Dropped in the middle of a South American jungle, danger lurks everywhere with few people who would rather talk before shooting. You’re on a mission to find your nephew and take him back home. Will you manage to get him out? What is your plan? Do you go in guns blazing, with stealth, or do you find a disguise and casually walk through the fledgling town? There are many paths to take, some harder than others, but do you have what it takes to get your nephew Alex out alive?
The Church in the Darkness is a top down game about a slightly alternate version of the Jonestown cult from the 1970’s. Names have been changed and they make no mention of the poisoned Flavor Aid in the ending synopsis. Other than that though, the core mission of Freedom Town seems the same as it was in Jonestown. After playing the game for this review, I actually went to the Jonestown Wiki page to double check some info. Playing this had me wanting to refresh what I had heard from listening to Deep Fat Fried and the bits and pieces of it in media and the like.
The graphics in The Church and the Darkness are decent, though you can tell this came from a small development team. Having said that, the overall look of the game did grow on me as I played through it, and the water still looks better than in Final Fantasy 15, though honestly that is not hard (I loathe the water in FF15). The illustrations they use for pictures of the various people in the village are interesting and tell a story by themselves. The music and sounds make it feel like you are actually in a cult environment, with the leader of Freedom Town, Isaac, constantly broadcasting his songs or rants over the speakers. I did get a few sound glitches however, like when I continued from a save point, I kept hearing this weird noise constantly at the same volume, no matter where I was.
There are a handful of people you are actually able to talk with and the voice acting is great. Plenty of emotion is put into the voices. They each have dialogue options to dump either side quests or exposition on you. However, the dialogue does not change or at least from what I could tell between each play-through, and this game has many endings. If you are a completionist, have fun sitting through the same dialogue every other run or so. A dialogue skip option would have been lovely. It could still be possible with an update.
As for gameplay, you play as a preacher and can choose from either a medical kit or a pistol to start with, and will spawn in the same spot for the first few attempts. As you play and either die or leave Freedom Town, you can choose from more and more items to start with. These items include things that disable sirens or even the most over powered item, the disguise. The disguise is not game breaking, but it does make some areas that would otherwise be impossible to go through, possible. You can shoot people, but it feels bad. There is an auto lock system but you still need to flick your right thumb-stick in a direction to get near enough to an enemy for it to lock onto them. So if you get in a shootout with a few enemies which is very possible, it becomes targeting the ones with guns instead of the “civilians.” To help avoid this you can search desks, and storage containers for items and maps. You can also hide yourself or bodies in the containers and the enemy will not look in the container so you’re safe until the coast is clear.
Overall, the game has its ups and downs. Good times and bad. The first time I managed to get to Alex and actually be able to leave with him, my heart was in my throat for a bit because I wanted to just get out and actually get an ending. The situations vary depending on what you do, if you kill a lot of people and get caught you end up in a cage and Isaac may pay you a visit. If you get caught without killing people, they are fairly lenient. The Church in the Darkness is short, so honestly if you have any choice in which system to play it on, I would say the Nintendo Switch is the best system to buy it for. A run through the game can take maybe an hour or two depending on what you do and there are some elements of randomness to prevent you from heading straight to Alex. There are several endings and difficulty settings to play on, so it has good replay value, though the dialogue may get on your nerves hearing the same things over and over.
I would say The Church in the Darkness is worth the $16 (it’s currently discounted) if you want something you can just pick up and play if you have maybe thirty minutes to do something. The $20 price tag will be the price of the game after the launch sale, which is still not bad for the content. Despite being an interesting experience, this game is hard for me to recommend. It uses tried and true mechanics and has solid gameplay with a few issues, but it’s the subject that is something not everyone will like. I enjoyed it, however, make sure to look into The Church in the Darkness to see if this game is for you. Just make sure you do not look too much into it because discovery is a big part of the game and seeing your map fill out for the first time is very satisfying. – TS
The Church in the Darkness is now available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac & PC
PS4 review code provided by Evolve PR