At EGX 2017, the THG team had the chance to get a closer look at some of the Indie games in development right now. These were some of the most exciting stalls at the event in terms of creativity, diversity and unique game experiences. One project that immediately caught our eye was ‘The Town of Light’ developed by Wired Productions, the creators of ‘Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood’ and ‘Last Inua’. This title is drastically different from anything the studio has done before and being the enthusiast that I am for first-person story-driven gameplay; I was thrilled to try it out!

The Town of Light is All About Mental Illness

Set in the 1930’s, you play as 16-year-old Renée, a former patient of Volterra Psychiatric Asylum. Years after her release, she returns to the asylum to explore its abandoned grounds and uncover her harrowing youth. We guide her on an emotional journey, trying to piece together events of what happened to this tortured girl and understand her history.

I’m not afraid…

This isn’t your ordinary scare the s*** out of you game you would expect hearing words like ‘asylum’ and ‘psychiatric’. The Town of Light explores the themes of mental health from a unique perspective, uncovering its terrifying reality through one girl’s traumatic story. Although Renée’s story is fictional, the game is based on real-life events and the Asylum itself is an exact replica of the Volterra Psychiatric Asylum in Italy — a mental hospital that still stands today.

That Doll Is Creepy As Hell

Diving straight into this game, I was immediately put on edge. The doll this girl is holding is beyond creepy. This, coupled with Renee’s inner monologue leading you away from certain doors and actions echoing “He’ll be angry, I know he will!” and “Charlotte is cold. Let’s get her somewhere warm”, is enough to make you feel a sense of anxiety similar to what a patient of the antique would have experienced.

Every action is slow and deliberate, the elevator clunking down to the next level, shuffling steps and unexplained objectives forcing you to explore blindly from room to room. This girl is alone and vulnerable, in a cold, dark building with only her doll to keep her company, and you feel that vulnerability.

Although you expect the world to turn bloody, and a vicious creature to step out of the shadows, it doesn’t. The Town of Light doesn’t attempt to send you screaming and running on a cheap thrill; its horror is instead grounded firmly in reality. The game proves you don’t need jump scares or gross-out visuals when the world you inhabit is so disturbing.

The game does a brilliant job at immersing you entirely in its environments and the fate of Renée. Visually, the game is haunting. It looks like a set taken straight from American Horror Story.

Psychosis and Horror Games

We’ve grown to manifest fear from things we don’t understand. Patterns throughout human history have shown us that we take unexplained phenomenon and conjure up ghosts, vampires and supernatural beings. We discover advances in medication and instead call it witchcraft. Just as we have coupled ‘psychosis’ with unhinged, relentless and murderous tendencies.

We are only just starting to understand how to manage mental health. The Town of Light takes us back to a time when mental health was severely misunderstood; a time where people were incarcerated and subjected to awful torture in the name of ‘treatment’.

How the Town of Light Approaches Mental Illness

In the gaming industry, we have many examples of how mental illness is used to drive the story. Titles such as Resident Evil 7 haunt us with the bewitched Baker family chasing us through tight corridors. It’s thrilling, but it doesn’t portray mental illness in the way it really deserves. 

More recently, Ninja Theory’s Hellblade took a slightly altered approach, exploring mental health issues with sensitively, from the perspective of the protagonist instead of the ‘enemy’. The sound design in this game creates a beautiful, haunting cacophony of voices, and we begin to experience what it might be like to suffer from schizophrenia.

In a similar fashion, The Town of Light draws upon the history and real-life events of the Volterra Psychiatric Asylum to create something that more accurately portrays mental illness and how it can drive a narrative. I was immediately drawn in by the detail put into the game’s surroundings and objects such as Renee’s doll, and how these elements impacted the flow of the game. The lighting is very atmospheric, and the construct of the building strongly reminded me of horror games like Resident Evil, yet the experience of playing was far more disturbing because it felt so much more real. 

Many games butcher our knowledge of mental health, they poison our perception and scare us into thinking that mental illness is akin to being a monster without control. Games like The Town of Light spin these notions around and present gamers with a realistic viewpoint on sensitive subjects like psychosis. Having the chance to experience this refreshingly realistic world is both disturbing and mind-altering – in a good way.

Be sure to watch the video above, if you haven’t already to find out more about The Town of Light from the people behind the title. If you’re looking for more EGX 2017, coverage head over to our gaming page

REVIEW OVERVIEW
A superb take on the effects of mental illness in a video game
7.5
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