The Church in the Darkness is an indie stealth game out today for Xbox, PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch. In the game, you infiltrate a 1970s cult compound in South America, searching for your nephew. Your objectives, as well as the nature of the cult itself, change every time you play. I found the premise of the game intriguing, but the game itself doesn’t quite hold together.
As someone with a long-standing fascination with cults, I’ve been excited about The Church in the Darkness since it was announced in 2016. The game tasks you with sneaking through Freedom Town, the compound of a cult called the Collective Justice Mission. It bears a lot of similarity to the real-life cult Jonestown; the fictional cult shares the same political bent, the historical move from California to South America, and the sinister unpinnings that eventually led 909 of Jonestown’s members to commit suicide.
The cult leaders in the game, Rebecca and Isaac Walker, can be heard over the compound’s loudspeakers espousing the views of the cult. These views change from playthrough to playthrough. They’ll quote socialist activists and deride the US; they’ll talk about God and just wanting to worship in peace; they’ll fight with each other. The player avoids guards and cult members as they meet up with various people on the compound, searching for their nephew and performing side quests, like finding out where cult members’ missing children have gone or finding proof that the Walkers are planning a mass suicide. The game has 19 different endings that can be discovered While a single playthrough is pretty brief, the changes between runs unfortunately didn’t feel significant enough to inspire me to unlock all the different endings.
Stealth in The Church in the Darkness is simple but clumsy. You can kill cult guards or knock them out, but if you do the latter, they’ll wake up quickly. During one conversation I had with a friendly non-player character, some guards wandered in and killed me. Depending on your behaviour, death will either end your run or have you escape cult capture and continue your playthrough, which adds some flexibility to proceedings. But the clunky top-down stealth prevented me from getting to explore the compound or talk to anyone besides designated NPCs, keeping me from really understanding what the cult was about. The Church in the Darkness felt mostly like a monologue about cults pasted over a basic stealth game.
You can see Heather Alexandra and I play through The Church in the Darkness on Kotaku’s Twitch channel below. If you, like me, are fascinated with cults, the game is worth a look, even if it might not keep your attention for long.