Mental health and mental illness is a topic that is very rarely touched upon in video games. This is where The Town of Light breaks the mould, and not by just touching on this stigmatised subject, but holding no punches in delivering a dark, emotional and genuinely chilling insight into the brutal handling of mentally ill patients in the early 20th century.
The story focuses around a young girl called Renee, who was admitted to an mental asylum, or lunatic asylum as they where called in the 1930’s, just outside Tuscany in Italy. The story of this troubled adolescent unfolds as you explore the now derelict asylum in the modern day. By finding different journal entries or medical documents you’ll uncover more into this story of torturous medical practices – a warning now, all the content in this game is very mature and not recommended for children, at times I struggled to watched some of the animations unfolding, often making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
This real sense of horror is fuelled by the atmospheric feel of the asylum you play through; decaying walls, ill-lit corridors and clear signs of struggle really help immerse you in this harrowing environment. The haunted halls of this asylum also tell the story’s of other inmates; by just walking into a room your provided with enough to piece together what terror used to fill the four walls your now standing in. For example while exploring the gardens of the asylum I came across a small hidden door, entering the room took me down a tiny set of steps and into a very small cellar. With just a mattress and half full bucket littering the floor I soon came to the realisation that this pit was no doubt used to punish the inmates of this brutal asylum. It’s in these moments where The Town of Light is so effective in opening you eyes to the inhuman treatments that mentally ill patients suffered only just over 60 years ago.
Although all characters mentioned throughout the games roughly three hour play through are fictional, the main driving force of the story is based on true events, which only adds an even bigger punch to the visceral impact the narrative brings. Apologies if I’m being very vague on the main premise of the game, but it was the ‘not knowing’ when sitting down to play The Town of Light that really helped the games deliver a full heartfelt sucker punch – one i’ve rarely felt in a game before.
When you enter the asylum for the first time a lot of the doors are locked, and as you progress you’ll be given access to different parts of this labyrinth of terror. Although most of the gameplay is going to a new section, finding the interactive object and watching the next cut scene there is the addition of a few puzzles. These mostly consist of restoring power to a section of the asylum, or turning on the water to unlock a hidden memory. Although these are not the most complicated they did mix up the dynamics of the game, one in particular in the latter stages had me really stumped, and brought a real sense of achievement once I had pieced together the different pieces.
With The Town of Light being an exploration game there is a big responsibility on you finding your own way around the maze of dark and death reeking corridors. It’s with this responsibility the game suffers from some pacing issues. This is most present in the final act of the game, where it takes a bizarre turn and forces you in to a repetitive corridor maze section, which provides more frustration than progression.
The Town of Light is no doubt one of the most heart-wrenching games i’ve ever played. The detailed and immersive atmosphere of the mental asylum will make your skin crawling with every new revelation of another inhuman treatment tested on the locked up mental patients. Although the games narrative slightly drops off in the final act with some frustrating pacing issues; your soon pulled back in for a gruelling conclusion to one of the most memorable story i’ve played in recent years.