When it comes the the world of gaming, this favourite past-time allows gamers to enter all kinds of worlds, having a variety of experiences. This is what gaming comes down to, but every now and then a developer will set to break the mould. This can have a largely positive outcome or it can go all very wrong. With The Town of Light I am pleased to say that it is the former. The LKA developers go all out at bringing a subject that people don’t talk about enough and making it the focus point of this experience. Mental health is something that even today can be a taboo topic which is a shame. LKA will take you down a sort of history lesson, laying bear how cruel asylums were and the hurdles that the patients were faced with.
The Town of Light isn’t your normal gaming experience, it is more of an interactive history lesson mixed in with the topic of mental health and how it affects people. The game also hits you hard with the truth of what it was like to live in asylums around the 1930’s up until the closure of asylums in the 1940’s. So much so that there is a warning message letting you know that some people may find certain content in the game distressing, but also that advancements in medicine and techniques have changed since then. I really don’t want to spoil the game as talking too much on what is on offer will spoil it. What I can say is that the game does tell of the abuse, both mentally and physically of the patients as well as there perception of things from within their mind. This is certainly one video game experience that warrants the warnings at the start.
The Town of Light is told in chapters and progression through the game takes the form of exploring and puzzle solving. Making your way throughout the building and hospital grounds can be a very eerie and daunting experience. It is also quite an emotional experience as the memories of Renee start to unfold and you see what she has gone through. While this historic journey reaches the same conclusion, it is how you get there that’s going to be different. When you come to certain points you will be tasked with answering questions related to Renee’s perceptions and documentation you find. This is where the story will branch based on how you answer and how you see Renee’s emotional manifestations. You are not only seeing how she humanises the characters as they appear to her but also to you. This is using the four mechanisms of defence as told by Vittorino Andreoli (a famous Italian psychiatrist, researcher and writer). The branching of the story works well, although if you end the game at certain points you won’t necessary start exactly where you left off which can throw you a bit.
As well as the uncovering of Renee’s memories and experiences, you can go hunting for the lost pages of her diary. Uncovering these helps to truly discover her as a character as well as getting an insight to how she portrays certain harrowing life events. My only complaint is that the Diary pages while optional are not necessary found in order. The team have also included old photos of the Asylum as well as medical books of the sheer torture patients experienced as they uncovered new medical practices. Other things to look out for are video reels of the Asylum as well.
Graphically the game runs on the Unity engine and does look as you would expect. I found it had a slightly water painting style effect in certain parts which felt just right. There are various other graphical effects used in cut scenes which are black and white tying in nicely with the time period. Walking into some rooms brought up hand drawn images depicting the events at that time. These included images of patients trying to hang themselves and how they portrayed staff members. The game also relies heavily on its audio so you have an idea when a certain pathway becomes available or when something requires your attention. The voice over of Renee was quite exceptional and really helped you get immersed in the character as a whole.
The Good Things
- A title that shows the truth of what having a mental health issue back in the 1930’s.
- Portraying of some hard hitting topics like physical and mental abuse.
- Some really great story telling as well as a history lesson.
And The Bad
- The collection of diary pages are not in order, well not for me in my playthrough.
- Some may not like that is doesn’t hod your hand in giving hints on puzzle solving.
- The Town of Light is certainly a very ambitious title which has been handled with great care. I felt the team portrayed a burning ambition of the topic in question. Even to this day mental health isn’t something that is widely discussed, and lots of people suffer in silence. It was a gamble for this game to tell the story of the darkest days of Asylums, as well as the barbaric treatment people faced in them. I am glad through that the team stuck with it to produce this rather hard hitting title. This is not a game in the normal context, I like to think of it more as a virtual history tour so to speak. It won’t be to everyone’s taste and I found most of the puzzles fairly straight forward. However the story telling is handled excellently and the method used in answering questions is quite unique. The score I have given The Town of Light doesn’t just represent it as a game but also how it handles and portrays mental health.
Not many games leave me lost for words, but not many games gives me the experience this has.