I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game quite like The Church in the Darkness. Developed by Paranoid Productions and published by Fellow Traveler, The Church in the Darkness is a unique experiment in morality and storytelling.
The Collective Justice Mission, first established in Parkland, CA by Isaac and Rebecca Walker in 1967, is a zealous religious convent based around morals involving integration, equality, and socialism. In 1975, after years of alleged persecution from the US Government, the Collective Justice Mission decides to pack up its nearly 500-strong collective and head to the jungles of South Africa where communication between the US and the Mission become strained and eventually non-existent. In 1977 you are asked to infiltrate the hostile campgrounds to find your relative Alex.
The Church in the Darkness is a top down adventure game in which your actions affect the way the story plays out, ultimately altering the ending. Your mission is simple: infiltrate the Collective Justice Mission and either sneak around or kill everyone you encounter as you gather intel on Alex’s location.
There are benefits to both styles of play, although sneaking around gives you the most bang for your buck as that is the only way you’ll encounter much of what the game has to offer.
Violence leads to an overall easier playthrough, as many guards can be brought down by smart uses of rocks to lure them away from other campers and sneaking up on them. Weapons are available, although most only prove useful in rough situations. Your character will die quickly and easily, even on the easiest setting, so even if you decide to kill every member of the camp, it’ll still be best to avoid eye sight when possible.
Choosing the peaceful route will make the game harder initially, as some areas are dense with guard coverage, but will ultimately open up new characters who will aid you in your quest and additional lore about the Collective and its various members.
After a few run-throughs taking down every person I stumbled across, I switched to a more peaceful route and found I began to enjoy the gameplay more. Characters that were unwilling to speak with me during my violent playthrough were much more hospitable and helped me locate Alex without the need to sneak into every cabin I passed.
Speaking of searching cabins; whatever style you choose one thing remains constant – you can’t complete your mission without first scouring the world for useful objects. In cabins you’ll find notes, letters to home, ammo, food, painkillers, metal shards, villager clothing, and various other items. The letters you find explain the story behind the Collective and their cult-like ways, while villager clothing will allow you to blend in with the crowd.
During your cabin and church ransacking, you will eventually stumble upon maps with marked locations which will progressively narrow down your search area and help you hone in on Alex’s exact whereabouts.
The beauty of The Church in the Darkness is that the game is never the same twice: your insertion point changes every playthrough, as well as the locations of Alex and other members of the collective. The preachers, Isaac and Rebecca, have multiple distinct personalities which are shuffled each playthrough – although you do have the option upon dying to keep the same personalities and map layout for another try. Combined, these make for an unpredictable game, even if the ultimate goal remains the same.
Ultimately, The Church in the Darkness is a game meant to be played multiple times and as such, only takes an hour or so to complete. Each time through, whether you live or die, players will unlock more of the world, lore, and additional starting items. Additionally, each time players reach the ending new playthrough items will be unlocked, further switching up the gameplay mechanics. There are 18 or so endings, so players can expect to spend quite a bit of time wandering the jungles.
Graphics are not a strong suite of The Church in the Darkness, but that’s not necessarily a knock on the game. The graphics are serviceable, but there is a definite lack of detail and some clunky animation. Still, these are minor gripes and never affected my enjoyment of the game. If your enjoyment is based on top of the line graphics, then you may need to look elsewhere – but I’ve always been a fan of writing and gameplay over graphics, and I believe that The Church in the Darkness manages to distinguish itself enough from recent games to stand on its own merits without having to impress in the graphics department.
I found myself compelled to dive into The Church in the Darkness world multiple times, each time uncovering just a bit more of the overall mystery. I appreciated the game’s open world and lack of required missions – the only constant requirement is that you find Alex. How you get to him and what you do upon reaching him are entirely up to the player and will alter the ending you get. Peaceful playthroughs will give you more chances to complete the story while violent playthroughs will spell immediate death upon being caught. The Church in the Darkness is a unique and often intriguing piece of gaming which, while not without its faults – mainly repetitive dialogue from the omnipresent preachers – made me want to come back for just one more playthrough.
Fan Fest News was provided a review code of The Church in the Darkness by Paranoid Productions/Fellow Traveler.