With limited gameplay options that lead to too many repetitive playthroughs, this infiltration game fails to generate a worthy cult following.

Go in, find Alex, get out – that’s my plan every time I start a new game in The Church in the Darkness. But each time, I try something a little different. One time I decide to go in guns blazing, the next I sneak Alex back to my boat undetected. Sometimes I go straight to the source and get rid of the cult leaders who just won’t shut up over the PA system.

However, no matter which approach I go for, it always feels the same, like I’ve done it all before. And that’s because I have, after just a handful of playthroughs. Now, I’m going through it again just to squeeze more out of a game that’s getting repetitive three hours in.

Infiltration for Dummies

The Church in the Darkness doesn’t give you a lot to work with. It’s a top-down stealth action game where you infiltrate a cult compound called Freedom Town to find and rescue your cousin Alex. You can sneak around, distract enemies by throwing rocks, or take them down quickly in lethal or non-lethal ways. You treat the game as a twin-stick shooter and blast your way in, but that’s not a very good idea.

As you can imagine, the game’s core gameplay elements are both very familiar and overtly rudimentary.

Sneaking is less about skill and more about paying attention and avoiding the guards’ vision cones, which are visible on the lower difficulties. You can sprint right up to guard and take them down silently as long as no one sees you do it.

The Church in the Darkness review

You don’t need most of the special items and weapons you can find, so exploration is pretty unnecessary. The only thing you might want to consider looking for are costumes, which shrink enemy vision cones and can be very useful.

Both the stealth and action are functional, but they’re not what makes The Church in the Darkness interesting. These would be the roguelike elements.

Brainwashing Through Repetition

The game is built for multiple playthroughs, each lasting up to an hour though you can finish one in about 15 minutes if you’re quick. Your goal, the town’s layout, and some enemy position are always the same. Everything else changes, mostly the location of key characters and items.

Sadly, what you do in each run stays pretty much the same. The gameplay is too basic to justify playing through the same location over and over just to unlock a new item, or try and see one of the many different endings. It’s not worth it, especially considering how each ending only consists of a few lines of text and some static pictures.

The Church in the Darkness review

There is one aspect that’s supposed to keep The Church in the Darkness fresh – the personality of the two cult leaders, Isaac and Rebecca Walker. Their demeanor is randomized at the beginning of a run, which is supposed to add another storytelling layer. Problem is, the different personalities don’t feel all that discrete.

Either both leaders are peaceful, both are violent, or they have opposing world views. It’s not very hard to figure out which version you’re dealing with, by listening to the constant PA announcements or by questioning the handful of friendly NPCs.

But these also repeat themselves way too often, and the subtle variations aren’t enough to make each playthrough feel significantly different than the one before.

Cult of Personality

What The Church in the Darkness lacks in engaging gameplay and story, it makes up for with personality. The game’s unique look, fantastic voice acting, and solid writing make your first few hours with it quite the experience.

The Church in the Darkness review

But the game’s distinct touch doesn’t end with its visuals or sound. It approaches the idea of cults in a mature, believable way. The people of Freedom Town aren’t hippies in a drug-infused haze, nor are they militant rebels “sticking it to the man.” They are people looking for a better life, and both the writing and the way your playthroughs unfold manage to depict just that.

When that initial novelty fades, there’s very little reason to stick around. You can exhaust the bulk of what the game has to offer in less than 10 playthroughs. Go in, find Alex, get out, and don’t look back.

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