The Church in the Darkness (PS4) Review
Release Date: August 2, 2019
Developer: Paranoid Productions
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox One, Steam
The Church in the Darkness provides a realistic, harrowing depiction that resembles the tension of Jonestown in the 70s, where dedicated followers of Jim Jones built a settlement in Guyana and ended up following him to the grave via a mass suicide. Prior to the tragedy, family members of those who lived in Jonestown likely worried about their loved ones. In this game, Freedom Town is developed in South America by Isaac and Rebecca Walker. Your nephew Alex has been with the religious cult for a while now, but correspondence has waned and his family has started to worry. They ask Vic (who can be an aunt or uncle) to check in on him, reason with him, and maybe get him out. Watching the story as a Christian myself, it is intriguing to see the lengths a cult can go to and how changing the angle of how you understand readings can create a stark difference in core values.
The game is an interesting twist on rougelikes in the fact that the game is intended to be played in short bursts that if done right can come to a quick resolution, but each playthrough can be dynamically different. The map remains the same, but your entry point and objective locations can change. Even further, the personalities of people can change: in one game Rebecca may be more docile and Isaac direct, in another they may be swapped. Getting caught in one playthrough could find you locked in a cage, while another you may get shot on sight. On top of this your actions will change how people react. Vic can sneak through the camp like a ninja, coerce other cult members to your side, or go in guns blazing once you find a weapon. The cultists and leaders will change how they act when and if they catch you based on what you do to those you interact with.
The game is played in a top-down perspective. At times the perspective is a little close, but slowing down and seeing the enemy’s “cone of vision” allows you to mainly stay to the shadows. Combat difficulty varies because the items you find are also randomized, meaning you might find the weapon you need to take out enemies, or the materials to disable alarms, but you might also find the wrong one for the situation you are in. All the randomization means you really don’t know what you are going to get.
The one consistency (the map) is what can make or break the game for you, as you might consider it a boon to be able to memorize the general shape of the world, or a bust as it does streamline a lot of the variety down to a few choices. It is cool to see personality differences in people, but the moment-to-moment gameplay doesn’t do a terrible lot of changing thanks to the basic set paths. Every game I played was different enough for me to notice and enjoy, but when you are destined to hit a few particular story beats as it goes on, ,those subsequent playthroughs can feel a bit repetitive. The Church in the Darkness will only find it’s true value to gamers who are ready to see the story through to the end several times. You can truly appreciate the variety of story beats by seeing the main-menu based story map.
I appreciate the polish of the game: the story comes across well over the PA system and conversations between cult members. Hearing Ellen McLain (GlaDOS in Portal) was wonderful and it is enjoyable to get the story through scraps of paper and such as you piece together exactly what’s happening over several playthroughs. Each time you enter Freedom Town, you can’t be sure of what to expect.
-Very smart personality system changes each playthrough
-Play your way: stealthy or go in guns blazing and see what develops
-Very unique setting that evokes some real-world history
-Despite the variety, can get repetitive
-Each basic story is relatively short
Special thanks to Paranoid Productions for providing a code for review!