The Town of Light, from LKA, is a narrative adventure that tells the story of a young lady called Renée, returned to a place which stole away a large chunk of her life, forced to deal with her traumatic past.
Wired Productions had some space in the downstairs of this year’s EGX Rezzed. On one side of their room were several entries of the action-packed, ARPG series Victor Vran, on the other, and in stark contrast, was our subject today; The Town of Light.
Originally launched on PC over a year ago in digital form, The Town of Light set out to tell the story of a mentally disturbed young girl whose recollection of the past guides the player through the facility that served as her prison through her youth. Her detention was politically motivated, but her time inside it was torturous, with the asylum deploying all of their methods to try and cure the girl of a mental condition that didn’t exist. While the ending of the game was the same regardless of how you played, it was lauded for it’s four branching stories, each telling a finessed story focusing on a different element of Renée’s past.
There’s little else I can say about the story, as I only spent about 20 minutes with the demo, however the developer’s efforts to make the game feel like a horror game were outstanding from the go. Even knowing that the developers had set out to tell a story about a real location, and potential events, and that the game would -to quote- contain “No zombies, or supernatural presences” it still held the atmosphere of a game that was about to try and chase you out of your chair.
The game starts outside the facility Renée had spent her youth in, a vast, multi-storey facility that goes on-and-on through extensions, wings, and underground paths. The facility has long fallen into disrepair, and even the shacks and greenhouse that you start by are in serious disrepair.
While the game has certainly been pitched as a horror, it achieves it more through it’s passive storytelling; definitely playing to the rules laid out previously by narrative exploration/adventure games, the kind which normally get labelled as Walking Simulators. Indeed, like the game which created the great awareness to the genre, Dear Esther, The Town of Light’s main character is not a reliable narrator, thanks mostly to their inability to come to terms with their losses; both are haunted by their memories, but in ToL they are more visional.
Flashes, narration, and visions, interrupt you as you explore the grounds – see a bed or room and you might be greeted with a graphic graphic of what went on there, lashing, stripping, electrolysis. There’s rarely a warning, with the game tearing you from the quiet, absorbing ambient music, and forcing a memory onto the screen. This is, in reality, how the game delivers and maintains its’s atmosphere, and it’s the -likely divisive- element that will make you want to either finish, or put down, the game.
During my brief time with the game I was impressed with the game’s command of lighting and visual standards. While there were a few instances of textures not quite playing ball -the, sadly, almost anticipated grass peeking through walls- the game otherwise looked exceptional. Viewing controls were responsive, and the walking speed certainly matched the genre, although left me a little frustrated when the game wasn’t too obvious in dictating the direction you should have been heading in. The best example of this lack-of-direction comes in the first area, when you start there’s a gate ahead, with a road that snakes, and then hooks left, up to the asylum. The gate can actually be pushed open, but with the building off to the side, and only a tiny indicator change when something can be interacted with, both two people I observed, and I, ended up rummaging through greenhouses and shacks for planks to move, or vaults to clamber over.
Once you’re in the building that happens less, especially as the game starts playing on perception instead of the feeling of absent wandering. an early example being a point where the corridor ahead of you, despite being clearly linear, inverts and flips as you progress. This is, indeed, when Town of Light is at it’s best – when you know where you need to go, but the game feels like it is working it’s best to make you uncomfortable to push further into the protagonist’s memories. It’s an uncomfortable subject, in an uncomfortable place,and it’s all grounded in reality.
As a dialogue about the past, and as a led experience the game is brilliant; if you are the kind of person who wouldn’t dive into That Dragon Cancer, or Virginia, then you’d probably be best not exploring the asylums hallways; but if you’re looking for an atmospheric, but uncomfortable, journey then it’s certainly a place to visit.
Town of Light launches for Xbox One, PS4, and as a physical PC edition, later this year.