Videogames, when discussing sensitive issues, often end up misrepresenting, and stigmatizing their respective subject groups. Both Outlast, and Outlast 2, have done a great job of further stigmatizing patients of psychiatric institutions, and members of the catholic faith, respectively. And it seems like this trend will not end anytime soon, as The Town of Light, which is the subject of this review, makes all the same mistakes which the original Outlast has committed.

The Town of Light, tells a story of an ex-patient of an Italian psychiatric institution, through exploration of her past, which is accomplished through interaction with the aforementioned institution. Throughout the game, players will visit a wide range of different wards, gardens, and communal areas in search of the truth. And while doing so, one will encounter a series of flashbacks which present the protagonist, other patients, and the staff of the hospital. And for the most part, the vast majority of the on screen characters, mostly women, appears naked, and is commonly abused by the staff both mentally, and sexually.

When not interacting with the hospital staff, both the protagonist and other patients are presented as brainwashed, lobotomized, mannequin like figures, who are stuck in short animation loops. And yes, one could argue that prior to the late 20th, and the 21st century, doctrines of psychology and psychiatry were very invasive and often caused serious harm to patients. But it is hard to believe that each and every person inhabiting the in-game facility, is incapable of normal existence?

The way in which in-game characters are presented is controversial, and problematic. But at the same time, it also takes a lot away from the main plot of the title, as throughout, snippets of information, photos, and general flashbacks can cloud the message which The Town of Light is trying to convey. But the abundance of unnecessary information, does not affect the story as much as the sub-par technical state of the title.

The Town of Light, is an indie game, and nobody expects it to challenge AAA titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn in graphical and technical departments. But when compared to titles of the same ilk, such as Dear Estherand Everybody Has Gone to The Rapture, it comes across as both underwhelming, and mechanically disappointing.

The Town of Light, constantly struggles to maintain a stable framerate, as it suffers from major frame-drops, as well as significant frame-pacing issues. And such state of the title is surprising, as The Town of Light, is not a particularly good looking title, even when compared to the 5 year old Dear Esther. And this is even more surprising when one considers the fact that Dear Esther is a last-gen, polished-up mod, whereas The Town of Light, is a current gen-game built from scratch.

When dissecting The Town of Light, negatives heavily outweigh the positives, but it would be a lie to state that this particular title is rotten at the core. In-fact, The Town of Light, while constantly trying to sabotage itself with endless flashbacks and overlong narration, also manages to shine through rare moments of brilliance. The mechanic of oppressing bonds, which forces the player character to break emotional attachment with certain physical objects, in order to push herself to progressing further through the facility is magnificent. And the way in which the protagonist narrates certain events as if they were taking place in a still operating hospital is truly stunning. But as it was stated previously, when it comes to The Town of Light, brilliance only comes in short bursts, and never persists for longer periods of time.

In short, if one were to summarise The Town of Light using an analogy, he/she could state that it is like a pound shop, or a dollar store if you’re from the United States. It is a vast open space with plenty of items which could be of interest to you, but amongst the hundreds of items, there’s only a couple of which that you’ll be willing to buy. And this is because the rest is nothing more than a bunch of cheap, far eastern tat, which is of low quality, and will break apart the second you touch it. And you’ll probably be better off visiting a normal store, and paying the full price, because that way you are more likely to be satisfied with your choice.

The pound shop analogy perfectly summarises the way in which many people will perhaps perceive The Town of Light, but not in its entirety, as about 3/4 in, the game does a complete one-eighty, and suddenly becomes ‘good’. The second the game places the player outside of the hospital, in an open field, facing a cemetery, the message which the title was trying to convey since the beginning becomes crystal clear.

The open field serves the role of a mentally stable person’s mind. It’s full of greenery, vegetable gardens, and an open space which could serve the role of a canvas, which one uses to unlock his/her true potential. But in the middle of all this is a cemetery, which is right in the centre of one’s mind, to remind him/her that life’s not endless, and that you and all your loved ones will one day give your last breath, and will end up under a ton of dirt. During this sequence, the player keeps oscillating around the cemetery while visiting new locations, but no matter where you go, you’ll always end up right back in the cemetery. And it’ll come to a point where the said cemetery will be the only thing that you’ll think about, and at that point the healthy mind represented by the open fields starts to corrode, and once one goes insane, he ends up at the dilapidated, hostile, psychiatric facility, which is now representing a mind of a highly disturbed person.

Once the player makes his/her way back to the hospital, the real meat of the title comes into play, and all the previously mentioned pound shop tat goes right out the window. Minute by minute, The Town of Light,  snowballs towards a satisfying ending. Which does not only give one closure on the story, but also provides one with an accurate insight into the practice of lobotomy. However, despite it picking up the pace, and finally following the artistic direction which has been promised since the first trailer was released, the excellent final chapters come too little, too late. And in a way, they feel like a mechanically flawed apology for all the chapters which preceded the finale.



Author

Kamil

My name is Kamil, and I'm the 'Feature Man'. I write news, and reviews just like everybody else, however, feature articles are my true forte. And this is not because I'm another self-centered, pseudo-intellectual games journalist, but because there are many discussion worthy matters which go unnoticed in the flurry of other video-game related articles. If you want to read more of my #HotTakes and #Opinions, or if you simply want to fight me over the internet, you can follow me on Twitter @Kama_Kamilia.