In an effort to find his place and make sense of the world, your nephew, Alex, has joined an extreme religious group known as the Collective Justice Mission. The leaders of the group, Isaac and Rebecca Walker, become increasingly paranoid that the United States government is going to infiltrate their ranks. So, as any good cult leaders would, they convince their five hundred followers – including Alex – to leave behind the hustle and bustle of 1970s USA to live together in a commune known as Freedom Town, safely tucked away in the jungles of South America.
Alex’s mother is not convinced of his safety with the Collective Justice Mission, however, and so she has enlisted you – Vic, a former law enforcement official – to infiltrate the compound and find Alex. It’s a fairly straight forward concept, but it sets up The Church in the Darkness to take the player down a wildly unpredictable path of potential stories. Taking on a roguelike model, The Church in the Darkness changes the story on you every time you attempt to reach Alex. While the map of Freedom Town never changes, Vic’s infiltration point is chosen at randomly at the beginning of every run. Likewise, the location of important information, the personalities of the Walkers themselves, and even the behaviors of the other members of the Mission will be different with each infiltration.
If you particularly find yourself enjoying a run with a set of characteristics, but you make mistakes or decisions that you think played out differently than you’d hoped there is the option to start a new run with your previous run’s settings in tact. Likewise, if you complete multiple end scenarios and do not want to leave it up to RNGesus to decide if you are going to experience an ending that you have yet to see, you can outright choose for the game to only choose from a well of scenarios that you haven’t played through yet. This keeps the frustration of forced replays tamped down, as you have an option regarding whether you want to experience new scenarios or replay previously attempted runs.
Every action you take as Vic effects the behavior of the people, guards, and even the preachers of Freedom Town. On easier difficulties, players can press the B button in order to get a visual indicator that shows guards and townsfolk’s vision cones, making it far easier to sneak around them and take solace in closets and trunks. Depending on the sort of chaos you’ve caused prior to being caught by a guard, Vic may not immediately be thrown out from Freedom Town. However, if you’ve gone the route of rifling through enough houses, being spotted doing shady activities by civilians and guards, or flat out disabled a bunch of alarm boxes then you could easily lead the people of the cult to become paranoid and believe that they are being infiltrated by the US government, rather than just a lone ranger.
The Church in the Darkness’ low poly art style is surprisingly well suited with its grainy, 1970s color palette and top down camera angle. The map covering Freedom Town is surprisingly large, but because sneaking around the compound is the biggest game play mechanic there is no way to fast travel around. While you can bring up the map on a whim, there is no mini map to help you as traverse the jungle landscape. Additionally, Vic has a limited inventory, so if you come across food (which can be used for health if you have a problematic run in with guards) there’s no way to mark it on the map so that you can find it again later in your run. The Church in the Darkness does occasionally suffer from micro freezes and frame drops when there are large amounts of guards and citizens for the game to track, but otherwise the game is a creative experience that frequently leaves players with more questions than answers.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher