Developer: Paranoid Productions
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
While the thematic elements could immediately set Christians on edge, there’s no denying The Church in the Darkness evokes an emotional response simply from its title and box art. While a game like this normally may have remained outside my periphery, The Church in the Darkness has been on my radar since we first talked with the devs at PAX West 2016. Now that it’s here, is it worth our consideration?
Spiritual Content: The Church in the Darkness has a lot to unpack. First, the “church,” led by Isaac and Rebecca Walker, is clearly a cult, but it masks itself as a Christian church. There are crosses on many of the buildings. As you run around the compound, Isaac and Rebecca preach over the loudspeaker system, going so far as to invoke Biblical passages from Matthew and Acts, masking political topics with righteous indignation. The “preachers” mix their own motives with some Christian teachings to muddy the waters just enough to pass for members of the Collective Justice Mission.
Violence: There’s a lot of violence and gore in the game. There are scenes of apparent torture, cruel murder, gun violence, and mass graves. You have the option of going lethal or nonlethal too, with choices to avoid, choke-out, or kill guards you sneak up on, or shooting them with firearms.
Language/Crude Humor: There is some strong language used on occasion. Expect to hear things as harsh as the “f***” word.
Positive Themes: You can help members of the church who’ve called the compound their home only to realize it’s not a church, but a cult. You’ll sneakily scour locations for clues and help get stranded members help.
On its face, The Church in the Darkness is a dark, gritty take on a cult. Cutting deeper, it shows how people in power can twist faith to prey on others and further their own means and agendas. You take on the roll of our protagonist, Vic, who’s tasked with infiltrating the Freedom Town colony to rescue your nephew, Alex. Each time you play through the game, some narrative elements shift and change. You’ll have to contact different members of the cult to get information on your nephew’s whereabouts and get side-missions. While the story may play out differently each run, one thing remains certain: Isaac and Rebecca Walker have convinced a significant number of folks to pack up their lives and work for the “Collective Justice Mission,” and they have an agenda.
While some of the narrative elements feel a bit contrived, other portions feel like they could be dangerously real. Of course, we all know stories of cults throughout history. Set in the 1970s, there are notable nods to other American cults like People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate. It’s eerie just how grounded in reality a somber, twisted narrative like this can be. With that said, the various stories feel like they lack the real punch something of this nature would have.
At its core, Church plays like a stealth-action roguelike. You’ll control Vic, running around the compound, completing tasks as you avoid enemies (which is often easier said than done). As you maneuver the camp, you can slow down to see enemy awareness cones, allowing you to sneak up on foes, choking them out or killing them from behind. You can loot their bodies for useful items, throw rocks to distract guards, hide in furniture, and more.
The Church in the Darkness is procedurally generated, so each run can set up different camp layouts, different folks in need of help, and, most interestingly, different cult leader personas. In one run, both may be off-their-rocker, anti-government militants while a different run may have you facing a scared husband with a domineering female leader. With nearly 20 endings, there are plenty of ways your time can play out, and beating the game can unlock new things to interact with in future runs. The gameplay is fairly simple in concept, but the execution and shifting narratives are enough to keep things interesting for a while. Ultimately, it will get a bit stale.
The game’s look is simple, yet surprisingly capable of delivering some grotesque scenes. Characters are simple, faceless, low polygon models. Through the use of well-done art and intuitive context, it rarely becomes a distracting factor. What’s more, the ability to convey some of the more gruesome aspects of cult life are jarring, despite simple character models.
The game’s voice acting is well done. John Lowrie (Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2) and Ellen McLain (GLaDOS from Portal, Pacific Rim) shine as cult leaders Isaac and Rebecca Walker. Unfortunately, the rest of the audio design is fairly forgettable.
The Church in the Darkness is a stealth-action roguelike with some dark, twisted takes on faith and cult culture. The procedural nature of the game lends well to replayability without crippling difficulty. Unfortunately, the simplistic mechanics and limited nature of this type of gameplay will lead to experiences being a bit dry. The game does have some sincere topics for you to reflect on while considering your own faith and beliefs. For older, discerning fans of stealth action or roguelikes, consider picking this one up. I wouldn’t blame you for avoiding the Kool-Aid, though.
Review copy generously provided by Evolve PR.
The Bottom Line
The Church in the Darkness is an okay stealth roguelike that shows humanity can twist religion into a dark monster.