Published on August 15th, 2019 | by Scott De Lacy
Church in the darkness – Xbox One review
Summary: A challenging, randomised religious infiltrator game.
This game is set in a very real context of a religious cult that rejects the mainstream society, breaks out on its own and more or less holds its followers in a state of indoctrination and as prisoners in forced servitude. None of it is over the top since all of this has actually happened before!
You play as Vic, who can be either male or female and your job is to use your past experience as an ex-cop and infiltrate the cult, and then extract your naïve family member Alex.
Of course it’s easier said than done; the Church is actually a large area in a remote location called Freedom Town and is run by the Walkers, a fanatical husband and wife duo that have no compunction to shoot their own followers let alone Vic. Perhaps one of them is a bit more out there than the other, but it’s up to you to determine that.
The two constantly talk to Freedom Town through loudspeaker announcements, almost like a live podcast. These conversations actually tell you a bit more about the story, their state of mind and possibly the level of awareness they have of your presence. At times, it is eerie and seems to be for your benefit, as if it will somehow convert you. It won’t.
The town is laid out like a labyrinth with buildings and armed guards patrolling and blocking the path to your objective. The promotional videos online mention that the game is all about “finding the right path”, but the very act of finding that path is in and of itself a challenge, which will likely get you detected quickly.
Inside the buildings which include huts, churches, farm houses and what looks like a communal latrine, you may find storage lockers or boxes and desks with loot and written materials which you will use to investigate and find evidence that is needed to convince Alex to leave his beloved community.
Vic’s inventory is limited and the game forces you to make choices about what to carry. You will always start the game with two items of kit, which at first is only three options including a medical kit, alarm bypass wire, and a handgun. More options are unlocked as you find them within the town and consequently can then be used in the next attempt, regardless of the level of success in Freedom Town.
The level of aggression used in game play also impacts what happens if you do get caught. If Vic didn’t go on a killing spree, then one of the Walkers will lock you up in a cage in a random location which is almost always further away from your objectives. You may then escape, collect your things and press on – but you only get a couple attempts before its game over. But if your actions weren’t favourable, then you will just get shot dead in that cage.
This game is highly randomised, so each time you play it, the starting location is entirely different, the objectives and locations change, and the personalities of the ‘preachers’ change. It even seems that the towns’ layout changes a bit. There is also randomisation in the collectables’ locations as well. All of this is further influenced and modified with the difficulty setting.
The play style as the picture suggest, has the player looking down on Vic, and viewing only the immediate player area. When walking towards buildings the roof will fade out allowing a view inside. Pressing the B button will display the field of view for enemies and which direction they are moving, which is the only thing that makes moving around the town possible. Apparently this is the ‘sneak’ mode, but doesn’t stop you being noticed and of course limits your movement speed as well.
Enemies can be killed or incapacitated from behind only, but they will also turn around very quickly and there seems to be a bit of a delay in the incapacitate command vs the kill command, which means you will often get caught. Once an enemy has spotted you, you cannot kill them unless you equip a gun and shoot them. Vic will usually die within three shots.
Bodies can be searched for collectable items and consumables, and then carried and hidden in boxes or lockers in a very ‘hitman’ style. Makes sense, because bodies attract attention.
This game has multiple endings, at least 19 according to the question mark placeholders in the endings menu screen. So yes, there is a tremendous amount of game play, which is so much more evident taking into consideration that this game is actually really difficult to play.
There are four difficulty modes: Interloper, Infiltrator, Spy and Mole. There is comparably no perceptable difference to what impacts the player the most, which is movement and ability to take down the enemies. Either way, you still have a labyrinth of enemies that appear in an ever changing way that will keep you so much on your toes that the game will make it frustrating to gain any ground.
Playing this game is frustrating full stop. You will hear repeated commentary by the Walkers, you will see the same scenery, same buildings, same enemies, but because you continuously are being placed in random starting positions, you can employ very little strategy. Essentially, the immediate goal is to unlock as much as possible until you have some decent options to start with, then rinse and repeat over and over until you have an ending.
It is difficult to explain; so consider this. You start walking around, you sneak passed some enemies, collect some items from a desk in a building and move to a more populated area. So far so good, so you start moving around and end up in the middle of a highly patrolled area and have no visibility of your options, is there another path? Well you won’t be able to find it without walking through the crowed of enemies who will at some point detect you. You are moving slower than they are whilst viewing their direction of sight and travel, and you then make some ground only to end up in a dead end. Again having little visibility you realise that as far as you can tell, the only way forward is through the field of view of the three enemies which you cannot disable one without the other two seeing.
With the controls being so clumsy, precision movement is not possible, so you are unable to dance between fields of views without getting caught. Fighting your way through the enemies is not possible with limited ammunition. You will get caught. No question. When you do die, and you will, you start again in a completely random location, and having learnt something from the previous attempt, you no longer can use anything you learnt in the next attempt. You are doomed to repeat the same failures and there just isn’t anything you can do about it.
Logic would dictate that eventually through attrition or some special skills, you will eventually work your way through to an ending, and you will eventually play through all of the combinations of start points and develop some kind of sense of a pattern. But it will take a fair amount of commitment to do so.
This game is not suitable for those with short attention spans or those who value some form of emotional reward for effort. Ultimately the game will likely frustrate you much like a claw machine gives you hope only to crush your spirit at the last second.
There is something to be said for a game that can truly be challenging, this is one such example of a game that most people will not be able to finish inside of a week, and likely even a month. The reward would come from the endurance and lateral thinking that this game would require in order to gain ground. In all fairness, this game delivers for those who truly seek this challenge, but the ‘chase’ is likely to be better than the ‘prize’ with respect to the story.