Games can sometimes be a strange mix between serious storytelling and some sort of toy. We want to have fun while playing but on the other hand we eventually expect stories of the same quality as in other media. In the vast majority of cases, we can look past issues regarding themes and storytelling if the gameplay itself is fun. After all, it seems as though the number one priority of developers is to entertain its player base. This is why we tend to raise our eyebrows when a developer creates a game inspired by a real tragedy.
The Church in the Darkness might not be directly based on a historical event but it's heavily inspired by the People's Temple and the tragedy of Jonestown. Set in the 1970s you play as Vic, who's travelled to South America to catch up with his nephew Alex and make sure he is doing okay. Alex has been travelling with the religious cult called the 'Collective Justice Mission' and helping them to create an independent community in the jungle called 'Freedom Town', founded by preachers Isaac and Rebecca Walker. As a player, your mission is to infiltrate the cult and find your nephew but how you get the job done and whether you decide to bring him back home or not is up to you. The game prides itself on having a dynamic and open narrative design where the characters' motivation is different each time you play and where the story evolves depending on what approach you take. The idea is interesting and ambitious for a small indie game, but does it work? Well, the answer to that is both yes and no, but we'll get back to that shortly.
The game is an isometric 'acton infiltration game' that at first glance looks like a mix between the old pre-3D GTA games and strategy games like those in Commandos or Desperados. You can choose to either sneak through the city, shoot your way through everyone, or deploy a mix of the two. The guards have a coloured cone showing their field of view and as long as you stay outside of them, you're safe - unless you start making noise, of course. The small community of Freedom Town is very suspicious towards strangers so if you're seen you may set off an alarm, unless you're shot on the spot or taken prisoner. You can kill enemies in various ways and the game leaves the options open from the start, and there's no penalty or reward for choosing one method over another - on the contrary. As we mentioned earlier, the game's characters and its narrative reacts to your choices, making you want to pursue different methods to experience different outcomes.
However, you can't avoid having to sneak around to a certain extent. You can find various weapons, but ammunition is limited, so if you shoot everything that moves it won't be long before you run out of ammunition with half of the city's inhabitants after you. Therefore, you have to be prepared to improvise and think twice about your plans, especially when things are going well. Worth mentioning is the fact that the aiming isn't super accurate when it comes to ranged combat. It works fine as long as you just run around but we had issues with guards having all the time in the world to shoot us in the head with their shotguns only to aim in all directions but the correct one.
You quickly find that you can run around pretty freely between the enemies as long as they don't see you. You can breathe down their necks or even go straight through a large group of them without alerting anyone. You can strangle one person right next to another and if the visual cone points in a different direction they won't detect you at all. It sounds unrealistic, which it is, but in the context of the gameplay, it doesn't matter. You quickly learn what the rules are and it's the rules that provide the challenge.
It's not specifically an AI problem but more a definition on how to play, telling you what options you have. Occasionally, however, it can seem a bit ridiculous when you repeatedly lure a group of guards with a thrown rock, strangling them one by one without the rest suspecting a thing (but then again, games like Hitman and Assassin's Creed are quite similar in that regard). In one playthrough, we killed 207 of Freedom Town's residents. The game eventually told us about that number, but no one reacted to it. NPCs returned to their jobs in the fields and the guards continued their mumbling conversations. This does remove some of the game's credibility.