The Town of Light PS4 Review

June 10, 2017 by  
Filed under PS4, Reviews & Features, PlayStation

Publisher: Wired Productions  Developer: LKA  Genre: Psychological Horror  Players: 1  

Age Rating: 18+  Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One

Whilst a lot of horror games are made to take you to another world to scare the living day lights out of you, there’s nothing more fearsome than the horrors that real life can hold, and in The Town of Light, it doesn’t shy away from tackling the issue of institutionalised child abuse, something that was very real and widespread among many mental hospitals in the early to mid 1900’s.

You’d think this was a walking simulator. This is one of three animation styles used.

Coined as a psychological horror, there’s nothing here in the traditional sense of a psychological horror game; jump scares are none existent and there’s no blood or gore to be found. That’s not to say it is completely devoid of cliches – there’s few ‘trippy’ moments in the same vain as Layers of Fear, and a creepy doll the main character carries around, though mostly there’s nothing here that cements it as a true psychological horror.

A story driven game, you take control of Renee, a young woman who was sectioned and sent to the very real Volterra Lunatic Asylum in the 1930’s, and you follow her years later as she revisits the now-closed asylum trying to regain her memories of what happened during her time there. The experience is harrowing, though manages to handle the subject matter very well, whilst still being able to shock and instil a sense of horror patients experienced.

There are a number of animation styles used within the game. The first is when you are actually playing the game; you’ll be walking around in first person, in a 3D environment reminiscent of a walking simulator, complete with a torch to toggle. There’s some additional interaction too, as Renee can pick up items of interest and read the many posters, letters, notes and other customary bits of stationary laying about, these giving extra information into the background of the hospital, patients and staff.

The second animation style comes in the form of static sketches, whilst the third style of animation – which I was actually surprised to see – are CG scenes complete with fully 3D-rendered characters. This mishmash of animations and art styles could make the game feel unfocused and lacking in flow (and is also telling of where the budget was mostly spent) though they manage to work together well, with certain styles being used for certain scenes.

The imagery instils a sense of the horror of what took place.

Gameplay-wise, for the most part you will be walking around and investigating every nook and cranny, though the developers have added some variation to keep it from feeling tedious. There are a few puzzles to be solved – these aren’t the most mind-boggling though, as it is a story-driven game, and it is clear the developers don’t want to break the story’s flow by having players focusing for too long on one area. So the puzzles in the game are relatively easy to solve, whilst also helping to drive the story. Another puzzle sees you having to choose from multiple choice answers.

At certain points, Renee will read a file or note relating to herself, and here is where her state of mind comes into question – she will refer to herself in the third person, having discussions with herself in which you choose a response from multiple answers. Whilst these can feel tacked on – the first time this happens, it seems to come out of the blue – these sections do show the struggle Rene has with her inner demons, with the you basically acting as the second voice inside her head.

The second half of the game is the weaker half; as it draws to its conclusion, it becomes more about the realisation of what has actually happened to Renee, and takes away from the focus of her time at the asylum. In fact, besides one last shocking scene, I felt bored playing through the second section; the puzzles diminish, any sense of discovery is gone. The second half feels very half-hearted, with Renee mostly walking around through uninteresting areas until you reach the conclusion, with not much else happening. There are also some sections that feel frustrating here as your walking pace is purposely slowed down, and it isn’t very fast to begin with, these parts feeling a bit of a slog to get through. Of course, this is done to add some drama, of what is going to happen next, though to me it feels as though it is only there to prolong gameplay, seeing as there isn’t a lot to do around this point.

I was surprised to see fully rendered CG scenes. They’re brief, but show the utter misery of the residents.

Another aspect of the story I was confused about is the age of the main protagonist. At the start, the date is shown as 1940, though it skips ahead to 2016 – you can clearly see the asylum is a deteriorated mess, walls crumbling and old furniture and equipment littered everywhere. You assume this is a slightly older Renee going back and rediscovering her memories of her time there, and certain parts of the story imply it has only been a few years since she left the asylum (at one point her age is quoted as being 23, and she was in her late teens when she was in the asylum), and only a few years since its closure, it’s actual closure in real life being in 1978. At this point in time though, based on that 2016 date and the 1940 date, Renee is supposed to be a 76 year old woman, though throughout she speaks like a young adult. I’m not sure if this is a bit of an oversight, or whether it somehow draws in to the ‘twist’ at the end, but the age of Renee is vague, if a bit irrelevant.

The voice acting in the game is also mixed – sometimes it can sound rather monotonous, at other times over the top; again, you could easily construe the monotonous tone is because Renee’s feelings have become stilted, and the over the top voice acting is because she is struggling with her inner demons, but from the opening, it sounds like the actor is reading lines. The story and gameplay also lacks a sense of atmosphere; whilst the appearance of the now-dilapidated asylum plays into the sense that something awful happened there, you don’t find yourself hesitating to explore, or wondering what is around the corner.

The imagery helps portray Renee’s anguish, and how she sees the wardens as emotionless robots, doing their jobs unquestioningly… not much has changed then.

For the most part the story itself, of Renee’s time at the asylum, is the better part. The story manages to capture the brutality of her time there, and also the loneliness and isolation, and how Renee seeks solace in a fellow female patient, only for the pair to be torn apart; the asylum not only mistreated patients for their ill state of mind, but also for their moral and political beliefs, and it makes you believe that these places did not have the patients best interests at heart at all, instead the staff more concerned with asserting their power and control over vulnerable people.

The Town of Light does an excellent job of capturing and showing the ill-treatment of people suffering from mental health issues back in the very early days of medicine. They don’t shy away from showing Renee in a number of difficult situations, and it does strike a chord, knowing people actually went through this in real life, being taken advantage of in every way possible. Whilst certain aspects could have been stronger, for a game that was intended to educate, it succeeds at what it was aiming to do.