The Church in the Darkness Review – Nintendo Switch

Developed By: Paranoid Productions

Published By: Fellow Traveller

Reviewed By: Alex Laybourne

Thank you so much to Fellow Traveller for providing a review code

Gather Around Me Brothers

Cults are a mysterious and terrifying collective. No matter what form they take on, they have the potential to do great harm. Yet, through it all, there have been instances of cults, who while holding the name, posed no real threat to the outside world.

There are thousands of cults active in the US today, but few gain the notoriety of the 1970’s cults. None more so than Jim Jones and People’s Temple. While being no expert on the subject it’s clear that this cult, in particular, was at the forefront of the developers’ research for this game.

The development team behind this project bring a wealth of experience to the table. From the creative mind behind the project, Richard Rouse III, who has a wealth of AAA game experience to professional voice actors who were involved in much more than just recording their lines.

The effort that went into planning and creating the game is clear, but how does that translate to the end product? Keep reading to find out.

Church in the Darkness Nintendo Switch

Cast Off the Shackles of Society

It’s 1977 and your nephew, Alex, has run away from home and joined the Collective Justice Mission and moved to their camp ‘Freedom Town’ in the South American jungle.

You have been begged by his mother and your sister to infiltrate their camp, find her son and bring him home. Only, that’s not always the way it is going to pan out. Armed with little knowledge about what has happened, you need to choose a tactic that is right for you.  

Will you rescue your nephew, will he survive the extraction, or will you realize that the CJM is indeed a hidden paradise on earth, and join their ranks? It is all possible, with 19 different endings possible, and each one is associated both with how you play the game, and which cult leader personality you have been assigned. The game allows you to choose before you start whether you want to play with:

  • Random Personalities
  • The same as your previous playthrough
  • One you’ve not received an ending for yet.

Isaac and Rebecca Walker founded the CJM as a way to escape the culture they say strangles the US. They can be kind and caring folk, or they can be bloodthirsty villains. The entire scope of their story is in your hands. Nobody knows the true purpose of the mission, and the only way to learn is to play the game. Every action you take impacts the ending you will get, and the attitude of the cult members.

The secrets of the jungle are waiting, but are you ready to hear them?

Nintendo Switch Church in the Darkness

Embrace the Church and Honor Your Leader

There are several different ways you can play Church in the Darkness. As we’ve already covered, your play style will determine how the AI interact and the stance the cult leaders take against the world.

Presented in a top-down format, you start the game at a randomly generated point on the map with a starting goal of locating your nephew.

Walk, run and creep your way through the dense jungle and avoid detection by either the guards, soldiers or cult members.

Enter buildings, search for supplies, clues, and general documentation. The letters, reports and other findings also change based on the spawned cult’s ideology. While there is no need to search everywhere, the gameplay is certainly much more interesting when you do. The lore and details you pick up along the way paint a good picture of the cult, and in turn, can help you shape the way you play.

During my different playthroughs, I approached the game with several different styles. I went full stealth, unarmed and not looking for a fight. I joined the cult, I abandoned my nephew, rescued my nephew and got him killed and killed the cult leaders.

Church in The Darkness comes with four different difficulties, with the most extreme being ‘Mole’ where you cannot see where the guards are looking and get no notice that they have spotted you. This does add to the necessity for stealth and cunning wits while playing.

Church in the Darkness Switch

Be the Master of Your Own Destiny

As you play, side quests become available to you, and depending on what endings you have unlocked, different NPCs can be found with objectives for you to complete. Their story would appear to be the same in each playthrough, and each quest was essentially the same. Search the (often heavily guarded) white churches to find proof of whatever that character wants. For one its proof of where her children are, another is proof of violence.

While this added a little bit of extra substance to the game, the repetitive nature of the task and, from what I could see, the standard spawn locations for the characters (playground, firing range, hidden away down a pathway), worked to the game’s discredit.

Along with the different documents and reports, you could also collect disguises, weapons and other useful supplies. There was a nice range of things here and each can be combined to once again influence the way you play the game.

  • Cult member disguise
  • Guard disguise
  • Chloroform
  • Shotgun
  • Pistol
  • Wire for silencing the alarm
  • Metal Shards to break alarm boxes
  • Painkillers
  • Medkits and more

You can also take a number of items with you at the start of each new game. The items you can take will increase based on what you have already unlocked in previous successful runs. My personal favorite infiltration kit was a medkit, guard uniform and a shotgun. Although I only ever fired two shots in the game, it felt nice having it there with me.

Infiltrate – Discover the Truth – Choose Your Fate

While the gameplay offers you a wide and varied way to play, I could never quite find myself getting fully drawn into the game. I never really cared if Alex lived or died, and while the motives of the cult were always clear by the time it reached that point in my run, I never really cared about any of the characters. I simply did things, because I knew it would give me a different ending rather than, because I felt drawn to the story. Apart from my first full run through. Then I knew the cult was on a good mission and decided to join when given the chance.

This comes, in my opinion, from the fact that the game is very short. I could run through a round (on one of the easier modes) in about twenty minutes, maybe forty minutes, if I stopped and really searched for things and helped some of the NPCs I met along the way. It isn’t long enough to get a feel for anything. Despite creeping and crawling and not wanting to get spied, I never felt as if I was in the world. I was always conscious that I was playing a game, and that just left me feeling a little hollow about the entire experience.

Personally, I think the game would have benefited from having a longer story mode. Something to really sink your teeth into. More investigations and unearthing the truth behind the motives and implementation of real strategy, which could only be achieved by a longer-running story. It would also have helped to make it feel as though your decisions were actually important.

The team put a lot of effort into creating multiple pathways, but it would have been nice if the NPC missions and the letters and reports would have been more varied also. Some subtle differences were there, especially about your nephew, but that was it. Different texts would have helped build up the missions intentions and given you more reason to snoop around on repeated playthroughs.

Church in the Darkness Nintendo Switch

Welcome to the Jungle

The top-down perspective, giving you an overview of the jungle and the buildings around you. Their roofs disappear when you get close, allowing you to see inside. The game has a very appealing aesthetic. Despite, what could have been a drab and unappealing setting given the location of Freedom Town, the team at Paranoid Productions did a great job with their colors and shadows, keeping everything distinct and visually appealing.

A personal highlight for me and one that added (visual) depth to the game was the Scarlet Macaws that would fly over the screen from time to time.

The art style of the game is well-suited, and I think one that suits the Switch in particular. It’s rudimentary enough to not be too demanding, but has a quality about it that makes it stand out and look good. I would hesitate to say ‘artsy’ but it is visually appealing in the same way a piece of art is appealing It has something about it that just speaks to the audience.

The field of view you got from the eye in the sky perspective comes with its own pros and cons, and while I can understand why it was chosen and am sure that it was the best choice for this type of game, the distance you are from the character embodies the distance you will feel from the game as you play it. It’s all just something taking place below you, rather than being something that sweeps you along for the ride.

Friendly character interactions would see the screen zoom in somewhat, but as soon as you break the conversation you zoom out again. It just made everything going on in the camp that little bit vague. You could make things out, but not always with the necessary detail that would have helped build up the tension or show the true sinister motives and goings-on within a cult.

The audio for the game was great. The voice acting and the work that went into it shines through. Each of the characters are different, and the voices match the profile images that belong to each. It’s a small detail that goes a long way and deserves credit.

Church in the Darkness Nintendo Switch

Only the Leader Should Claim Perfection

I am not sure if it is a bug or just a development choice, but any time you encountered an NPC, your character would freeze and often long enough for the enemies to fire off a couple of shots and end your run.

While I get the point of the game is to avoid detection, there were many instances where you were surrounded and needed to try and force your way through, but one bump and my character essentially stood still and waited for death.

For the rest, the only issue I consistently encountered was a very slow first load. Whenever you opened the game, it would take a good three minutes to reach the menu. There were occasions where it loaded in under a minute, but they were few and far between.

Will You Join Us?

Overall, Church in the Darkness is an ambitious product and while I understand what they were trying to accomplish, I feel they are just slightly off the mark.

The game is a serious take on cult behavior and avoids the common slapstick clichés very well. However, what it does lack is immersive gameplay. It’s as if it is caught in two minds and doesn’t know what it wants to be.

To me, it is like a short story that you read in an anthology. It’s very clear that the author had a whole story planned out, but packed too much into a small offering and ended up with a bit of a muddled final product.

It’s a fun game, and one I still find myself going back to, but purely in the interest of seeing what endings there are, rather than being pulled in by the story. It just wasn’t everything that I was expecting.

Church in the Darkness Nintendo Switch

6/10

Pros

  • Nice Aesthetic
  • Multiple Endings That Adds New Options to Each Playthrough
  • Story Changing Based on How You Play is a Neat Concept
  • Nice Variety in the Cult’s Personality

Cons

  • Very Short Playthroughs
  • Sluggish Controls, Especially After Contact With NPC’s
  • Light on Gameplay
  • Story Never Makes You Feel Immersed

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