Who doesn’t like a good cult? We all do deep down. Some looney with a silver tongue managing to charm the pants off a group of impressionables and get them to do amazing stuff like clean their room, hang the washing out or take the dog for a walk. Well, The Church in the Darkness is precisely that type of cult, but I’m yet to encounter any dogs.
Truth be told, nobody really likes a cult other than in fiction. You need a good antagonist or even someone that is misunderstood as being deceitful when in reality, they are genuinely looking to better the lives of their followers. The Church in the Darkness answers those questions, which weren’t proper questions but comments, allowing you to complete the game multiple times, varying your approach, then rewarded with a new ending and unlockable goodies.
For once, it’s a relatively new game that was launched this year on multiple platforms. I played it not long after it was released, and only now after you held your breath for so long, do I write this review of this action/adventure from Paranoid Productions. You know them. Check out the trailer here.
Leaving the American Dream
It all began in the 70s when George Lucas’ little known space soap opera with a cowboy and some teddy bears was released. Nothing to do with their motivation to leave the USA, Isaac and Rebecca Walker has had enough with being oppressed and decide to head to South America with their hundreds of followers in tow and to be left in peace.
Referring back to the opening bit, we all like fiction because it’s not real, but The Church in the Darkness is loosely based on The Peoples Temple Agriculture Project, a.k.a. Jonestown. I like to inform, but we’re talking about a video game here so look it up if you’re interested. It’s quite sobering that those events took place.
Back to the game, you play Vic – a chap with law enforcement ties who, sitting around doing sweet F.A. gets a call from his sister to infiltrate the cult as her son (his nephew Alex) has stopped responding to her letters. Vic enters the encampment with a map and initially no tools but a couple of leads to find out what’s going down.
And that’s how it all starts. At first, you have nothing and stomp your way around this fictitious island-like paradise finding out more and more about the cult, allowing you to take a different approach each time. Well, maybe your opinion is always the same, but you want to unlock all those endings.
In simple terms, you just have to find Alex and either escape with him or don’t. Entangled in this basic view of the game, you encounter NPCs who give you hints where Alex is located, but they ask for your help by doing something for them. You don’t have to and can skip over it altogether, but complete their task, and you open another path.
The physical location remains the same, but the tasks and location of the characters (including Alex) are random or like gamers like to say ‘procedurally generated’. Amazingly, the tone of both cult leaders changes throughout your plays, but once you’ve experienced them, like anything, you know what to expect.
The Duke Nukem Approach or the Chloroform Route
Unlocking new story arcs and endings also mean different ways to tackle a level. One option is to sneak around without being seen by anyone and exiting. Like a ninja. Another approach is run and gun. Kill anything and everything; a good way to unlock an ending quickly. Or, a completely alternative method would be to chloroform NPCs and then hide their bodies.
Most of the NPCs are just getting on with their own stuff. They aren’t really interested in you. There are a group of ruffians or enforcers called walkers who will shoot on site. They don’t recognise so take action before diplomacy. You either avoid them or kill them first.
Thankfully, you get an idea if they can see you as they have a field of vision like Metal Gear Solid – a triangular viewpoint that can be identified by colour; red if they’re packing, yellow if passive and green if they are a person of interest. Avoid their line of sight by moving around them or distracting them and Bob’s your uncle.
A Hitman Without the Cosplay
Many of the features of the game resemble the Hitman series in that you have the same line of sight like above (without a mini-map), and you can chloroform and hide bodies in various places. But you don’t need chloroform as you can eliminate the walkers with a slap. I’ve yet to see anyone discover their bodies or the unconscious enemies to wake up again.
The most significant difference compared to Hitman other than being a slaphead is you can’t don a costume. That would be cool to infiltrate the camp that way, but as there are only the generic, mostly boring cult members, suiting yourself up as one of these henchman types would be a bit dull, to say the least. So, the best way is to sneak about. But not with the sneak button. That’s too slow.
If seen by the walkers, they’ll shoot; you’ll lose health and die. If anyone finds a body, or if you’re loitering outside a convenience store, you’ll hear warnings over the public announcement systems informing the people of an infiltrator among them. The dialogue is pretty good, and the voice acting is marvellous.
So Many Choices, Am I Gonna Be Here Forever?
No, not really. Playthroughs are super quick. There are plenty of endings to go through, but you have so many options that include tweaking the settings so that you get a new story each time. That’s good; otherwise, you could be playing the same thing over and over.
Each time you complete it, you get more items to begin the game with. This can be tools to sabotage the speaker systems or guns to blow away dem fools. But, you’ll find a method you like, and you’ll most likely use that for the majority of times you go through the game.
Due to the characters moving around each playthrough, it’s a little annoying running back and forth on the map. It’s not always intuitive if you’re going the right way – even if using the map. As mentioned, you can question the NPCs and apply a different approach to the game. Maybe you think the cult is evil, or perhaps they have a clear message. Again, you’ll go through each method to unlock the endings. You don’t have to sign up if you sympathise with Isaac and Rebecca. They aren’t real.
You Ain’t Seen Me
Reviews have been mixed for The Church in the Darkness. For what it’s worth, I liked it. It feels quite creepy, and as I said, the voice acting is top-notch – it’s like you never know what will happen next. Thing is, you do know what will happen next. There are some surprises – some shocks almost, but all of it is quite short-lived.
I’ve completed this about four or five times now and a couple of times with the same results. While I wanted to unlock everything and was oh so slightly annoyed I got the same ending, the gameplay was fun, so I’m not going to get my group of followers to burn stuff down for me. If the gameplay was weak, then I obviously wouldn’t stick with it, but it does look good.
Skimming over what I’ve written, I haven’t really mentioned the visuals. They’re good. They do the game justice, and I’m glad that as it is an indie title, it isn’t pixel art for the sake of it. The character design, locations and items you unlock all add to the feel of the era and the narratives you continually unlock.
All Cults Come to an End
Again, focusing on the world of fiction, all things come to an end and Isaac and Rebecca either walk off into the sunset or do something entirely different to that. It’s a game worth experiencing but not one I’m going to tell you will change your life or that you need to drink this ominous looking drink.
At the least, wait for this to go on sale. I bought the game and can’t really justify the full asking price. Alternatively, start your own cult, go live in the woods and take some yoghurt pots and string and start shouting out your mantras that way.
Disclaimer: I don’t go to church or belong to one of these groups. Despite the above, I wouldn’t encourage starting a cult or going to the woods. The yoghurt pots, yes. They should replace all smartphones.