The Church in the Darkness Review (PS4) – Our time in Freedom Town

out of 10

In the late 1970s, the charismatic Isaac and Rebecca Walker lead the Collective Justice Mission. Labeled radicals and feeling persecuted by the US government, they relocate their followers to the one place they believe they can create a socialist utopia: the jungles of South America. There they build Freedom Town. But relatives left behind in the US become worried: what exactly is going on at this compound in the jungle?

Paranoid Productions recently gave us an early look at The Church in the Darkness, an eerie and mysterious top-down action-adventure with multiple endings, and explosive consequences for your actions. You’ve traveled to Battuela in South America, at the request of your sister, to check on your nephew Alex. He ran off to join the Collective Justice Mission, and you’re here to find out what’s really going on.

As you weave your way through townspeople and dodge armed guards, you’ll find information that will gradually piece together to reveal the true agenda of the Mission’s leaders. A few members of Freedom Town have begun to see these leaders for who they really are. With the growing fear of being punished, or killed for disobeying their leaders, they will willingly offer information that can point you in the right direction on the hunt for your nephew, or offer side missions and insight about the goings-on at Freedom Town. All of this information can be used to either snatch and run, retrieving Alex and making for the exit, or, take down this radical movement before hightailing it out of there.

The experience can change each time you play depending on your actions, and as an added bonus to keep you coming back, you’ll unlock additional items, disguises, weapons, and key characters every time you unlock a new ending.

Jumping in The Church in the Darkness for the first time was a little bit surprising. There isn’t any real instruction, and the intro is simply a few paragraphs much like the one at the top of this article, accompanied by a letter from your sister voicing her concerns for her son Alex and the negative rumors floating around about the Collective Justice Mission.  When loading in, you’re given an option to choose your “character”, which is an extremely basic male or female, and skin tone, as well as several items of which you can pick 2 or 3, depending on your character choice.

On the menu of do-dads to fill your bag are Metal Shards, a Pistol, Med Kits, and Painkillers, with more unlocked after finishing the game. There’s plenty of each to be found just about everywhere on the island but that’s not clear at the start leading to some overthinking of this simple process. Once the game starts, you are left to your own devices, with a less-than-detailed map, and no idea which direction to head.

Reminding me of the enemies in Metal Gear Solid, guards and townsfolk have an indicator which shows their field of view, and, depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, this field can be quite large. Your job is to sneak around these guards, as being spotted will cause them to come closer to investigate. If they get too close, you’ll be targeted and shot at, as well as having nearby peeps run for the alarm. 

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to remember the patterns of each type of character. For instance; Townspeople tending to crops will not turn at all, keeping their head straight, while blue hat guards will scan an area in a 180-degree arc from a stationary position. Red hat guards are more of the patrol type, but they will repeat the same route which is normally fairly short and easy to slip through.

If you happen to be spotted by an enemy, your speed is your friend.

You’re much faster than your average guard, so there are plenty of times that you will manage to slip away while they investigate the area you were spotted in. But be careful, if you cause too much suspicion, the alarm will be sounded and the guards will patrol much more aggressively.

While they aren’t in the design, it seems Freedom Town is full of fist-sized rocks because whenever you want you can throw one, creating a distraction and drawing the attention of anyone within earshot. This never-ending resource will get you out of some pretty crazy situations. Being surrounded in a building with no Med Kits or Painkillers could mean an untimely fate, or, you could just lob a fucking rock out the door and sneak past the dumb guards while they stand around mumbling about it.

This mumbling is actually pretty funny though. The language spoken by NPCs sounds like a kind of muffled Simlish, the language spoken by characters in The Sims series. What makes this nonsensical gibberish so hilarious is thanks to a tiny glitch present on release. The glitch in question doesn’t break the game, so don’t worry, but it does cause killed characters to continue chatting post mortem. That’s right, some of the fallen guards and townsfolk will babble on with hand gestures, and waving weapons long after death.

So, if you’re jumping on the bandwagon early to play The Church in the Darkness, be ready for a giggle.

Thankfully, the unnamed language here isn’t the only dialogue. A regular part of the atmosphere is the motivational, rallying, or at times bat shit crazy announcements being broadcast over a PA system by Isaac and Rebecca. Occasionally, some of these messages can be distorted, which made for an unpleasant experience wearing headphones turned up, and the messages can get caught in a bit of a loop if you’re on the hunt for something in particular, and have stalled the storyline. 

Visually, don’t expect to have your breath knocked out of you. The forest surrounding the map does it’s job, and the buildings are probably the most polished in design. But it looks like Paranoid Productions wasn’t trying for any attempt at realism, instead opting for a blocky style character on a 2d plane, which serves well for this purpose. At no point during the playtest did we feel the visuals side was damaging to the overall experience.

There are secrets-a-plenty within the confines of this 1970’s cult town, and only you can decide what to do. Will you threaten to expose the truth, and turn the tides on this secret society? Or simply knock your nephew unconscious and carry his limp ass outta brainwash city? Both are viable options, with different rewards.

While not a home run, The Church in the Darkness is definitely worth playing if you enjoy a stealthy challenge, top-down carnage or unraveling mysteries. Plus, it won’t break the bank with a launch price of $19.99

We’re giving this one a 7.8/10 on the Loot Reviews Game-O-Likey-Meter

"The ending can change due to the smallest of choices, and the game baits you to play it again with the potential of a different outcome."

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