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This is a spooky horror story based on the diary entries of a young girl, Renée, and her strange but compelling doll, Charlotte. The doll features quite considerably in the early part of the story and your manipulation and maneuvering of it moves the tale along at an eerie atmospheric rate. The Town of Light is described by its developers as a psychological thriller and for me that is almost exactly what it is. Maybe thriller is pushing it a bit too far, psychological drama would be more factual in my opinion. One thing it isn't is yet another jump/scare horror game where things spring out of cupboards and cats suddenly appear hanging from the rafters. 
The Town of Light is set in a virtual recreation of the actual insane asylum in Volterra, Italy, which closed in the 1970s after its practices were revealed as being inhumanly cruel. In the game you play Renée, who was a teenage patient during the 1940s and who has returned to the asylum in the present  to face her horrors.


The text (in red italics) is from Wikipedia because I could have paraphrased it and claimed it as my own work, but it isn't and that would be plaguerism; it does however, set up the game as succinctly as I would have liked to have written.

 The Town of Volterra   

Looking like something straight out of a horror movie, the Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra is the crumbling husk of a mental institution that was closed due to cruel treatment of its patients, one of whom left a mysterious work of epic scale etched into the plaster of the walls that imprisoned him.


The now-derelict hospital was founded in 1888 with the establishment of a ward for the demented in the poorhouse of the former convent of San Girolamo. In 1902, the ward was named Frenocomio (meaning psychiatric hospital) S. Girolamo, and in the following decades, under the direction of Dr. Luigi Scabia, after whom one of the buildings was named, the institution underwent significant development, expanding gradually with the creation of shops, services, an agricultural company, and a judicial section. Scabia’s plan was to build an independent village in which patients could feel free, but also to put into effect a plan of work tailored to each patient in order to direct their reinsertion into society after hospitalization—in 1933, shortly before his death, Scabia even established a currency for the inmates’ use.The buildings that once housed the psychiatric hospital stand on a hill in a forested area near the center of the town of Volterra. After walking down what was once the asylum’s private street, one reaches the most recently constructed building (there are four structures in total). The building has been severely damaged by vandals; the windows have fallen in, and the outside walls are covered in spray-painted graffiti. Inside, there are still a few items that were left in 1978, the year the hospital was abandoned: wheelchairs, an old telephone booth, sun beds.


Between 1902 and 1909, many new patients arrived, and new pavilions—Verga, Charcot, and Ferri—were built to accommodate them. But Luigi Scabia retired in 1934 and died shortly thereafter, choosing to be buried in the institution’s cemetery along with the corpses of inmates unclaimed by their families.

In the 1950s and ‘60s the hospital grew to become one of the largest asylums in Italy, with over 100,000 cubic meters of space, until Law 180 (also known as the Basaglia Law, after its architect, psychiatrist Franco Basaglia), mandating the closure of all mental hospitals and the regulation of compulsory medical treatments—and thus effectively instituting the Italian public mental-health system—was enacted in 1978.

Until the Basaglia Law put an end to the age of asylums, going to Volterra often meant being interned in the Ferri pavilion (the psychiatric hospital’s judicial section), which harbored 6,000 people simultaneously, with 20 sinks and two toilets to every 200 patients. One could be locked up in the Ferri at the first sign of depression or schizophrenia—or even due to accusations of political or moral transgressions. Practices such as electroshock treatment and the inducement of comas with insulin were common, and there was a manual of pills and poisons administered for testing purposes to the patients, with complete disregard for their often-irreversible consequences. Inmates were often sedated, isolated, or placed in tanks full of ice. The rooms had prison-like grates and nurses were addressed as “guards” or “superiors”; an internal regulation stated, “Nurses are not required to communicate with the families of the sick, give news, or send out letters, objects, messages, or greetings; neither can they bear to the sick any news from outside, nor objects, prints, or writings.”


Currently, the former asylum’s physical plant is in a process of total surrender to the natural world. But since its closure, the hospital has become famous for the graffiti of Fernando Oreste Nannetti, also known as NOF4, NOF, or Nanof, as he preferred to sign his name. He carved 180 meters of an outer wall, recording during his many years of hospitalization an encyclopedia of feelings, biographies, and crimes both witnessed and suffered. Words, poems, and drawings were etched into the yellow plaster with the buckle of his vest, part of the uniform of the insane inmates. Airwaves, formulas, metals, stars, names, symbols, and cities: he scratched all these things and more into the plaster. Morning or afternoon, sun or rain, winter or summer—it didn’t matter. He worked around the heads of the catatonic patients sitting on the bench in front of the wall and dodged the wrath of the stringent nurses to cross space and time through his words and images.

The game play uses the WASD or Arrow Keys for movement and for me this alone makes it far more playable than the usual point-and-click adventures usually foundf on Steam masquerading as horror stories. You have a (F)lashlight which may or may not run out of batteries (I only used it sparingly incase it did die when I most wanted it - that's how creeped out by the game I was) and as you continue through the old Hospital wards and corridors you find pages of Renée's original diary as well as Doctor's Orders and other assorted notes, most of which make horrific reading but give you the opportunity to understand just how poor the place was.

   Charlotte, in the wheelchair and the Operating Room where she becomes "comfortable" in the light.

   Windows are barred and bolted. Charlotte seems to really enjoy the operating room's lights.

TOWN of LIGHT is a true realisation and representation of many such Psychiatric "Hospitals" in the late 1800s and early 1900's and yes the game does create an intense spine-tingling atmosphere that keeps you wondering why the people who ran this godforsaken asylum treated people in the manner they did, although the majority of answers have long since died with its closing. My Aunt, who died a few years back now in her 80s was born, as they said then "out of wedlock" and because of this her Mother was locked away in an asylum for the insane around (or not far from) the time that this "hospital" was operational. I am not saying that where she was locked up was exactly the same as the Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra but playing through this game has made me think on the life she may have been forced to lead, and I seriously shudder at that harrowing image. That knowledge did make the journey through the Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra more torturous and traumatic for me, to think that the Mother of someone I grew up knowing all my life may have been subjected to a place like this made it even more realistic.

Unfortunately, at least for my way of thinking, the actual gameplay doesn't quite live up to the story or the atmosphere. By this I mean there are too many interesting looking places that cannot be investigated and too many items, such as coins that seem to be important, that you can look at but not pick up. I understand that you cannot be allowed to collect and carry everything you find but it's a little frustrating when you can't pick up even the smallest objects.

    The elevator (and the electric lighting) still work

Another frustration for me is that Renée cannot jump, not even over low obstructions, nor can she (you) climb or move things out of the way or even go under them, the moving/climbing being most frustrating because she can push and pull a wheelchair yet she cannot move a couple of steel trolleys out of her way; silly little things like that don't actually spoil the game for me but they don't help it either.

    It seems that no one has collected the post (not sure why the Postman continued delivering to a ruin) and the old projector is loaded with ancient film of the Hospital as it was.

There is a truly weird, mind-blowing sequence of corridors that look like sheer drops but then slope and twist as you travel along them until you reach a bright, all white, light and see a huge man, an attendant at the hospital perhaps, holding Charlotte, he beckons, you follow, he disappears. You begin to question the reality of it all. Is it a dream and you are remembering your time in the asylum or have you somehow been transported through time back to those very days? As a famous comic book character once said "the mind boggles".

    The Library cupboards may be hanging off but there are still a myriad of books on the shelves, none can be perused and no titles can be read though.

One of the better parts of the Town of Light is that Renée's decision making will eventually determine how the story runs. The game is quite like a first-person documentary of the Mental Health treatment of patients and two of the ways the story can follow depend on who Renée blames, herself, her family, her Doctors, or someone/something else for her incarceration; choose one path and Renée will sink slowly into deep depression, choose another and she will feel anger but not self-blame. Apparently there are four possible endings and at the moment I am not sure which one I am heading towards. This tells you that I have yet to reach a conclusion but when I say I have played three hours straight and feel that there is so much more to discover it should also inform you that this isn't a five-minute wonder, it really is a game with long-term playabiity that requires concern and concentration.


    Some of the paperwork found

    Are the passages going down or is it just the lighting ?

Many of the screenshots on this page are true screenshots, literally shot with my camera straight off the monitor screen.

    Beds in the corridor, the Nurses aren't petite and feminine.

     16 year old Renée (you) entering the asylum.

    Memories of crowded sleeping rooms and sullen Day rooms.

    Sometimes the "treatment" was more physical than at other times.

    Charlotte sees everything.

    A page from Renée's Diary and two sides of the same coin

    A Ghost ? A "You are here" map and the entrance to the Hospital

   Views of the outside. Bright, colourful, free and fresh, until you step over the threshold

At the point in the game I currently am at I want to (and therefore will) carry on, although if I hit too many more dead-ends and nonetity rooms my enthusiasm may well wane out of existence. Graphically and sound-wise this is a well presented macabre and disturbing story with most probably more than a grain of truth weaved into it. I am not saying that Renée and/or Charlotte are based on actual people but I do believe there is something of the real past in them and the situations you assist in putting them in. This then makes it more than a game with a story it becomes an interactive lesson on the history of the insane. Is Renée insane now? Was she insane then? Did Charlotte (the Doll) really change under the operating room lights? Lots of questions to find answers to and thus lots more play for me in the TOWN of LIGHT!







© Chris Baylis 2011-2015