It's been an emotional week for gamers as we've seen the release of Rime and now the console release for The Town of Light. What I felt was going to be another run of the mill FPS horror game became something more weighted in reality yet incorporated a terrifying aspect of mental health and emotional story telling.
The Town of Light puts players into the role of an unknown woman as she traces the history of a another young woman and her time at an asylum in Italy during the 1930's. At this time of history, medical treatments for the mentally incapable or those with difficult mental health states were treated poorly and often subject to routine abuse and ill care. As you dive deeper and explore the asylum, we uncover a deeply troubling story of a young girl facing abuse, loss and misery as she tries to overcome her mental state in order to leave this place.
As the story progresses we see through different perspectives of the asylum activities, merging reality with fiction and the deranged fantasies of the mentally ill. We as players have to figure and decide which stories add up but doing this is the game's aspect of conflict and challenge. Players will explore and complete various tasks, often simplistic lateral elements that require you to go here, fetch and item or simple interactions with the environment. As you explore, gathering notes, documents and encountering memories will reveal more of this tragic story.
The Town of Light's strongest aspect is the story which is truly heartbreaking how you look at it. What seems like a simple case of depression for a young woman later becomes a complex pattern of issues brought on by abuse. You'll grow to love the leading character who's story you're exploring and it would take a heart of stone not to feel any empathy at the end. There are branching segments of the story that portray certain elements differently as you make choices on what is happening and why. This opens replay-ability and offers a dynamic approach where the mental illness actually incorporates itself in the story. This is all helped by the rich atmosphere and intense sense of dread despite the lackluster graphics or lack of physical conflict. The narrative is emotionally driven, carrying emotional depth and a gripping nature to keep you invested until the bitter end.
Not to forget the beautifully drawn visuals during cut scenes with striking depth and artistic style.
However the Town of Light is far from perfect and it's a crying shame. What holds back the Town of Light are a few glaring issues, relating to poor presentation and lack of refinement in visuals and functionality. As mentioned the game has an intense atmosphere, yet looks awfully bland and lifeless. You could mistake this as an early 7th generation game. I note this because the visual presentation doesn't match the high quality of substance in the narrative elements. The crude controls will also be agonising at times as simple functions are often restricted and in one segment where you need to push a wheel chair became unbearable.
The Town of Light will also slow down your movement during certain events with real benefit behind it. This becomes a major problem in the third act is littered with tedious objectives that draw our the conclusion. The most annoying being a search around a maze for crayon drawings that feels confusing and endless thanks to the controls. There's also a lack of strong lateral elements and lacks a structure for engaging gameplay. It often boils down to minor fetch quests and at times, tedious exploration.
Town of Light offers a truly harrowing experience, making you uncomfortable at the right times and ends with a tragic revelation that's memorable and genuinely heartbreaking. The functionality does let it down greatly but if you can place this aside (and I say it's worth it) then you'll encounter a wonderful game at heart that tries to push narrative structure and story telling in a different direction. For this I say The Town of Light is worth checking out and hopefully one day the developers could patch up certain factors to make the functionality smoother.
++ Emotionally engaging story
++ Intense atmosphere
+ Good story elements
-- Lack of polish
- Crude controls
- Poor lateral elements
A PS4 copy of The Town of Light was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review