Cult Of Personality?
The premise of The Church in the Darkness is a well known one that could've represented a home-run game hidden amongst all the other gems releasing in 2019. Set in the 1970's, clearly heavily inspired by Jonestown, a christian-based cult has set up shop in the jungles of South America. Isolated and left to their own devices, it seems as though they are out of sight and out of mind. But what happens when it's your family member that falls prey to such a cult mentality? Well naturally, someone has to be brave enough to go into the jungle and get them out before it's too late.
Enter Vic; former police officer, loving uncle, and man on a mission. When Vic's nephew Alex makes the poor life choice to go to 'Freedom Town' it's up to Vic to infiltrate the compound and save Alex from himself and from the cult. You can either achieve this by peaceful or violent means, but what really dictates your actions is the nature of the cult itself. The selling point of Church in the Darkness, is that each playthrough is different. This is in large part due to the fact that the leaders act a different way in each playthrough. They could be psychotic and planning to have everyone in their flock willingly kill themselves in a mass suicide, or they could just basically be a hippie commune. Jonestown or Waco, you don't know what sort of cult you're getting into until you're already knees deep in it.
Each playthrough starts with infiltrating the compound at Freedom Town, with characters and items changing locations as well as the location of your nephew. No matter your playthrough, you have to avoid the guards as much as you can because you are indeed an outsider. The locals themselves may or may not be more helpful to you depending on the guidance of their leadership. The more you are able to lend a helping hand, the more likely they are to put you on the path to your nephew. It's even possible to meet the leaders, Isaac and Rebecca Walker. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide what will happen to the cult when all is said and done, as well as a few other key decisions that will help determine what ending you get. In my time with the game, I saw three of these different endings. Each playthrough takes roughly an hour, so there are plenty of different outcomes to see.
Rinse And Repeat
The Church in the Darkness isn't a bad game, but it's one that can show its limitations in a few hours. Sneaking or slaughtering your way through Freedom Town is a blast; the first time. Then the imperfections start to shine through. Enemy AI isn't great — they're easy to avoid and you won't find them checking hideaways or see them hearing footsteps only a few paces away. About the only thing they will react to is thrown objects, and they react in such a way that it's your literal get-out-of-trouble free card for almost every situation where you might be in danger.
Another thing that annoyed me is that the audio playing over the loudspeakers of the camps gets annoying after a few playthroughs. Despite the changes in attitude of the leaders, there is a tendency to play too many fluff speeches overhead, that lose their luster and become tiring on later re-playings. The camp is awesome the first few times you go through, but the area is so small that after the first time even with items and people being shifted around, it doesn't do much to make the experience feel fresh.
Say Your Prayers
Did I enjoy The Church in the Darkness? I did the first couple playthroughs. By the third, I was starting to feel like I was just going through the motions. I think it's one of those games where if you do a playthrough once every now and then, it can definitely be worth the time. It has a visually appealing art-style that reminds me of a stylistic early 2000's game, and the audio, though it does eventually become repetitive, really does sell the Walkers as convincing cult leaders. It's a fun game, but it's a short ride for individual playthroughs and if you're farming for multiple endings, it's going to show its imperfections really fast.
Visually appealing art style, the Walkers are convincing cult leaders, Freedom Town is a pleasure to explore whether peacefully or violently. Initial couple of playthroughs were a treat
Short run time per playthrough and poor guard AI result in making subsequent playthroughs lose their luster