The Church In The Darkness PC Review

The Church In The Darkness is not without its troubles, both in-game and as a game.

By Daavpuke, Posted 08 Aug 2019

It’s fairly admirable that some games try to tackle current climates in the world. When that political commentary also draws fairly directly from past events, like in The Church in the Darkness, their message is even more incisive. Whether that message hits, however, is also dependent of the game being any good and that isn’t always as easily done. Clearly, The Church in the Darkness has set its priorities, but that does make it harder to sell on other fronts.

The game takes place in the jungles of South America, where a community has followed two cult leaders, analogous to the Jonestown event in the 70s. A protagonist travels there to go extract their family from this remote location, as seen in a top-down view with minimal details and mostly earthen tones. This effaced look gets accompanied by suspenseful notes and speakers that are strewn about to convey the cult’s propaganda, setting the mood adequately for a down-to-earth yet oddly eerie commune. People tending crops are shown side by side with guards wielding shotguns, while the cult leader talks about the importance of caging pigs, “so they’re reminded of how happy they are.” Indoctrination is a weird and scary thing.

The Church In The Darkness,Stealth,Review

As the player in this randomized story, the goal is to find their family member, Alex, and get home safely, with several other choices left open for replay value. Dozens of endings are possible in several difficulty settings. To do so, gameplay revolves mostly around stealth, maneuvering through sight lines and searching houses for resources and intel. Disguises can make vision cones smaller and alarms can distract people holding chokepoints. It’s also possible to throw an infinite amount of rocks for a short distraction. All the classic stealth game elements are present in The Church in the Darkness and most of it works as intended, heightening the already tense atmosphere of the game.

There are, sadly, also a few points where the game fails to ensure this discomfort. For instance, throwing a rock is mapped on the same button as subduing enemies. Frequently, the target will step just out of the tiny range a takedown can work, triggering the player to throw a rock and alert everyone of their presence instead. The Church in the Darkness does not mess around with detection; trespassers are shot and killed swiftly. Get shot and the game is pretty much done, especially if the chapter has moved on to a closer location to Alex. This is a perma-death game and that makes getting accidentally detected and killed that much more frustrating, particularly as enemies also tend to just swivel around immediately. Controls and enemy pathing could’ve used a lot more care and leniency, because even on the easiest setting, getting to the end extraction is nearly impossible, given the increase in stronger and more populated guards.

The Church In The Darkness,Stealth,Review

The game’s narrative, which is the cult’s influence and subsequent morbidity, does do its best to at least establish its presence. Aside from the constant and overt messaging heard from leaders and found in journal snippets, some of the areas also hide some more horrifying scenes, like open graves or stashed away corpses. There are even messages by people built from sticks, to be seen by others flying over the location. Given the frequent deaths and having to redo the whole game, however, there isn’t quite enough depth to this story of a cult doing cult-y things to stay interested in hearing all the stories. Since it’s more likely that unwanted and immediate death is at the end of the playthrough rainbow, it’s not worth caring about the people or their anguish, particularly as the key storylines are just vessels to get to Alex.

It’s a crying shame that the raw gameplay falls flat on supporting the story, because The Church in the Darkness puts in a lot of effort to make replay value matter. Stories and personalities can change in subsequent playthroughs and will also shift if the protagonist chooses lethal or non-lethal approaches. It’s clear that this stealth game has the right ideas on how it wants to accomplish this unique hook in a creepy yet topical setting, but it just isn’t all the way baked and that hurts the end result considerably. A playthrough doesn’t even last an hour, but after failing dozens of times, it’s unlikely that many will keep pushing through for more than a handful of endings, let alone play on a difficulty setting that doesn’t even show vision cones.

There was a lot more to The Church in the Darkness, but it needed a little more time in the oven. If it’s possible to polish up some of the gameplay down the line, there could be a memorable experience to be had here. Now, all the game truly has going for it is that the ghastly humanity within reflects the events unfolding during its release period and that’s more of a coincidence than anything.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Fellow Traveler
Developer(s): Paranoid Productions
Genres: Stealth
Themes: Story-driven
Release Date: 2019-08-02

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