When it comes to the horror genre I don’t necessarily feel the need to research before playing. I just boot up the game and get going, there’s usually nothing more to it. The Town of Light (TToL) from Italian developer LKA is different. The Town of Light is based entirely on a very real horror in human history, a horror that was still in practice up until 1978 before being shut down due to its cruel practices towards patients. When you add a dash of realness to any project, be it a game, literature or a movie, the horror changes from something that can be somewhat amusing to an act which can become a psychological scar.
True Horrors Await – The Narrative
It’s March 12, 1938. Renée, who is 16 years old, is ripped out of her world, locked up and deprived of everything. Her only fault was that she didn’t know what her place in the world was. “A danger to herself and others and a cause of public scandal,” wrote the police headquarters. The horror of being locked away, forgotten and treated as a misfit is told from the first-person perspective. As Renée, you must uncover the truths behind your incarceration and delve deeper into the dark world of Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra – a very real place.
The story is set in Italy in the first half of the 20th Century, in a location which unfortunately for thousands existed, and has been meticulously reconstructed by developers LKA. The hallways and examination rooms are decaying, ghosts of the past are wandering without a purpose, and nature is reclaiming what was once hers. By exploring and interacting with the environment you must put together the pieces to relive the history of the protagonist through her confused viewpoint. The interesting elements are the decisions you make along the way, all of which affect the story, with the game featuring several possible outcomes as you progress.
The story is told not only through gameplay but flashback illustrations which reveal more of Renée’s past. The visuals are beautifully haunting and credit to the artists who worked on the game, I loved these elements.
Just a Walking Simulator?
TToL follows similar to any other walking simulator games on the market – though I really dislike the term. Relying heavily on the narrative, it strays away from typical jump scares and ‘scary monsters’ hiding in the dark. Instead, it focuses on informing the player about the cruel events that 20th-century patients suffering from illnesses went through and, referring to me personally, puts a wave of anger in your mind.
From the tall arched windows and doors to the forgotten corridors and ownerless wheelchairs, the environments aren’t an eyesore. The narration is a little wooden at times but overall pleasing and gives an air of desperation in later scenes. Some audio clipping and level issues with music in particular chapters ruin the immersion, but that won’t stop you from continuing to seek the truth.
Frustratingly the game doesn’t tell you where to go next. If you’re not listening to what’s being said or actions on the screen you may have to wander aimlessly until an action is triggered. The game allows you to go at your own pace but that sometimes results in confusion about what to do next.