When I started researching The Church in the Darkness I came across the phrase ‘Designed by Richard Rouse III’ now I knew that name but didn’t know why. Luckily for me we have that handy thing known as the internet which promptly gave me the answer I was looking for. Richard Rouse III was lead writer and creative designer for The Suffering and its sequel Ties That Bind. Those games were amazing so I was more than in like Flynn to check out his latest horror action title which was inspired by real life cults.
The Church in the Darkness has a very basic premise; you are an ex law enforcement officer looking for your nephew who has gotten himself caught up in a cult. That is pretty much all the information you need to go into each proceedurally generated map. You choose some items to start out with guns, ammo, health whatever items you want to cater to your play style and are then thrown into the task of making it to the Cults camp through whatever means you choose, stealth, guns blazing, it doesn’t matter as its all completely up to you.
The Church in the Darkness when boiled down is an amalgamation of an isometric roguelike that wants to be more open narratively than other roguelike games currently on the market. This idea of an open narrative is far and away the games greatest strength and is achieved in a manner to other proceedurally generated items in games like enemy placements, item picks and the ilk. Each play through of the game you will find that within the camp things change and not just the usual map, enemies and items as previously mentioned. Instead you will find that Cultists and its leaders (played brilliantly by gaming voice actors John Patrick Lowrie and his wife Ellen McLain who you may recognize as the voice of GLaDOS from Portal) will have their beliefs changed. Not only will what the Cult believes change from play to play but all of the AI’s allegiances change as well giving greater options on how to end the mission but also a greater personality that a lot of its contemporaries are missing without relying on nostalgia.
Navigating the maps is relatively with the right amount of onscreen prompts and a decent map making it easy to tell where abouts you are in a landscape which looks mostly the same. Green for the jungle, brown for the wooden cult compound but it works for its African setting. Graphics look nice for the most part with most important things being easily recognizable the downside to this isometric style is that everything else can be hard to differentiate from each other. For instance when stealthing through a level I found myself taking out cultist while walking right past guards as the red sash the guards carry isn’t always noticeable. As for the controls, while yes they work as intended and are completely adequate I couldn’t help but feel some of the buttons had a weird layout which is easily remedied but as a whole they all felt sluggish to command.
All in all The Church in the Darkness isn’t a bad game, it has some really good ideas. I think the game will garner a dedicated fan base for the way it uses narrative and historical cult events to tell its stories and in that regard it is a runaway success. However the open narrative and way of telling this story are kind of its only huge selling points, everything else is perfectly adequate. It plays well enough, looks nice enough, sounds as it should but in this current gaming environment where indie devs are throwing out roguelikes at a dime a dozen it takes more than a couple of solid ideas to really stand out. Is it worth playing? Yeah I had fun for the first couple of hours seeing just how things would change and the cult would develop moreover show off its beliefs. After the novelty wore off however I was left with a serviceable game that would be fine to fill in 15 minutes here and there while I had other things to do.