The Town Of Light Preview at EGX Rezzed
The go-to phrase employed to describe LKA.it's The Town Of Light is "a different kind of horror game". While true, after getting my hands on the console build for the Italian development team's harrowing narrative game, I don't feel that statement captures the delicacy and starkness that gives The Town Of Light it's edge over other 'horror' games.
It's frightening because, not only could the events of the psychiatric hospital in Volterra happen, they did happen. The game is not reliant on jump scares or ephemeral phantoms to inspire fright - it's a gruelling and heart-wrenching dichotomy of the mistreatment and punishment people went through for suffering with mental health issues. Horror is found in the history.
You play as a woman named Renée, who during the 1930s was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital in Volterra, Italy. The game is set in the first half of the 20th century where the hospital is now closed down. Renée returns to the now dilapidated hospital to piece together the parts of her life that were stolen from her. It's a story of vindication, pain, isolation and the exploration of mental health stigma. Although Renée's narrative is fictitious, the experiences and memories you uncover will feel very real.
The game is already out on PC but at EGX Rezzed, The Town Of Light's 3D artist Lorenzo Conticelli walked me through the console build which additional features.
Conticelli is part of the team that admirably and meticulously recreated this hospital brick by brick in the game. The attention to detail is breath-taking - from every rusted gate to discarded wheelchair that was actually present when Conticelli and the LKA.IT team visited 'Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra' during the development stages of this game.
The console additions of the game feature the whole experience but with some added diary features that add wider context to Renée’s internal monologue as she recounts how her time in the facility laid waste to her mental faculties, how it crushed her spirit, her mind and mutated her psyche. These diary entries aren't an integral part of the game but rather require you to seek them out. They're illustrated with scratchy artwork which, as you find more entries, changes tone according to Renée’s mind state. Pencil lines distort into bluntness with aggressive abandon and childlike doodles become figments of disturbed nightmares.
The game plays like Myst in that you progress by using your surroundings as visual navigators and puzzle solvers. The Town Of Light art team have made a special effort to keep the location as close to the original as possible - Italian signposts included.
However, even in my short play-through, I found it difficult to appreciate the craft when the game evokes such realism and pain through it's world. Real people suffered her, relatives of people you might know. They forced to live in such dire situations at their most vulnerable - The Town Of Light amazing example of how we can use history in games to frame an exploration of a topic that's painfully relevant still today.
The Town Of Light is currently available on Steam and will be available on PS4 and Xbox One this spring
Will Butler | @QuesaWilla