Like most eShop titles on the Nintendo Switch, The Church in the Darkness came out of nowhere from my perspective, and from the trailer, I was quite interested in giving this a go. From publisher Paranoid Productions, this is a multi-platform release, but we will be looking at the Switch version here. The Church in the Darkness is a period piece set in the late 1970s in South America, and the story follows main character Vic, who must infiltrate a religious cult’s complex to rescue his nephew, Alex.
In the introduction to the story, there is a little exposition as to what has happened. In summary, the two cult leaders, Isaac and Rebecca, have left the US with their 500 followers to live in freedom in South America – undisturbed by capitalism and the repressive nature of the US government. The cult poses a threat for some, and as you navigate the camp, you piece together what the cult stands for and whether you believe in it or not.
Softly, Softly, Sneaky, Shooty
From the outset you are dropped off at the outskirts of the camp and must find your way through to Alex. Along the way, you can complete additional missions and meet new NPCs. The game provides you with a map, and a circle details your next objective. The map is quite large, and it’s never really straightforward where the NPC you need to speak to is, just their vicinity. However, they are highlighted in green, so it’s easy to identify them. When talking to an NPC, they will answer any questions you have selected during the dialogue and often ask for you to help them with something in return for telling you where to find Alex. Sometimes this is highlighted again on the map, other times you have to chance it.
You can opt to stealth your way through the game or go in gung-ho. The majority of the time, you can run past the enemies called ‘Walkers’ without any conflict. They have a field of vision much like that of the Hitman series – red determining that they are armed and will shoot. Other NPCs are in yellow, and unless you’re up to no good, they won’t do anything if you walk into their line of sight.
Here Is a Public Announcement
If you do decide to go in guns-a-blazing, other NPCs will sound off an alarm. These are scattered all over the place and are usually accompanied by a speech by the cult leaders. This dialogue changes during your playthrough and depending on how you approach things. You can disable these alarms before they go off and also while they are sounding off.
An alternative to non-contact sneaking and shooting, you can also chloroform people and hide their bodies in places – again, like Hitman. But, you can also use your bare hands if you choose, which has the same results. If you don’t hide them, they wake up and sound the alarm. When you are walking around the camp, you can enter buildings and search for items. Apart from weapons and ammo, you can find paraphernalia on the cult and piece together your opinion on them. You can also hide in some places if being pursued and then resurface when the coast is clear.
There’s Always a Choice
When you encounter these NPCs, you can decide to carry out their wishes, or you can ignore them. Additionally, when you do find Alex (he appears in different locations with each playthrough), you can opt to leave him behind or convince him to follow you. The Church in the Darkness is quite a short game, but with these additional tasks, there are multiple endings, and with each new playthrough, you unlock new starting items that help mold your next attempt.
However, there are a few niggles, and these are out of your control. In one playthrough, I located Alex and successfully got to him without alerting a single person or interacting with anyone. While talking to Alex, a Walker approached the building we were in and shot at me immediately but killed Alex. I was then more or less told it was game over as the authorities had heard how I let him die.
I sometimes like to stealth a game properly and take a good deal of time to get things right. For example, I did this on Deus Ex: Human Revolution without killing a single person and was quite proud of myself. I opted to do that on my first playthrough of The Church in the Darkness and didn’t hurt a fly. However, I got shot a few times and rather than end up dying, I was thrown in a cage, and the story advanced a chapter. A character named Isaac came to visit me and told me that I would be banished from the camp for what I had done to his people (I did nothing!).
Again, as it was my first playthrough and prone to mistakes, I was seen yet again and shot. This time they put me in a cage above the river, and Rebecca came to visit me, informing me of her disgust for killing her people. I appreciate you can’t have dialogue for everything, but this was kind of annoying as the narrative was advancing without me doing anything other than getting shot too often. Stealth is certainly better in Serial Cleaner.
Atmosphere, Controls and Loading
The whole feel of the game; the era, the location – the somewhat eeriness of a cult, is excellent. It certainly has the right atmosphere. The public announcements can be a little irritating, obviously, if you play the game to get all the endings, but it had an excellent feel to it. On one occasion, a song played over the system, and while it’s not the kind of music I like at all, it was perfect for the ambiance.
In the presentation, I can’t fault The Church in the Darkness. I will, however, say that the controls can be quite irritating. As usual, the left stick moves you and the right one looks around and helps with aiming when using a gun. The A button will allow you to sprint, and interestingly, this doesn’t alert the Walkers. When scoping out the area, if you hold B, you will see the line of sight for all nearby NPCs. This is a big help as throwing a stone with X allows you to distract them and run past without any conflict. But…if you continue holding it to sneak around, you will find yourself getting irritated. The movement is so slow that after trying to sneak in my first playthrough, I never used it again.
Also, while talking about speed, the loading screen for The Church in the Darkness is the slowest I have ever experienced. I genuinely thought the game had crashed and exited out twice – the second time I even powered off the Switch. It takes me back to the days of the ZX Spectrum – putting the game on, going to make a tea and by the time you’re back, it’s loaded. Strangely, there were no other loading issues other than that. No slowdown, no delays during the story sections – purely when booting the game up. It won’t change the score of the game, but it’s significant enough to comment on it.
Developer: Paranoid Productions
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Release Date: 2nd August 2019
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