Upon watching the official trailer for LKA.it's The Town of Light, I believed it to be a generic horror game and almost dismissed playing it. The atmosphere of the trailer is quickly set, the scenery is eerie, and the narrator ties everything together with her sorrowful story. Then suddenly, when you reach the end of the corridor, the scene is replaced with an abandoned park, and I found myself giggling at the camera riding on the rusty roundabout. Despite my first impressions, there are no monsters or creepy doctors lurking in the abandoned rooms. This is not a horror game.
It is in fact a first person psychological thriller adventure. The Town of Light begins with Renée, a former patient of the Volterran asylum known as Charcot (named, I assume, after the famous French psychologist and neurologist). Renée revisits the site years after her imprisonment. Once within the constraints of the chipped paint walls she reminisces on her darker days.
The gameplay is non-linear, so the main plot unfolds differently depending on how you play. The further into the story you travel, the darker it becomes, almost as if Renée's mind is unravelling with every step.
It soon becomes obvious that the narrator is still unstable. She begins searching for her old doll Charlotte, mumbling gibberish out of context to the audience. Other than the exploration of the beautifully decrepit asylum, this part of the game is almost chore-like. You have to complete a task on the first floor, then up to the other and back down again. However, it's nice that everything in this game is done manually; opening and closing doors, pressing buttons, etc. There are no cupboards or windows you can't open either. This makes the game monotonously realistic.
Eventually the story takes a peculiar and more dreamlike turn, but it was at this point that the demo ended. The plot looks as though it may follow the clichéd doctors-do-immoral-things-on-patients route, but the game looks well-researched enough that it could be worthwhile anyway.
Based in one of the largest asylums in Europe (Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, Tuscany), this game is rich in real history. The amount of detail is absolutely phenomenal. The Town of Light creates a close version of reality, to the point where I Googled "Volterra asylum" and thought it had given me pictures of the game. You can see the dots of rust on the metal containers and torn fabric of the wheelchairs. You can imagine walking down the corridors yourself, seeing the broken panes of glass and debris littering the floor. They've even recreated some of the recent graffiti.
Not only has a lot of thought gone into the graphics, but the audio too. The swings creak. You can hear flies in the lobby of the asylum. The doors have unique groans. The creators of this game have partaken in a lot of extensive research within the crumbling walls of Charcot, evident by the environment they have created. Comparing the graphics to the real building you can understand why it has received many gaming awards across Europe.
Despite the beauty of the world they created, many of the cutscenes are animated drawings. As much as I appreciate the skill and time that have gone into them, I can't help but feel it detracts from the game. The change in style shatters the tense atmosphere.
However, the gameplay trailer promises the story will take a dark turn. It will approach very sensitive topics, and so maybe a less atmospheric showing of events will handle the subjects more delicately. Similarly, I wasn't sure about the narrator giving away so much exposition (for instance the narrator saying, "he laughed, panted" rather than showing this through action) but again this may be a means of being tactful. At times Renée's descriptions of her torture were powerful, but at other times fell flat.
Overall I am astounded at the amount of research that has gone into this game, and the very real experience of walking through an abandoned building. I am very interested as to how this plot will unfold.
The Town of Light will be released in December on PC and Mac.