The Town of Light attempts to deal with some very real issues, but does it succeed in educating players with fresh and new ideas, or is it just as dark and dingy as the Asylum it's set within?
In The Town of Light, you play as Renée - A patient re-visiting the mental institution she once grew up in. Based on historical themes within a real world setting, the entire game is set within the walls of Charcot Asylum (a recreation of Italy's Volterra Asylum) in the state that it is now - One of disrepair and on the verge of collapse. The Town of Light focuses on mental health issues as it takes you on a journey through Renée's past, triggering memories and events both harmful and endearing.
The Town of Light is a journey and one that takes you through the life of this troubled girl, shedding light on the experiences she went through, giving insight as to why she feels and thinks the way she does, and at the same time educating us as the playing audience, on the harsh environment and treatments so many unfortunate souls had to endure.
As you begin playing, it's unclear as to why you're here, though with most games, becomes more apparent the further you progress. What's handy is the ability to press the touchpad to find out where to go next. Pressing this triggers a voice that repeats the most recent clue on where to go next.
This is an interactive journey and although interesting in many ways, leaves a lot to be desired in its execution. The music is really nice, fitting of the story and in some places even haunting. The voice work is also believable enough to keep you hooked. The problem is the overall execution.
The Town of Light feels very unrefined. It looks a little better than an early PS3 game (an improvement on Call of Duty: World at War, but nowhere near the level of detail within PS4's cancelled Silent Hills/P.T. demo), has several lighting issues and isn't always easy knowing where to go. In addition to this, I also discovered several glitches, with one in particular being close to game-breaking. The problem appeared during a retrieval mission - I had to find Renée's comfort doll (Charlotte), seat it into a wheelchair located on the ground floor and then take it to a heated spot on the upper levels. That would have been fine if the wheelchair didn't glitch through the lift walls on the way up to the second level. Thankfully I was able to re-load a previous save, but by that point, for the next hour or so, I was no longer immersed.
As you make your way around the wards, you'll quickly discover there's a lot of text to read. Thankfully, most of this is voiced by Renée's voice actress, which actually helps to deepen your connection and understanding of the character. I feel the objective here is not so much relating to her, but more a case of empathising with her, which is something The Town of Light does a good job in achieving.
As for story-driven visuals, you may as well just forget about them. Cutscenes are virtually non-existent, as the developers have chosen to portray their story through the discovery of objects and documents scattered across the map. As you visit each location, the closest you'll get to a cutscene is a series of storyboard-like images/illustrations, depicting the purpose of the room/area and the way the in-patients lived under such harsh conditions. It's educational, but would have been nicer to see something fully animated and maybe even a live action scene. It appears as though real, historical photographs were used here, so a little extra work would have gone a long way. That's not to say the developers haven't bothered at all, because some scenes are acted out by in-game character models. I just feel they're too few and far between to really make an impact and the animations/voice sync could do with a bit more work.
Aside from several trippy corridor scenes, the gameplay is fairly basic and plays like any other interactive title out there. You can open and close the likes of doors, windows, shutters, locker doors and filing cabinets, interact with ladders and equipment accurate to the time period, but more often than not you'll find yourself inspecting key items and reading documents. It's functional, but nowhere near groundbreaking. The only additional function I would have liked to have seen would be the ability to run. When it comes to exploring the surrounding grounds of the institution and working out where to head next, it's a bit of a sluggish experience.
Some of the artwork featured within the walls of Charcot Asylum are impressive and suitably dark/twisted, the most notable of which being that within Renée's personal diary. Starting off relatively normal with several light sketches, the diary alone does a good job in expressing Renée's thoughts and feelings as she begins her descent down into the inescapable spiral of despair. With each turn of the page, her feelings, views and drawings get darker and darker until it's almost impossible to tell what's imagined and what's real. You'll need to collect all diary entries scattered throughout the environment to experience this in full, but it's a good addition to an otherwise unrefined title.
Lastly, there are multiple paths you can take at certain points of the story, but they're not very clear at all and if it wasn't for the "Chapters" sub-menu, I wouldn't have even known they were there. I also feel that the answers you give during segments involving multiple choice questions don't seem to have any noticeable impact on the story. This is a shame, but nothing too major.
Overall, I'd say The Town of Light is a unique experience and with a little more work, could have been better, but it achieves what it set out to do and though not quite as broken as the patients featured within, fails to be memorable in any real way and will more than likely leave you feeling unfulfilled. This definitely isn't for everyone and borders more on an interactive experience than that of a game, but if mental health issues appeal to you and you're looking for a little more insight into how the majority of mental institutions were once run, there's definitely something for you here and when you're done with the story, there's a touching live action re-enactment to watch from the main menu.
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