Eurogamer.net

The Town of Light is a first-person asylum game without jump scares

"We're not taking the piss…"

The Town of Light is described by its developers as a psychological thriller, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it's yet another jump-scare horror game set in a creaky old asylum.

The Town of Light is set in a virtual recreation of real-life Italian asylum Volterra, which shut down in the 1970s after its practices were labelled cruel.

You play Renee, who returns to the asylum in the present day having been a teenage patient during the 1940s.

It's the perfect setup for the kind of horror game Steam has more than enough of, but The Town of Light's Italian developer insists it's all about the psychology of madness, and carries an important message about depression.

"The definition of horror doesn't apply to what you experience with the game," screenwriter and art and technical director Luca Dalcò told Eurogamer.

"There are a few moments when you can get scared, but it's more suggestive. It doesn't have jump scares. It's not a horror in the classic definition of the term."

Dalcò's comments seem to contradict The Town of Light's most recent trailer, above, which features creaking doors and dimly-lit interiors. But a six minute gameplay video released in May, below, offers a more accurate look at the game, with slow-paced exploration and story put to the fore.

The aim of The Town of Light is for Renee, alongside the player, to remember what happened to her while she was at the asylum. She relives her troubled past as she explores the rusting remains of Volterra. As you do this, you interact with the environment, and at certain points with other people.

The obvious comparison is to Gone Home, but Dalcò cites The Cat Lady, a psychological horror graphic adventure game in which you play a chronically depressed, middle-aged woman, as an inspiration.

There are moments in The Town of Light when you are forced to make a choice, and your decisions determine which of the four endings you'll get.

Here's an example: at one point you find Renee's clinical records. As she reads them, she is shocked to discover the detail doesn't fit with what she remembers. So she begins to question herself. Here, the player can choose to carry on reading or stop reading, and the story changes accordingly. Renee may come to blame her doctor for what happened to her, or may come to blame herself, eventually slipping into depression.

The Town of Light, then, is designed to raise awareness of mental illness while offering a tense, psychological thriller experience. The developers had access to the real life clinical records of those who stayed in the asylum to add authenticity to the game, and it includes a message that suggests players seek professional help if they experience discomfort.

"We're not taking the piss," Dalcò said. "We're not spoiling something that's really serious. We want to make people aware it exists. That's the main thing."

For Dalcò, The Town of Light was in part inspired by personal events. He lost a friend who had suffered from depression, and the episode left its mark on him.

"The media doesn't talk about depression, and depression is something that's a big deal for a lot of people," he said. "I wanted to do something, so decided to use video games as a medium to tell a story."

The Town of Light is due out at the end of 2015 on Steam with Oculus Rift support. One to watch.

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