The Church In The Darkness – I’m No Believer
Rarely is a narrative that involves a religious cult lacking when it comes to tension, insanity and crazy personalities. As far as works in the gaming space are concerned, it has been the likes of Far Cry 5 that have proven in recent years that some of the most sweat-inducing, heart-pounding tension can be elicited from. Though from a very different perspective, The Church in the Darkness, which comes from Richard Rouse III and Paranoid Productions, attempts to convey that same sort of tension and dread through a top-down perspective, but despite a solid premise, at almost every turn fails to pull it off.
You’re not eased into The Church in the Darkness, in fact, you’re dropped straight into the action with very little to drive you in terms of narrative, you’re out to rescue your sister’s son Alex who appears to have been kidnapped by a religious cult and has been taken to their colony at “Freedom Town”. Your point of arrival at Freedom Town yourself can vary, as can the temperament of the inhabitants and even Alex when (should) you find him. The circumstances around Alex’s time at Freedom town can have a profound impact on your playing experience. He may be a hostage, maybe he’s been causing a number of problems and he’s locked away, on the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe Alex has grown to enjoy his time with the cult and doesn’t wish to leave, complicating things even further. Each run through the procedurally developed story throws a different combination of situations for you to work through, guaranteeing that each playthrough throws a slightly different narrative at you.
Though the narrative can take different twists and turns, and the procedurally developed story throws a few little world changes at you, overall, the experience of playing The Church in the Darkness is the same, regardless of a few cosmetic differences. Unfortunately, the act of playing The Church in the Darkness isn’t nearly as dynamic or interesting. Most of your journey involves evading cult members, but with very clearly indicated cones of vision, along with enough room to swing a cat at your disposal, navigating your way past the local security, save for a few select bottleneck locations is actually quite easily managed, and fails to either stimulate or engage. The systems at play are simply too easy to exploit, detracting from the risk/reward motives that the game expects you’ll consider, instead you’ll find it’s pretty easy to stealth up behind an enemy kill or incapacitate them, and move on, or elude them altogether. If you’re spotted, and a civilian manages to get to an alarm, that has the potential to bring a whole host of guards upon you, but the resources necessary to disarm the alarm are plentiful enough to ensure that any noise can be quickly silenced.
Resource management is an essential component to the game, from what is needed to deactivate the aforementioned alarms, to metal shards that take them out of action before they sound, painkillers are scattered about to take the edge off should you be hit with a few bullets, while bullets themselves can be scrounged from empty homes, as well as looted from the bodies you leave behind. Given the number of instances where combat is likely essential, there’s still an abundance of ammunition to be found, and it’ll only be your playstyle that dictates how much of that you have leftover.
In terms of presentation, what The Church in the Darkness presents is quite sloppy. There’s an excessive amount of commentary coming from the P.A systems scattered around Freedom Town and that will likely infuriate you as much as they SHOULD infuriate the locals. Visually is perhaps where the game struggles the most. Though there’s a clear design intent here, it’s hard not to look at The Church in the Darkness and feel the need to compare the visual style to that of Runescape when it first transitioned to 3D – it isn’t a pretty picture.
The foundation of The Church in the Darkness is a solid one, there’s a solid premise, the procedurally developed narrative aspects are intriguing, there’s lite resource management, and the game has a clear style guide that it’s working to, but none of these disparate pieces seem to come together to form a cohesive whole. In almost every aspect The Church in the Darkness is close, but not close enough.