The Town of Light
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2017-11-16 PC Adventure M (Mature) LKA / Wired Productions

I had a general idea of what to expect when I firest fired up The Town of Light on Steam, but what I wasn't expecting how it made me feel when I was done.

The Town of Light is a project by Wired Productions and created to raise awareness for mental illness, and presented as a first-person adventure game. I say game but this is really more of an interactive adventure, since it's fairly limited in terms of actual gameplay. If you keep this in mind, then you won't be as hindered by its limitations.

You play as Renee. Once a patient in this institution, Renee roams around the psychiatric hospital of Volterra in Tuscany, Italy, which is presently deserted and in ruins. She attempts to remember her past, make sense of who she is and what has happened to her. Our job is to explore and find the clues that reveal her story, fill her journal pages and uncover her medical records.

The asylum has been faithfully recreated from the ground up, and looks just like the real thing, from the peeling paint to graffiti on the walls, to the rusty wheelchair in the courtyard. The architechture is spot on, and it's quite impressive to compare images from the game to real photos. To see how the place currently looks, watch this haunting video.

The initial task of finding Renees old doll seemed a little odd. And why would she be afraid of the light, when usually people are afraid of the dark? Little by little, all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place together and things begin to make sense. Charlotte is more than just a doll, and was an essential tool to Renees communication. More than that, I see it as a representation of Renee's childhood and innocence, as well as her empty, lifeless self during her asylum years.

The truth is presented through flashbacks, but how much of it is real and how much are just delusions of a person suffering from depression and schizophrenia? And from what I could make out, bipolar disorder and possibly multiple personality disorder (which is my theory regarding Renee talking to herself throughout the adventure, and sometimes clearly in two distinct tones of voice while answering her own questions). The flashbacks and Renee's thoughts will make you wonder if what you see is what actually happened, or if she is just imagining everything. At some point even I doubted that her friend ever existed, and went back to the admissions room to double check a certain document that I read right at the beginning to make sure I wasn't wrong.

Dealing with mature subject matter, this adventure will definitely not be for everyone. Aside from the sensitive mental illness topic, you have nudity, rape, violence, and even a sad tale of forbidden love.

The Town of Light is not your conventional psychological horror game. The real horror here resides in the actual facts surrounding the hospital in the early 1900's. It is a slap in the face to learn that those people were not treated like people at all, but like test subjects. They were abused, neglected, isolated, experimented on, tortured, denied visitors. They were stripped of their possessions, their identities. Contact with the exterior was forbidden, letters from the family were concealed from the patients and any letters written to the family were rarely delivered. And all this was covered up in the records by the staff.

Granted, you may miss many pieces of the puzzle. I finished the game while still missing some diary pages, and felt like I was missing something important too. Leaving me to fill in the gaps with my own theories was making the story even more depressing, but I must brave the asylum again to find everything and attempt to get different scenes and memories through picking different dialog choices. At least there is the option to jump right into a certain chapter, and not go through the entire game from the start.

The presentation is the strongest point in The Town of Light. You have the current state of the decaying asylum, which is both beautiful and sad. When you are inside in the middle of all the dull peeling paint, rusty things and decrepit furniture, you can sometimes catch a colorful glimpse of the lansdcape outside, with a beautiful blue sky and treetops in Fall colors through the barred windows.

Flashbacks of Renee's tragic story are presented through detailed hand-drawn illustrations, while others which are shown in black and white with 3D character models. The three contrast with each other, offering a clear separation of current reality, past reality, with moments of pure hallucination.

The scavenged documents are all hand-written in Italian, and there are a plenty of them to find. There are also old photos, audio records and some video footage which help add to the story. Everything is narrated, including Renee's diary pages, through great voice acting. And as one would expect from a story-driven experience, the music and sound are fantastic.

Gameplay is definitely hindered by slow walking and repetitive exploration of the same areas, but eventually you can explore other parts of the asylum grounds. However, there is very little direction, and even if you can press H to get a hint, sometimes it's all too vague. After leaving the main building and making my way to another, I was told to follow the Hearse... except I saw no vehicle headed anywhere. Yes, there was an old car there a moment ago, but it was definitely not going anywhere in the condition it was in, and all of a sudden, it was gone.

In my hunt for the lost Hearse, I ended up finding the edge of the game (an empty area with nothing but a smiley face painted on the ground and a gray horizon) and then roamed off to find myself behind the second building suffering from graphic awkwardness. Eventually, I found my way back where I came from and decided to check the signs to find my way, and deducted that a Hearse would be going to a cemetery, and I remembered seeing that under another name on a map somewhere.

I did have a tough time with some of the flashback sequences where I assumed Renee was very drugged and everything looked like it was waving back and forth, but that's because of my own neurological problems.

The first-person electroshock therapy scene hit close to home, as it was much like what I feel when the pressure in my head rises, just before I faint. The high-pitched sound made me pull my headset off. Even my husband sitting across the room could hear it, and my volume wasn't even that loud. Now imagine that sound in your head 24/7, and you have what goes on in my life on a daily basis.

I didn't expect a happy ending. But I didn't expect being emotionally drained and immensely sad over what I had learned by the end of my experience. It was a haunting ordeal that left me with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat, but at the same time I enjoyed the experience, as it was definitely unique.

While The Town of Light may mostly be about Renee, it paints a horrific picture of what happened to the thousands of patients who were admitted only to never feel better, get well or even leave. Nicknaming Volterra the point of no return was certainly justified, and going through The Town of Light is a powerful journey that you will never forget.

If you want to learn more about Volterra and the atrocities that went on there, read this article.

For a full playthrough of the game, you can watch the playlist below: