I'm a rather religious person, but I'm weird in that I am fascinated by TV shows, movies, and video games that present dark views on religion or interesting twists and interpretations on religion. It's this reason why I became so interested in The Church in the Darkness.
The game is set in the 1970s when radical religious cults were as appealing as they were scary to the masses. One such cult was so tired of being hounded by The Man, they fled to South America to start their own utopia called Freedom Town. The player is a former law enforcement agent who has been asked by his sister to please check on her son (his nephew), who has gone to Freedom Town. It sounds simple enough, but the cultists in Freedom Town don't take too kindly to strangers. As in, they will shoot you on sight. Sounds so open and loving, doesn't it?
The game presents a top-down isometric view, which does make it easy to see where guards are patrolling and citizens are ambling about. If a guard sees you, he will shoot. If a citizen sees you, he or she will sound an alarm. You have a gun on you, but ammo is limited and trust me when I say you only want to shoot if you have to.
If you start shooting, you will not last long, no matter the difficulty level. Therefore, you will have to rely upon sneaking around the village, which includes monitoring patrol patterns, checking out the field of view for each guard and citizen, and distracting guards to get by. If your difficulty is low enough, it's possible to run into the jungle to escape the guards, but those tactics won't work on anything above a normal difficulty.
Every time you're seen, you're sent on an intense escape sequence. If you're caught once, you'll be captured and the missionaries' founders, Isaac and Rebecca Walker, will come talk to you and let you go. There's no second time, and if you're killed, you get to start all over again with a brand new story. Knowing that only intensifies the panic you feel when getting spotted. I became so nervous about being seen, I threw a rock as a distraction too quickly and hit a guard in the head. Yeah, they don't take too kindly to that either.
As you run through the village in hopes of finding your nephew Alex, you will learn more about the cult and Freedom Town. Each time you play the game, the cult won't be the same. Sometimes the cult will be evil, and sometimes the cult will be harmless. When you find Alex, it's up to you based on the clues you find to determine whether he has to leave with you and what you will do with the town afterward.
The developer from Paranoid Productions at PAX West explained to me that the average playthrough can take between four and five hours, depending on the difficulty setting and the player's skills. If you're killed, then the game will be a completely different experience when you try it again.
It's dark, it's twisted, and it forces the player to abandon all prejudices about cults and religion in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. The crazy part is that if you're killed, you'll have to abandon all those prejudices once again to learn a new mystery. Are these people drinking the Kool-Aid? Are they harmless missionaries? You never know what you're going to get, which is perhaps the most twisted element of it all.
What I saw at PAX West was very simple with just one piece of the puzzle pie, but it's definitely more complex than meets the eye. The Church in the Darkness will release in 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.