Paranoid Productions has released the first gameplay video of The Church in the Darkness ahead of PAX West 2016 with commentary from game director, Richard Rouse. This is a top down, action infiltration game themed after the radical groups and cult movements of the 1970s in the US. Set in the jungles of South America you play as Vic, a former police man infiltrating Freedom Town which is inhabited by cultists or radicals to try and locate his nephew who has recently lost contact with his sister.
As the term “action infiltration” implies, the gameplay primarily involves running around and avoiding detection with the occasional violent conflict. We’re told the story can go in different ways and that with that in mind, the player is given the choice to play however thy want. With what’s shown off in the video though, these options just seem to be the standard ones on offer from most stealth games, lethal or non-lethal.
You can sneak around and avoid enemies entirely, you can knock them out or kill them with the ability to move and hide bodies. If spotted, enemies go on alert which will turn off after a certain amount of time out of sight. Though guns are an option, it looks futile with the low amount of health on the player. Pretty standard stuff as far as stealth games go.
Where the game tries to set itself apart seems to be in the randomisation element. Presumably the entire town is randomised but at the very least, basic elements such as the conditions of houses or graveyards differ between playthroughs. More interestingly though, the town and its residents change each time.
Individual characters have personalities that vary greatly between each new town. They may be fiercely loyal to the town’s cause, be dissatisfied with the town’s leadership or be willing to go as far as to help the player. As for the town itself, it may be filled with decent people trying to get by, a radicalised group obsessing over certain ideals or beliefs, or it may be a sinister cult that sacrifices people.
To gain a better understanding of both the individuals and the town (as well as finding items of use), the player will explore the town and sneak into homes, finding things like notes and newspaper clippings that will help to build a better picture of what the town is up to and residents general feelings towards the current state of things.
While we’re told the story can go in different ways depending on the randomisation of the town and the choices the player makes, it’s unclear as to just how integrated within the game it is. Games that focus on randomised elements don’t tend to pull off stories very well, especially when it’s randomised between different playthroughs. While there are exceptions, there are many more that don’t manage it, if they attempt it at all.
Setting the game within the the cults and movements of the 70s is quite interesting as it’s a topic games haven’t really touched. If the game uses the theme as more than just a backdrop for the gameplay then there’s a lot of potential to look at the mindsets of the people who joined the movements and cults of this period, the things that can radicalise a person and maybe even educate players. There’s a chance here to add some humanity to these events and provide a new perspective other than simply calling the people involved crazy and evil.
There’s a lot interesting ground which could be covered here and if done right, it could be what sets the game apart from other similar games of the action stealth genre. Most importantly, it could push it beyond just gameplay and into something that gives people meaningful cause for thought.
The game will be playable for the first time this year at PAX West 2016 at the Indie MEGABOOTH and is due to be released on Xbox One, PS4, PC and Mac in 2017.