Ignoring the fact that The Church in the Darkness’ original release date was early 2017, I was looking forward to drinking the kool-aid in this unique title. It blended together multiple genres with an obsessed religious cult at the story’s core and who doesn’t love a tense, psychological tale in a country far away. The finished product is a bit of a mixed bag as the cult plot angle is only skin deep and the gameplay, while fun in its own right, can be equally as shallow. Really depends on the kind of gamer you are really. Do you like a more stealthy approach and truly discovering the inner workings of The Church in the Darkness? Or do you like testing your speed running skills in ever-changing maps and enemy patrols?
The Church in the Darkness whisks players to 1970’s South America as the Collective Justice Mission relocates away from the U.S. in order to practice their beliefs. Its leaders, Isaac and Rebecca Walker, preach a socialistic and christian lifestyle that they feel was persecuted by the American government and so have relocated far south of their old home. A large group of people have joined them who just so happen to stop responding as much to their families back home. Enter Vic, a former law enforcement official, and his sister’s request to find and retrieve her son from this cult compound after he stopped communications for a good six months. It is then up to the player and the randomly generated beliefs, within the aforementioned socialism and christian template, to decide how things will end.
I say that due to Isaac and Rebecca having slightly different personalities with each run and thus the same with their flock. So this cult may or may not be good or evil depending on the playthrough and same goes for the player. You will probably discover that you were the antagonist to this piece if you miss key details or just want to be a sick SOB. There’s also a handful of actions that can end the story within twenty minutes if you desire. Of which lead to twenty endings. So the “main” mission of finding your sister’s son, Alex, will be but a few things that impact what ending you receive. There’s characters that you can talk to, some of which are only unlocked after multiple playthroughs, and information to discover that clue you in to what version of the cult you’re currently dealing with.
Gameplay is an interesting mix as I said before. It’s a top down, stealth, permadeath, shooter with procedurally generated maps and enemies. Vic will enter the map from a different position each time with a pre-chosen inventory before the playthrough began. The more completions and endings unlocked will affect what and how many items can be brought. You also start with a mostly blank map of the surrounding area you can traverse. It’s up to you to discover where the heads of the cult and Alex are. You’ll also be able to interact with a few others who can give you a headstart on your short journey, but expect to be foraging for information. You can do this through desks in houses, looting dead/unconscious bodies, bulletin boards outside, trunks, or lockers. The latter two will mostly offer supplies like health items, distractions, weapons, and tools for alarms. While the rest will give you key info on your map or collectibles for trophies. But again most of the game is randomly generated so environments won’t be set up the same and items won’t be in the same place. Locations for the cult’s compound such as church, cabins, playground, etc. will remain consistent though.
Naturally, some of the members won’t appreciate outsiders snooping around their home and will be keeping watch for Vic. Some will even be armed which again may or may not have a truthful reason behind that. There’s not too many different enemy types as I can count them on one hand ranging from worker to beefed up soldier. Unless a cult member is a designated worker then you’ll be dealing with the same patrolling A.I. every gamer should be used to. Some have different weapons or detection radius, but will shoot on sight. You can engage them with your own lethal or non-lethal guns, whose reticles don’t stick properly, and knock them out or snap their neck from behind. If you go with the last option you can store bodies in trunks and lockers. Unfortunately, enemies knocked unconscious in this game only stay that way for less than ten seconds and really hampers your gameplay options. Also, even if you get spotted nine times out of ten you can escape trouble by simply running away which also breaks any tension that The Church in the Darkness could have had.
Weirdly my favorite part was running through a playthrough on the easiest difficulty as I explored the ever-changing maps and information. Which was made easier as you can see what’s inside a structure before entering it. Luckily, if you are more of a slow burn gamer the four different difficulties offer some additional replayability. The harder the difficulty the more armed, cult members there will be with quicker alarm times. This creates a new, yet haphazard, gameplay level as it can be challenging not seeing an enemy’s viewing area, but being able to run away from everything still ruins this. If on the off-chance you are caught the game doesn’t necessarily end. Unless you take some cyanide pills you picked up off a corpse just to see if you could actually end Vic’s life. You’ll just be placed in a cage while Isaac and/or Rebecca converse with you.
Lastly, yet another gameplay aspect is problematic courtesy of flagship rock throwing to distract targets. There’s no meter for throw strength and it will get stuck on an object if it’s near enough. This caused me to chuck a rock right at a cult member or draw them right to my location. Not exactly stealth friendly and found myself again just running through my problems. Plus, accessing your inventory freezes time so I could just use any healing items I collected if I did end up low on health. This mixture of preventive stealth issues really disqualifies The Church in the Darkness from being a satisfactory stealth game.
The Church in the Darkness PS4 Review
Overall - Not Bad - 5.9/10
The Church in the Darkness mixes a lot of things up from the standard norm nowadays. The open narrative format for each and every playthrough provides a nice spice to the proceedings, but not knowing what to excel at makes this a jack of all trades, master of none situation. And that’s before the technical problems. It can certainly be enjoyed by the completionists and explorers, yet pretty much singles out the rest.
- Open and ever changing narrative per playthrough is appreciated
- Procedurally generated levels and enemies do just enough not to get stale
- Cumbersome aiming controls
- Stealth tactics like knocking enemies out and throwing rocks isn’t as refined as it needs to be
- You can simply run away from all problems and obstacles
- Too simple of A.I. behavior
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
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