This much you might expect from so-called “walking simulators”, but comparable games come alive in the playfulness of the artefacts you uncover, in how they echo one another and keep you guessing. The Town of Light’s props are few and inert, reflections of Renée’s emotional paralysis: medical textbooks, old shoes, busted wheelchairs. They’re the components of a plot, but they lack the specificity and implications of Gone Home’s cassette tapes. The majority of the world’s furnishings are cosmetic or useless—they simply exist, refusing to add up into anything greater than their sum, much as the plot refuses to offer consolation and catharsis.
PERFORMANCE AND SETTINGS
The Town of Light offers three types of anti-aliasing, SMAA, FXAA and SSAA, and has settings for levels of ambient occlusion,grass and shadow density, along with texture quality and shadow or grass rendering distance. You can also adjust FOV between 55 and 65 and choose a refresh rate of 30, 60 or unlimited. The game supports up to 720p resolution.
So-called voyages of introspection in games are often suspiciously fluid affairs. Something is lost, something is found, and the character walks away rejuvenated if not always content. Thanks to its grounding in case history, The Town of Light’s story is much choppier. Renée’s tale is one of very infrequent hope and frequent regression, of personal demons incompletely understood, and of a backward cultural context she is powerless to change. In detailing her trials, the game resists the temptation to demonise the staff of the hospital out of hand: amongst the monsters you’ll find good people made impotent by limited resources and an uncaring society. It’s a convincingly uneven portrayal of an awful era in medicine, despite writing that occasionally teeters over into affectedness.
Where the game goes wrong is in resorting to tropes from the horror genre. At times the geometry twists, plunging you into hallucinatory spaces. There’s the odd door that flies open without explanation, and the soundtrack mixes ambient noise with trickles of mournful piano in the tradition of Silent Hill. There are no jump-scares, and the surreal bits perhaps owe more to LKA’s research on psychosis than repeat viewings of Jacob’s Ladder, but extra care might have been taken in avoiding cliches. Far more appalling, though less showy, are the signs that the world at large has moved on. The truly terrible things in The Town of Light aren’t the stone-faced orderlies pinning Renée down in the flashbacks, or the disembodied shrieks and cackles of other in-mates, but the scaffolds and bags of cement throughout the institution. Volterra is already being transformed, its history of suffering painted over and forgotten.
The Town of Light is an experience you endure rather than engage with. It is never fun, never challenging and evidently the work of an inexperienced and under-resourced team. But it also tackles the subject matter with a cold, fractured sophistication that exposes much, too-smooth, too-cohesive “psychological horror” as trivial. I had a dreadful time playing it. I want you to play it anyway.