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The Church in the Darkness

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
The Church in the Darkness Game Poster Image
Players confront strange cult in provocative stealth game.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

The story is provocative, dealing with a militarized Christian cult in South America. Narrative elements focus on religious freedom and whether violence in defense of one's beliefs can be justified. Players are forced to make life and death decisions based on what they think of the cult's leaders, their philosophy and theology, and those who follow them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Players encounter a range of characters, some simply looking for freedom to follow their beliefs, others looking for power and an outlet for their anger. The main character, whose ethnicity and gender can be customized, behaves according to the player, which means he or she can be cautious, respectful of human life, and legitimately interested in searching for the truth, or mindlessly aggressive.

Ease of Play

The controls are easy to learn and objectives are straightforward. A range of difficulties allows players to tailor the challenge to their liking and ability.   

Violence

Players can shoot cultists -- both aggressive and peaceful -- with guns or render them unconscious by choking them. A small amount of red blood splashes from wounds. Players can interact with dead bodies, picking them up and moving them about.

Sex
Language

Characters occasionally swear, ranging from "damn" to "f--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol is referenced in dialogue. Non-player characters tend to plants that seem as though they could have narcotic properties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know The Church in the Darkness is a downloadable stealth action game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PCs about an American Christian cult that has set up a remote commune in the jungles of South America. Players can choose to be cautious and sneaky, harming no one as they go about their mission of finding a family member suspected of being brainwashed, or they can go in with guns blazing, killing everyone they see, including both aggressive guards and peaceful farmers and builders. People hit by gunshots bleed and fall to the ground, though the game's top-down perspective and tiny characters limit the graphic intensity. The story engages with provocative material, forcing players to ponder the limits of religious freedom, the justification of violence, and the boundaries between persuasive influence and authentic choice. Parents should also be aware that dialogue includes infrequent but strong profanity, and that both drugs and alcohol are referenced during play.

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What's it about?

THE CHURCH IN THE DARKNESS is a top-down stealth action game that has players searching for a young man who has joined an American Christian cult that has set up a commune in the jungles of South America. Our hero can use stealth, violence, or some combination of the two to infiltrate and explore the village, staying wary of armed guards and talking to key community members to narrow their search. The leaders of the community can be heard delivering pseudo-sermons via an outdoor speaker system, providing insight into their beliefs and philosophy. But the leaders' personalities change slightly with each playthrough, which can lead to different interpretations of their propaganda. It's up to the player to decide how to deal with the cultists, and these decisions will determine how individual members of the commune will react when you make contact with them. Violence typically results in a refusal to cooperate, while stealth is more likely to make people sympathetic to your mission. Depending on your actions, you may even be invited to join the cult. It doesn't take long to complete the story -- anywhere from just minutes to perhaps an hour -- but a wide variety of endings are possible, and the selection of gear you start with slowly expands to enable new strategies.  

Is it any good?

Players get to see -- and decide how to deal with -- the many sides of an extremist belief system in this unusual game. The Church in the Darkness does its best to establish the cultists as people who simply want freedom from American capitalism and the ability to pursue a progressive agenda without worry of persecution. But it's clear that the cult's leaders -- married couple Isaac and Rebecca -- are at least a little paranoid and have taken some things too far, locking up people who disobey them in cages and providing weapon training to devout disciples in an effort to create a militia. Still, most of the cultists believe in what they have to say about religious freedom and moral authority, and are happy to have escaped what they perceive to be the evil of the United States. Even the young man you've been sent to find seems content living in the commune. That makes choosing whether and when to use force a difficult decision, especially since Isaac and Rebecca's personalities can change between each playthrough. Understanding their motives and objectives can alter how you perceive the camp.

Assuming you want to learn as much as you can before resorting to murdering cultists, you'll need to be sneaky. Playing on lower difficulty settings allows you to see the viewing range of guards and cultists, letting you know precisely how to avoid detection (though that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy). If you decide to resort to violence, be prepared for a slightly wonky targeting system that could result in plenty of wasted bullets, as well as a potentially greater challenge in accomplishing your objectives. The game's short length, differing leader personalities, and variety of endings encourage players to experiment with their use of both stealth and force, though you can expect diminishing narrative returns as the camp collectibles -- pamphlets, newspaper articles, and notes -- are recycled from one game to the next. The Church in the Darkness is a bold experiment with ambitious storytelling goals, most -- but not all -- of which are eventually achieved.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about character strengths. The Church in the Darkness gives players freedom to choose how to act, but in your opinion, which of the available actions, if any, would lead to a strong, moral character?

  • How do cults form? Who might be likely to join a cult? What distinguishes a cult from a religion?

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