The Town of Light covers bold new ground with its story of a young woman’s treatment in a 1940s mental health facility; with this narrative the clear focus, however, could the moment-to-moment gameplay suffer? Join us for a stroll around the corridors of Volterra asylum, won’t you?
We can’t praise Lka.it enough for attempting to tackle such important, heavy subject matter.
The former, however, is a disappointment. The linear nature of the game could be forgiven if there were puzzles to vary the pacing, but they never really materialise. In the early stages you’re asked to find “warm lights” to keep your doll, Charlotte, nice and toasty, which takes no rocket-surgeon to figure out as there’s only one room with such lights. Similarly, towards the back end of the game you’re tasked with finding your old stuff in the storeroom, but once you’ve interacted with one bag your gaze is automatically directed towards the actual parcel, removing any potentially engaging investigation/problem solving elements - this kind of thing happens a lot during the game’s short duration.
Interactive gameplay may be almost non-existent, but the setting has plenty of depth, thanks largely to the asylum’s design being based on a real-world facility in Italy. Once you finish the game, you’ll be presented with a short live action film that really showcases how spot on Lka.it got it. It’s a pity, then, that the graphics are rather poor, especially when you take into account the always excruciating load times and occasionally stuttering framerate.
Outdoor sections are the real offenders here: there’s ugly texture pop-in and the lighting effects look off, making the whole presentation seem a generation out of date. Inside the facility things fare slightly better, but everything still has a grainy, blocky look to it. The Town of Light does pull it back somewhat with some wonderful graphic novel-inspired flashback scenes - think Deadlight - and marvellous visual effects during playable memories. Corridors wobble, colours revert to monochrome, and light sources pierce as music and voice screech and decay. These are the best sections of the game hands-down, when the story, visuals and sound effects finally align to create a truly affecting blend.
It’s just a shame that the game fails to make good on its early promise with the mighty gut punch of achieved potential. The story rips the veneer off mental health treatment and many other significant issues, but fails to truly discuss the complex depths below the surface and the effect they can have on the individual, family and society itself. Renee’s memories become more and more confusing as the game plows to its denouement, vastly eroding the impact the story could have had.
The Town of Light’s short length, combined with the lack of any truly engaging gameplay mechanics, leaves us with the feeling that this story would’ve been better served as a graphic novel or film. For us, that unrealised potential is a real blow - the game flirts with the idea of being the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of gaming, but ends up falling well short.