DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Volterra Psychiatric Hospital in Tuscany, Italy was shut down in 1978 due to its cruel treatment of mentally ill patients. Over 6000 had been admitted before it was closed, and it remains as a dark reminder of what happened to those poor souls seeking help. Its decrepit husk still stands, and is testament to horrors that undoubtedly went on there in the name of treating patients. Thus, it seems like the perfect setting for a psychology thriller, and that is just what Italian developer LKA.it saw when they created The Town of Light. Careful to note that they wish to be respectful to those patients who were admitted there, and to treat mental illness with the seriousness it deserves, nevertheless they have also managed to craft a beautiful game and a compelling protagonist.
Returning to the asylum to confront what happened to her when she was admitted at age 16, Renèe narrates the story as the player controls her movement as she explores the asylum. Not resorting to cheap jump scares, the game instead crafts its atmosphere through the lens of a tormented mind trying to recover, cleverly using sound to convey what Renèe is experiencing as she walks the empty halls in search of triggers for her memories. It is a well-done gameplay design as it allows the player to have to think about the objectives and what has to be done, while also preserving the believability that she has gone through all of this trauma. The fact that the hospital has been recreated using photographs of the real place lends an authenticity which makes the game that much more terrifying. Notes and documents seem authentic as well, and through finding them players can also learn about the real life inspiration of the tragic tale. Playable flashbacks as well as stylish hand drawn cutscenes are graphic at times, and disturbing, but do justice to the plight of the patients by not shying from the truth of what happened inside those walls.
In this way The Town of Light serves both an educational and an interactive purpose. By bringing to life the Volterra hospital and examining it through the lens of a fictional victim of its wrongdoings, Lak.it presents an engaging game which uses its medium to enlighten as well as present an original story. Such a feat is unique to games, and here there is a truly great example of narrative integrated with reality as seen through the protagonist. The atmosphere is palpable as seen in the dilapidation and ruin of this horrid facility, heard in the heavy boot prints and creaks and groans of the skeletal building, and to be transported to Tuscany along with Renèe and at times even choose dialogue brings the experience together. For the purposes of the demo that LKA.it showed at the Boston Festival of Indie Games, only a small selection of the story was presented, but in this little slice of gameplay the entire package was showcased, with enough intrigue to want to keep playing and see just who the player is to her. To feel the dread of exploring the hospital and uncovering truths scarier than any zombie or ghost is testament to the studio’s commitment to make a visually stunning game which fits right into the thriller genre but is smarter with its scares. If more games tackled such subject matter in a respectful yet informative and engaging way, then perhaps more people would be willing to see the merit here and know that there is no better way to learn about Volterra than through Renèe’s eyes. The Town of Light has been Greenlit on Steam and is expected to be released on Fall 2015.