15/08/2019

⛪️ The Church in the Darkness - REVIEW (PS4) - "..huh?” “..wha?” “..ung?” ⛪️ #GameDev #IndieGames

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I hadn’t heard of The Church in the Darkness before receiving it for review but the trailer, voice cast (Ellen McLain - GLaDOS of Portal fame and her real-life husband John Patrick Lowrie) as well as the premise of secretly making your way through a cult to rescue your nephew) really grabbed me.
The developer’s (Paranoid Productions) write-ups and previews all pointed at a game that expounded upon his own interest in the reasoning behind why people would immerse themselves in such activities, giving themselves fully to leaders who most likely have misguided, dark intentions.

Whilst this does feature in the game to an extent, the choice of focusing all the interesting questions and threads around the core gameplay mechanic of avoiding people and distracting them or shooting and hiding bodies as opposed to immersing yourself and getting a full understanding of the ‘village’ combined with the zoomed-out viewpoint removes a lot of emotion from the proceedings and, for me at least felt like a basic, repetitive stealth title.


You play Vic, your brief backstory alters with each play-through, as does the character traits of the cult leaders (it mainly affects what they say through the Tannoy system dotted throughout the village as well as their reaction upon meeting you when they inevitably capture you) You may be a loving uncle who drifted away from the family and returned in their time of need, or, from the tone of the message your sister sends you, a real loser who she only turned to because there’s no-one else.

Following this, you choose two items from ten that are available (you have to unlock them as you play, they range from firearms and health packs to alarm clocks and metal shards to take a more covert approach) and you are then transported to one of the random ‘drop-off points’ on the South American island in which your nephew is (supposedly) held captive.


Although your goal is the same each time (rescue Alex, your nephew) the way in which you do it is up to you, you are given a hint such as ‘meet someone by the playground/river who may be able to help) but that’s it, off you go. With this intriguing set up, it’s a real shame that I just couldn’t connect with the game that follows.
There are several kinds of…well, I’ll call them cultists here, they range from a rare few that want to help you to others that may run, yelping and raise the alarm to soldiers who will shoot you on sight if you get too close. The issue here is that all have corresponding ‘vision cones’ as the game is presented from a zoomed out top-down perspective (although you can click the right thumb-stick to zoom in, it’s only occasionally useful as you need to see as much around you as possible) and aside from the helpful ‘green cones’ of the ones that aid your quest, all others essentially cause a massive ruckus and yet, you need to press a button to see the vision cones, it makes sense that they are always visible as they are the most vital part of the game and the only inkling that you’ll be spotted.

There are other issues as well such as the ‘sneak’ button being so achingly slow that it makes it a chore, the randomisation of the island layout make little geographical sense and often result in overly-similar buildings being dotted around haphazardly. You can enter these and find snippets of information about the leaders, Alex and other cult members but mostly you’ll either look in the identical chests and desks to find nothing or food that gives you such incremental health it doesn’t seem worth it or perhaps an item to distract the soldiers out of your path such as a radio or an alarm clock. The stealth and combat of the game are really what became the deal-breaker for me, though.


Say for example you want to sneak through, what this boils down to is you walking a series of linear paths that open up to a group of huts and hiding out of range of the cultists’ vision until you can sneak past, you can distract them by setting off alarm clocks but it never gets more involved than this and the sounds the cultists make when they hear an alarm clock or spot you, then lose sight of you just makes them seem like they all have all been struck by lightning, it’s literally:


“..huh?”


“..wha?”


“..ung?”


This carries on until you meet someone in the village who can assist you and talks about their pasts which give some humanity to the proceedings before they send you off to the next map location or you get caught by one of the two cult leaders (who talk throughout an overly-loud Tannoy system spread throughout the village and which can’t be volume-adjusted separately to the ambient sounds).

When you get captured, depending on your actions (if you’ve killed anyone) or the personality of the leader (bonkers or misunderstood) they either kill you or lock you up for you to escape, a sort of ‘extra life’ mechanic.
If, however, you choose an assault on the compound, then…you’ll die, quite frankly.

Guns take too long to aim and fire, with the shotgun especially being awful unless the enemy is sitting in your lap and you can only take a few hits before dying, even on the easiest mode.

Food, as mentioned before, does so little that it’s barely worth it and so painkillers and health kits are the only way to survive as long as you can. You have no melee attack beyond sneaking up and either knocking someone out or breaking their neck, but if they or someone else spots you and you don’t have a gun…run.


It’s a series of strange design choices here, you can’t immerse yourself in the cult to understand them as they clearly either raise the alarm to get someone to shoot and kill you…or they themselves shoot and kill you on sight, so…they are clearly hostile, there’s nothing here to understand and the scattered letters and notes all lean towards the typical ‘culty’ goings-on.

They screen letters, they re-educate those who fall out of line, they keep people in cages, nothing here offers any real insight or depth. Quite frankly, after a couple of hours of playing, I was bored with avoiding vision-cones like it was a PS1 era Metal Gear Solid.


The procedural generation of personalities, layout and character placement add little to the game beyond spreading what little depth it has around further. I would have much preferred a game based more around dialogue choices and daily activities whereby you sympathise more with the members of the cult with perhaps the sneaking relegated to night time as you search for evidence and the like.

Summary
If you like bare-bones stealth games, you’ll probably get something out of The Church in the Darkness but for me, it’s not a game I’d return to.
💧❄️ RATING: MELTING ❄️💧

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

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