The Church in the Darkness seems to have an interesting concept, but the reality is that infiltrating a 1970s cult isn't as much fun as it might seem.
On its surface, The Church in the Darkness seems like an exciting game. It begins with an ex-police officer, Vic, arriving at Freedom Town, a village set up by a group of cult members in a remote region of the South African jungle in the 1970s. Vic is searching for his nephew, who has run off to join a cult that promises a break from American capitalist society. However, the town isn't fond of outsiders and has guards posted throughout, guards that will shoot anyone who doesn't belong there.
Gameplay involves Vic wandering around Freedom Town without getting caught to find his nephew, who may or may not want to leave. During his wanderings Vic learns more about Freedom Town through items he finds by searching cabins, as well as through members willing to talk to him. What makes The Church in the Darkness unique though is that no two playthroughs are alike. Each run features different personalities for the cult members and leaders, as well as different ways to approach the game.
At the beginning, Vic can choose several items to take into Freedom Town with him. These items include medical kits, as well as alarm disabling kits and pistols. Exploration will uncover more items, with Vic checking cabinets and desks. However, these items are randomly generated for each game, so Vic won't always find what he needs. There are a series of brochures, letters and documents that unveil the truth behind the cult, as well as clothing that Vic can use to raise less suspicion.
The Church in the Darkness sounds like fun on paper, but the reality is that infiltrating a cult isn't quite as fun as it seems. To start with, the map that Vic explores is small, and it's the one thing that doesn't change with each playthrough. Although players get dumped in different locations for each new game, it becomes monotonous traveling over such a small area repeatedlyt. The stealth, too, isn't quite fun. Staying hidden is too easy: players can just run around out of the line of sight of cult members. Vic can also sneak up behind cult members and take them out, either using lethal or non-lethal means. That is, however, the extent of stealth gameplay.
There is also very little depth to the story of the cult. Although its personality changes with each playthrough, cult members still act in similar ways each time and will always shoot outsiders on sight. The only thing that really changes is if Vic is captured. If Vic has been mostly non-lethal throughout his exploration, he gets put in a cage, and the game allows him to escape and continue playing. However, if Vic has raised the ire of cult members, he is declared dead, and it's game over.
Visually, the game looks decent, and the top-down point of view lends itself well to the gameplay mechanics available. The voice acting is also quite good. However, the real downfall of the game is its length: one might complete the game in as little as 30 minutes. The idea is that players will want to play through the title multiple times for different experiences. However, those experiences aren't different enough: it starts to feel monotonous after the second or third time.
At its soul, The Church in the Darkness begins with a fascinating concept: infiltrating a cult. The idea of the cult having a different personality through each playthrough is also a unique one. However, the big ideas don't live up to the hype with a game that's so small and gives the player very little to do.
The Church in the Darkness is out now for PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.