The infamous tale of Jonestown is easily one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of modern cults. It has served as the basis for many stories about utopian dreamers in their search of social paradise – a vision undone by charismatic yet corruptible leaders that often leave a bloody aftermath in their wake.
We can definitely see shades of that in games such as Far Cry 5 and the BioShock series, though none have tried to directly simulate those events surrounding Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and the resulting death of hundreds who were bewitched by his prophet-like presence. Well, not until now at least.
The Church in the Darkness is heavily inspired by this true life tragedy, though doesn’t use real names or locations. It’s best described as a stealth thriller with roguelike elements – one that sees you infiltrate the newly built settlement of Freedom Town, hidden away in the jungles of South America.
Entranced by their leaders, Isaac and Rebecca Walker, the “Collective Justice Mission” leave the United States to found their own society in the fictional state of Batuella. As Vic (who can be played as male or female) you’re here to find your nephew Alex and bring him home. From a top down perspective you’ll weave your way through the Freedom Town compound, avoiding guard patrols and collecting a variety of items such as weapons, food, and disguises to help you in your task.
Set in the 1970s, the game’s ties to Jonestown are inescapable, but the story being told here is far less compelling. You’ll run into a handful of characters who have their own optional side tasks for you. You’ll also learn more about the cult and its leaders through various letters, notes, and newspaper scraps picked up along the way. They help create a strong, believable backdrop, though Vic’s own journey is meant to be the real focus. The Church in the Darkness has nineteen endings to unlock, each one requiring you to perform specific actions and behave in a particular way. Needless to say, some are cheerier than others.
The stealth gameplay is fairly forgiving, with discreet vision indicators showing you where you can move without being spotted. NPCs can be killed, subdued, or distracted, opening up different ways of infiltrating the collective. In truth, the game can be completed in a matter of minutes if you make a beeline for Alex then hightail it out of there. However, it assumes that you’ll keep coming back, wanting to mine Freedom Town for its secrets and see where else your choices might lead you.
The game really isn’t much of a looker, its zoomed-out perspective negating the need for intensely detailed characters and environments. While some might even call it bland, it still manages to achieve a sense of place.
There are some basic roguelite elements in there, too. The Church in the Darkness is run-based and depending which path you choose you can die and hit a fail state, forcing you to start again from scratch. Beating the game will layer in new elements for your next run such as stronger guards or additional items that may come in handy, but they’re minor changes at best.
That first run may actually seem pretty fun, but from there The Church in the Darkness quickly becomes stale and repetitive. While roguelites will generallybuild themselves around procedurally generation, there’s only one map and the conditions required to unlock more endings aren’t revealed to the player. You’ll find yourself exploring the same areas over and over, looking for more clues and items that might, just maybe help unearth new dialogue options or fulfil a side quest. However, the payoff just isn’t there. Vic quickly goes from being a 70s Solid Snake to Freedom Town’s enigmatic errand boy.