Religious cults have existed for centuries, albeit in different forms. Whilst following the word of God is a genuine way of life for many people, it can become twisted by the eccentric and influential. While Paranoid Productions’ adventure game, The Church in Darkness, has some problems, it offers a unique twist on cultist brainwashing.
The game is set in the 1970’s, where two people, Isaac and Rebecca Walker, have started up the Collective Justice Mission in the jungles of South America. Seen as a cult by some, you attempt to infiltrate their settlement of Freedom Town, to save your nephew and work out exactly what is going on down there.
Your main goal is to infiltrate Freedom Town. You have a few tools, such as disguises to aid your sneaking, or metal shards to sabotage alarms. However, sneaking around the settlement, often equipped with few tools, means that it can be a struggle to keep out of sight. You’ll have to devise new ways of remaining undetected, and novel solutions to bypass security. The game definitely comes under the category of novel situation generation.
For example, cult members happily working the fields may run off to alert the guards to your presence. Others may let you pass by without quarrel, but you can never be sure. You need to be mindful of enemy types as well. For example, guards dressed in blue are carrying pistols but are not easily alerted and will quickly tire in pursuit of your capture. Guards in red, however, are more relentless in your capture, hunting you down with a shotgun.
There are visual aids to to help denote enemy aggro range. Every person in the cult has a field of vision highlighted by different colours; the brighter its crimson outline is, the more severe the guard’s actions are. This can be used to catch their attention. However, the AI can be quite poor. You can throw a rock to attract their attention, but only for a short distance. If you’re trying to drag them far away from their watching post, it’s as if they can’t hear the large rock you’ve thrown at them. It’s a little unrealistic and often renders your efforts an exercise in futility.
Being caught three times is the fail state for The Church, and results in a new procedurally generated map. The penalties for this are tough but fair, with your objective progress being reset. However, The Church takes inspiration from recent rogue-likes, such as Dead Cells, allowing you to retain some items following game over, but when you start a new game, you’re confronted with a litany of changes.
This means that you have to pay close attention to your surroundings, rather than relying on experience from past playthroughs. For example, guards don’t have routine paths, which eliminates predictability and keeps you on your toes. It creates decision tension as you’re never entirely certain when best to sneak past troublesome guards. You can, of course, kill inconvenient cultists, but you will have to live with the consequences of those actions…
What makes the game so different is the way the narrative changes with every playthrough. The actions and fates of cult leaders change, as does their allegiances. Likewise, various members act differently between playthroughs. This leads to a multitude of endings ensure no two endings are the same.
The voice acting is incredible too. It really increases the intrigue of the cult, especially its leaders. While each playthrough lets you witness how their approach to running their own utopia differs from the last. One game, I felt sympathy towards the Collective Justice Mission – I even contemplated joining them. However, in the next playthrough, Rebecca and Isaac’s behaviours seemed more rash than the last time, presenting far more terrifying versions of themselves than before.
You’re never short on information either. Letters, memos, and other documents can be found all over the place, while the constant PA announcements from the cult’s leaders keep the story moving. It’s amazing how the tone of each announcement can vary. Listening to Ellen McLain’s (GLaDOS in Portal) intensity and John Patrick Lowrie’s (the Sniper from Team Fortress 2) stern and commanding voice add gravitas to their purpose, and like Charles Manson, they can be rather persuasive. The only drawback in terms of voice acting is that the supporting cast is a bit wooden.
This is represented by the cult in some pretty messed up ways. For example, while members were praying by the river in one game, another seen them stoning some poor man to death. They can be peaceful and they can be violent depending on what type of cult you encounter, and it always helps to keep The Church In the Darkness feeling fresh.
The top-down, isometric viewpoint works well, allowing you to scope out the jungles areas afield with a touch of the right stick. While the map isn’t huge, there are enough cabins, farmhouses, and chapels to investigate.
Every now and then, I encountered some severe lagging which didn’t help when I was trying to run away from a couple of shotgun-wielding cultists. Performance is okay, but there are times when it bordered on unplayable. I didn’t have any other kinds of technical issues, but this was quite a problem and resulted in my capture on more than one occasion. Of course, the game is quite difficult, so adding lag to the difficulty leads to captures that could have probably been avoided if not for performance issues. These performance issues were mostly restricted to busier sections of the game.
The Church in the Darkness is a well-executed stealth-action game that has some nice ideas with the procedural narrative. The main characters are well-voiced. However, the majority of NPC’s sound like Sims. The janky nature of certain sections hampered my time – more so during intense escapes and late game moments – which is a shame for saying how much I appreciated what Paranoid Productions has done with it. The game is often very difficulty, and this is confounded by some poor AI at times. However, The Church in the Darkness is still an interesting experience, and I’d suggest trying it out.
The Church in The Darkness Review
- Overall - 8.5/108.5/10
The Church in The Darkness was an incredibly fascinating game that certainly kept me gripped right from the very start. The game ensures that no 2 playthroughs are the same for you and there are plenty of strategies to make your way through the game as it’s different every time. For anyone that has never played this, I would definitely recommend it as you will not be disappointed.