Exemplary proof of how concept means nothing when there’s barely any execution to praise
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer: Paranoid Productions
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Release Date: 2 Aug, 2019
The Church in the Darkness is one of the most disappointing games I’ve played in a long time. Just reading the premise was enough to wishlist it (something I never do lightly) – an open ended world filled with cultists with multiple choices and endings? Sign me up!
Alas, it is not the “game made for me” I thought it would be; far from it, the game lacks any sort of logical mechanics at all – what little interesting lore and story there is, ends up being massively overshadowed by boring, repetitive and thoughtless gameplay design.
Already in the second half of 2019 and there are still graphics option menus as terrible as The Church in the Darkness. Borderless Fullscreen is absent, there’s no FPS cap or Vsync option whatsoever so if for some reason your Nvidia (or AMD) control panel doesn’t force Vsync, have fun frying eggs and bacon on your rig for breakfast while running this at an unnecessary 200+ FPS with some sprinkles of screen tearing. The graphical configurations are also all done through a preset as seen below.
Graphically, the game looks minimal but decent for the most part. There are no details on characters but I think it works well; houses and other constructions get most of the game’s detail with tables, cupboards, pictures, vases and also a hefty amount of religious objects (the cult is as cliché as it can be, frankly) fill the village’s buildings. The nature part of the game (trees, water of the river, etc.) looks terrible though, and the character animations are clunky and jarring to look at.
And while off to a bad start, I’m afraid the worst is yet to come.
First of all, the fact the story is mixed with the gameplay is a really neat idea: some of the people you talk to will have different personalities that tie to the way the progression works. You’re a man or woman (you have the choice) that is tasked to find Alex, a young man who has left his family home to join the cult in the hopes of it being a place where he could “fit in”. You’re dropped in a south American forest where the cult’s village is located and must explore the small (yet open) world in order to find Alex and bring him back… if you can.
I say this because Alex can have different attitudes that lead to you having to do different objectives every time you find him. Sometimes he doesn’t want to leave since he likes it and he doesn’t feel like a black sheep, other times he wants to leave and disagrees with most of the rules and guidelines of the cult, and so on…
What this does is change your next objective, you may need to convince him (and the cult’s leaders) to go back home or to simply follow you to the exit (in case he’s against the cult). It makes every playthrough feel a bit different for the first few times you play.
Another interesting addition is friendly NPC’s that have side quests for you and can reward you for it (giving different endings and such). They are present in a random location of the map and thus, help enhance the game’s replayability, which is quite big admittedly.
As I previously mentioned, multiple endings are present, 20 to be exact! The problem is that the gameplay itself does little to motivate you to replay the game!
First of all, the game has little to no immersion: the game focuses a lot on stealth due to the massive presence of enemies, the extremely high damage they deal and the combat having no mechanics besides a aiming and firing as there’s no cover or possibility to dodge incoming fire, which is pixel-accurate. With combat out of the way, you have to rely on the most basic yet broken stealth system I’ve seen in a long time.
First of all, by entering crouch mode, you can see enemy’s line of sights (which are a small cone) up until Spy difficulty – after that you can’t see their fields of view.
Noise has zero impact on this game unless pre-determined by the developers: you can literally sprint (SPRINT!) around an enemy, touch him, push him (Alex even did this during an escape and it was pretty hilarious) and he does nothing; as long as you’re not crossing the magical line of the enemy’s FOV, you’re the greatest master thief of all time, the prodigal son of Corvo Attano and Garrett.
What my playthroughs summarized into was literally sprinting to a friendly NPC, ask for Alex’s location, sprint to Alex, see what phase of his mid-life crisis he was in, and then decide if I should abandon him or escape with him (and/or collect whatever the NPC’s may ask from me). Just sprint, sprint and sprint some more, the enemy AI is dumber than a brick and takes away any of the tension or the fun of the gameplay. Occasionally when a pathway is blocked, you can throw a rock (which are infinite alas Far Cry) and the enemy will check that location allowing you to (you guessed it) sprint until the next obstacle appeared.
You can literally sprint 5 meters away from a group of cultists, go around them and just escape without triggering any alarm or suspicion status. IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.
It’s just not fun. There’s no depth to the combat or the stealth so there’s no way to play that seems it actually got some thought put into it. You can finish the game (admittedly with one of the simple, less satisfying endings) in half an hour! And other endings don’t require more than an hour or so either. After finishing the game, it’s hard finding the motivation to replay the game and having to sit through the same messy gameplay you barely could stand the first time around.
Immersion was an important factor here and the fact that nearly every cupboard in every house holds pistol bullets is just even more weird and misplaced – the world doesn’t feel natural, like a proper cultist-run village in the depths of the south american forest – it’s just there for you to explore, the bullets are there so you can have a challenge for once as the stealth is broken and consists of sprinting around guards, Alex is there so you have a purpose, the NPC’s are there to give you more endings. Nobody has a proper backstory and I don’t want to learn every piece of backstory by searching every cupboard in the game, which are way too many and aren’t easy to detect in the middle of the chairs and unsearchable tables and desks that also plague the very same houses you’re exploring.
So much wasted potential. The gameplay can be fixed quite easily with a few patches – sprinting could make noise, the crouch movement speed could be faster than a slug on slow motion, the enemies’ cones of view should be larger, a cover system would be great for combat, the higher difficulties would be better (and more fun) with a fog of war around your character rather than hiding the enemies’ arbitrary fields of view that can only detect movement within 4-5 meters in front of them during the middle of a clear, sunny afternoon, which didn’t change in any of my playthroughs.
Another lacking department, thanks to almost no music to talk about, so you’re constantly listening to enemies mumble or say “huh?” when spotting you, sounding like they have their mouth full of food. The dialogue is actually voiced and pretty well to the game’s credit: the voice actors did well and amde the characters sort of believable despite them having little to no personality or backstory.
Sound effects in general, from sprinting in the dirt, to shotgun blasts, to breaking an alarm or turning on a radio are all serviceable but it could’ve been done much better, some surround sound or more intense ambient noises to help build the atmosphere of the game, which is begging for an atmospheric, immersive experience for the very inception of its concept.
I can’t in good faith recommend this game to anyone. Stealth fans would be greatly disappointed, action fans would ridicule the weak combat with little to no depth or mechanics besides aiming and shooting, roguelite fans wouldn’t appreciate the weak gameplay that motivates the replayability. It’s not even that great of a story to motivate fans of story-driven games.
The random aspects of the personalities and objective placements are a neat idea, the world is different from most other games but is developed very poorly and the bare bones, terrible gameplay just kills any redeeming qualities the game had left. The lack of a proper options menu is also a huge offense to PC Gaming (extra audio options have been recently patched in but it’s not good enough at all), especially in 2019.
Get it on a massive discount if you’re interested in the game’s premise; avoid it otherwise.