I don’t do horror games, so when I found out I’d be playing through a chunk of The Town of Light, a horror game from LKA and Wired Productions, I was less than excited. But what I found was that The Town of Light is less of a horror game and more of a horrifying story game. So not only was I saved from the embarrassment of being the guy who is frightened by a video game, but I was also treated to a great, untold story.
The Town of Light tells the tale of Renée, a girl in 1930s Italy who has been brought to an insane asylum, where she is being treated mistakenly after some sort of public incident. She’s taken to an institution that actually existed in real life, which the developers have tried to recreate in the game — they showed me some pictures of the actual building side by side with the game and they’re almost identical. And while Renée’s story is fictitious, everything about The Town of Light is based on something the team at LKA learned during the six months of research that they conducted before making the game. They studied psychiatric issues, the mental institution that we see in the game, and the techniques that were used on patients during this time. This is where The Town of Light earns its genre because everything you’re seeing and hearing is based in reality, and it’s truly horrifying how they treated the mentally ill back then.
Gameplay-wise, The Town of Light is essentially a walking simulator, with a first person narrative from Renée, and items throughout the game that you can interact with. While Renée gives the player a lot of context through her inner monologue, more details can be found in her journal. The journal itself is an item that you find early on in the game, and it allows you to recall her memories from when she was a patient at the institution, and even before her time there. These cutscenes are told in a strange, twisted art style that helps portray the horror that some of these patients, including Renée, went through.
Speaking of the art style, The Town of Light goes for a photo realistic look when traversing around the asylum, and since it’s a small team working on the game, it didn’t really turn out looking all that good. Although some of the lighting effects are pretty great, which I was told was on purpose. They wanted to create a drastic difference between how light and beautiful it was outside compared to how dark and desperate it seemed from the inside. So in that sense, they succeeded, but personally, I would have preferred if they had taken a more artistic approach to their graphics, while I understand that they wanted to go for a realistic game at all angles.
I played about a half hour of The Town of Light from the very beginning of the game, and as someone who doesn’t like horror games, I can’t wait to see what the rest of The Town of Light has to offer. One of my favorite things about video games is that they can tell any kind of story the developers want to, and a story like this has yet to be told. While The Town of Light may not be the campy romp that Until Dawn was, but it will scare your pants off in a different, maybe more deeply horrifying, level.