Title: The Church in the Darkness
Developer: Paranoid Productions
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Genre: Action, Adventure, Strategy
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 02/08/19
Price: £15.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
I have been following the development of The Church in the Darkness for a couple of years now, and highly anticipated its release onto PS4. This top-down stealth title, set in the 1970s, has you infiltrating a religious cult known at the ‘Collective Justice Mission’ in an attempt to rescue your nephew Alex. After claiming persecution by America, the cult and their 500 members have relocated to the jungles of South America. Isaac and Rebecca Walker lead the socialist community known as ‘Freedom Town’ and communication with the outside has begun to cease. The cult wants to be left alone, and it’s your job to investigate the community and learn their true intentions.
Developer, Paranoid Productions, has not shied away from telling a tale of different social and political agendas. Religion, consumerism and equal rights are all touched upon throughout the story’s multiple iterations and combine to form an interesting take on socialism.
The Church in the Darkness can be completed in anything between ten minutes or an hour and is intended to be played multiple times. While your approach and starting equipment can vary widely, each run has the same goal – to search for your nephew and flee. Once you set foot in the jungle, there are multiple objectives to complete and finding helpful NPCs will give you information on the whereabouts of your nephew in return for a favour.
This may include finding information on the whereabouts of their children or locating a report on the corruption within the cult. There is an abundance of documents to help decipher the goings-on in Freedom Town, so if you want to understand the truth, then it’s worth seeking these out. The longer you spend in the jungle, the more resources you will need, so searching houses for equipment such as painkillers, pistols or distraction items can also help to make your run a whole lot easier.
There is a fantastic diversity in how you can approach each playthrough. Do you avoid confrontation entirely or do you go in guns blazing and eliminate any cult member that crosses your path? With 19 different endings, this is one of the title’s strengths, as each new run can be a completely different experience. I experimented with several tactics, load-outs and difficulties, and this approach to gameplay kept my attention for at least the first dozen or so playthroughs. After this point, the gameplay loop and character dialogue became a little repetitive.
Even on regular difficulty, the cult members are everywhere. They are marked with a cone of vision, which is completely removed if you choose to play on either of the two hardest difficulties. If spotted in a heavily guarded area, things can go south pretty quickly, and you have to be creative in your approach. You can throw rocks to sneak by guards, use items to cause a distraction or find a disguise to blend in with the townspeople and shorten their cones of vision. However, the AI is somewhat inconsistent when it comes to stealth. Running at full speed around Freedom Town makes no noise, whereas a single rock throw forced the inhabitants to descend on its location.
Every run is accompanied by the emphatic preachings of Freedom Town leaders Rebecca and Isaac, who communicate their propaganda over a PA system. Their messages change depending on your actions within the camp, and both Ellen McLain (Portal) and John Patrick Lowrie (Team Fortress 2) deliver excellent performances as these characters. Due to the replay mechanic, the dialogue does become rather repetitive and unfortunately loses some of its impact in the process. Inserting some more variety into the procedurally generated runs would have been a welcome fix.
The Church in the Darkness takes a minimal approach in its art design, opting for top-down graphic realism. Performance-wise, I found there to be some occasional stuttering, especially when several enemies were present onscreen.
With regards to its replay value, The Church in the Darkness is somewhat of a double-edged sword. While the change in the preachers’ personalities kept me interested during the first few playthroughs, the limited dialogue and single goal (to rescue Alex) did become repetitive. With 19 different endings in total, players are free to experience one, some or all of them, and trying to unlock new ones each time kept me going back for one more run.
Completed playthroughs will unlock new equipment and new NPCs for you to meet in the jungle, giving you the option to extend playthrough time on each successive run. The higher difficulties up the ante significantly by heavily arming the camp, removing the cones of vision, and forcing game over upon receiving a single gunshot wound.
The Church in the Darkness is a thought-provoking tale of a society breaking away from modern America and setting off on their own. Attempting to uncover their true intentions and seeing your impact on the preachers offers strong replay value, and the freedom to experiment with different approaches is a great lesson in player agency. Unfortunately, after several runs, these aspects are let down by repetitive dialogue and a narrow storyline. That said, infiltrating Freedom Town and rescuing your nephew is still a rewarding venture.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase The Church in the Darkness from the PlayStation Store on the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-gb/product/EP5661-CUSA07492_00-THECHURCHINTHEDA
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.