices, odd symbols flash onscreen, which I’m sure must mean something, but I am still unaware as to what they represented or how they related to which track my choices placed the story on.
I also felt somewhat let down by the few puzzles presented in the game – knowing where to go next was often more puzzling. Other issues that persisted throughout my four-hour play through were numerous texture pops, which at best looked rather scrappy in the Unity engine, although I will admit that this did work well given the setting and also worked beautifully during the ink drawn cutscenes.
Rather than a game per se, The Town of Light should be looked upon as an experience. The story will pull at your heartstrings and leave a memorable impression, asking questions of our own society and perception of the institutions depicted in the game. While it hardly helps any present day image of mental health, it’s a stark reminder of how people were treated and ‘medicated’ by those who thought they knew best.
The more chilling scenes of the game are, for my liking, underplayed and the voices and visions in Renée’s head are subdued rather than being allowed to run wild with hallucinations that might make your skin crawl. This doesn’t make the story any less meaningful and the events of the asylum have long stayed with me after the credits rolled and not least because I live near the grounds of an old abandoned asylum – my over active imagination has certainly run wild, pondering what may have occurred in those old walls, but the ending… it has left me questioning so much and top of my list is whether Renée even returned to Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra. If she had returned then she would have been an elderly lady, tie this with the chilling end to her stay at the asylum and the conclusion I rested upon was that of the 2003 film Identity and how it played the scenario back within the schizophrenic mind of Ed.
I wonder what lasting impression Renée will leave on you…