The Church in the Darkness Review — Once Upon A Time in South America

Frustrated by the failure of my first few attempts to infiltrate The Church in the Darkness’ radical religious cult in order to find the main character’s nephew Alex, I decided to make my first successful run as simple as possible. I met with the required individuals, but along my adventure, I did not think much of the fact that the messages of leaders Isaac and Rebecca Walker were spouting over the intercom were quite harsh. I was spotted, so they were alerted to my presence, but I was still able to grab Alex and get out of dodge. A successful run one would think…but then my ending played out. Because of my actions, the Walkers gave everyone cyanide pills and the Collective Justice Mission committed mass suicide, ending both my run and Freedom Town’s reign on a somber note.

That anecdotal run sets a tone that’s quite indicative of what players can expect from The Church in the Darkness.  Paranoid Productions and Fellow Traveler’s new game has been on my radar for some time, and from a narrative standpoint, it enthralled me. Unfortunately, some of the technical aspects of the Nintendo Switch version of the game were not able to keep up.

The Church in the Darkness spices up its roguelike-inspired design with an interesting look at the cult-filled counterculture of the 1960 and 1970s where a more critical viewpoint towards the United States government really started to take hold. Isaac and Rebecca Walker’s cult, the Collective Justice Mission, was born of that anxiety and is going surprisingly strong in a fictional South American country. Even though Vic is only in Freedom Town to check up on his nephew, most of the settlement does not take kindly to outsiders and will shoot at the player given the chance. Under this restrictive setup, players must find those within Freedom Town that will help them find Alex before Vic gets captured three times or after killing someone.

Paranoid Productions almost flawlessly slots the Collective Justice Mission into the culture of that era, providing a chilling look at not only the negative sides of movements like this, but the injustices of the United States of America at the time as well. Adding to that feeling, The Church in the Darkness’ endings can vary after contact is made with Alex. This is dependent not only on the player’s actions, but on those of Isaac, Rebecca, and Alex as well. In some runs, the three may be the peace loving, if a bit odd, religious zealots they claim to be. Some really interesting situations come into play as well, especially in situations where only one of the cult leaders is super radical.

Even if you are not on board with the idea of the cult, some runs do seem to indicate that Isaac and Rebecca may have a point. This uneasiness keeps each of The Church of the Darkness’ runs in a captivating and eerily realistic grey area that most games are not able to consistently stay in. The Church in the Darkness is held up the most by its great writing and the performances of John Patrick and Ellen McClain as Isaac and Rebecca, respectively.

The game boasts over 19 endings and runs can last upwards of an hour, so there is definitely a lot to sink one’s teeth into. Each run can feel different as well, as the tools, disguises, and weapons players choose to bring in at the start of each run will have an impact on how things play out. For the most part, The Church in the Darkness was able to keep me engrossed with its themes and story; unfortunately, the cracks started to show in its formula the more I played.

Though each character is written and portrayed well, hearing their stories with little variation over and over again with no ability to skip got boring, which was a realization I came to as I checked my phone while listening to Theresa’s first monologue for the twentieth time. While runs of The Church in the Darkness can be narratively different, most do follow a relatively similar structure. As combat in this game was truly frustrating to control, most runs ultimately boiled down to running from objective to objective without getting spotted, which quickly got repetitive. This meant that my enjoyment of actually playing the game saw diminishing returns with each run.

While I love almost every aspect of The Church in the Darkness narratively, the other aspects of the game just do not hold up. I understand that the game had to be told from a low-poly, top-down perspective to stay within a reasonable scope for indie developers, but the procedural generation never really worked great. There was a bit of variation, but the map remained mostly the same on every playthrough, so no world in one run was able to distinguish itself from another in significant ways. With this game’s story variation, I would have preferred just one consistent map that the player could interact with more intricately.

Technical problems, like an occasionally choppy frame rate, also persisted. Even though my aforementioned first successful run was quite impactful, it also showed jank from the start when two guards got stuck in a doorway with each other towards the start of the run. The game also did not know what to do when I healed myself with a medkit just as I was dying. Most egregiously, a glitch left me on a black screen after ending-worthy runs and required a complete reinstallation of The Church in the Darkness in order to be fixed. A lot of people will truly connect or at least be captivated by the story The Church in the Darkness is trying to tell. Unfortunately, the game that contains those elements is not structurally sound.

Even with the Nintendo Switch’s hybrid console capabilities being perfect for titles based around doing multiple short runs like this, The Church in the Darkness is marred by several technical shortcomings that draw players out of the experience and kill the pacing. Once the narrative’s charm begins to wear off in later runs, The Church in Darkness’ flaws really take hold. Still, if you are obsessed with theology, political theory, or cults, you will find a lot to enjoy from the narrative of The Church in the Darkness. It’s definitely a game that will be on my mind for some time, for both good and bad reasons.

The post The Church in the Darkness Review — Once Upon A Time in South America by Tomas Franzese appeared first on DualShockers.

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The Church in the Darkness Offers a Compelling Narrative on Cultism

The Church in the Darkness has a lot of cool gameplay ideas alongside an intriguing narrative that’s set in a unique location. It was one of the more unique titles I got my hands on at PAX East because I haven’t necessarily played many things like it. Players will have to get through the game multiple times to experience every unique story and outcomes it has to offer, and that might be one of the best things about it.

The title is set in South America during the 1970s, where you play as an ex-law enforcement officer named Vic. Your objective is to investigate a cult called the Collective Justice Mission, led by a couple named Isaac and Rebecca Walker, to check on your nephew Alex, who is a member of the cult. The Collective Justice Mission fled the United States after fleeing from persecution by the government. Rebecca is voiced by Ellen McLain (GLaDOS from Portal) and Isaac is voiced by John Patrick Lowrie (the Sniper from Team Fortress 2), so I’ll be curious to see how each actor’s performance can help elevate the multiple storylines that are in the game.

Each playthrough of The Church in the Darkness will change and Freedom Town, the setting of the game, will look different based on whatever scenario you get. There aren’t an endless amount of stories to be told but the game is definitely meant to be played through a good amount of times. Sometimes the cult might be bad, and sometimes they could be good — who knows what other sort of outcomes await. You can also find a whole bunch of different clues that’ll give you more information on the cult hidden throughout the entirety of the game’s world.

The camera has you looking from a top-down perspective, and you can use the analog stick to move the camera a little bit away from you and assess whatever’s ahead of you on the map. There’s also a mechanic that allows you to check each enemy’s line of sight. Some mechanics that are meant to help the player will get stripped away at higher difficulties, so players that want more of a challenge definitely have some options.

I found going with a stealthier approach was more effective for me than going in guns blazing. Although I only had access to a pistol for most of my time with the demo I played, it didn’t really do ideal damage to enemies. There are other stronger guns that you can find, but ammo will be limited. You’re also able to hide bodies, similar to how it’d be done in games from the Hitman and Splinter Cell series.

There are a lot of areas on the map that I didn’t get the chance to explore. What I did see was pretty much what you’d expect to find in a town that’s located in the middle of a jungle; lots of small buildings and farm areas with animals. Throughout each location I explored, there were loudspeakers that are consistently broadcasting different messages from Isaac and Rebecca. I’ll be curious to explore the other areas I didn’t get a chance to see and how they changed based on each scenario once the final game releases.

I think the biggest challenge that The Church in the Darkness could face is being refreshing to players after each playthrough, although I think it’s worth mentioning that the game gives players the option to experience a new scenario every time they start over again. I don’t think I’ve seen close to everything that The Church in the Darkness has to offer and I’m intrigued thinking about how each separate playthrough could change things up. The game has a solid voice cast and is set during a time period that makes sense for its subject matter, I’m hoping it all comes together in the end result.

There will be no shortage of platforms to check out The Church in the Darkness on as the title is coming to PC, PS4, and Xbox One sometime this year. While I only got to sit down with the game for a short period of time, I definitely noticed that it’s trying to take an experimental approach to storytelling. If you’re interested in story-driven games or action-infiltration you should definitely keep an eye out for The Church in the Darkness.

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