Cult game developer Richard Rouse III believes that games are "perfect for creating complex worlds and stories to get lost in, particularly action games where emotions are high and your moment-to-moment decisions mean life or death." And judging by the direction the dev for The Suffering's new game is taking, he might have just perfected that ideal.
His latest effort comes in the shape of The Church In The Darkness, a game that evolves upon every playthrough. It intricately binds itself to a plethora of different play styles and, most interestingly, puts you in the middle of the narrative. Basically you, gamer, and your infinite well of opinions make up the game's story.
Set against the backdrop of the '70s, The Church In The Darkness takes you inside the heart of a religious cult. Labeled radicals and ostracized by society and the government, The Collective Justice Mission — led by the enigmatic Isaac and Rebecca Walker (played by John Patrick Lowrie and Ellen McLain) — left the disdain of the North and escaped into the jungles of South America to birth their socialist commune, the aptly named Freedom Town.
Naturally, after a swathe of loved ones decided to join said random cult, the families of those indoctrinated began pondering exactly what the hell it is that's happening in Freedom Town. And luckily for us, the protagonist of the game is one of the more proactive members of the party of worried adults.
You play as Vic, an ex-cop who heads to the jungle in an attempt to infiltrate the cult and check up on his nephew Alex, who ran away to join. Utilizing a top-down aesthetic that's one part OG GTA and one part Predator, the game is a sandbox of limitless playability where interacting with it is a wonderfully malleable experience; you can either go into the game with all guns blazing, with a touch of stealth, or whatever and however you feel.
The commune changes upon every play. In one game Isaac and Rebecca could be airy dreamers who had an idea to escape the corruption of the West and its rat race, or they could be totalitarian psychopaths who seek to rain down terrible justice on their followers for the slightest misdemeanor. Keep an eye out for the poles surrounded by blood-soaked dirt, or "HELP US" spelled out in branches in a clearing and you'll get what I mean.
Most interestingly, however, is the game's narrative. Not only will you know next to nothing going in, but the story only comes across via the leaders' announcements over the camp's PA system and letters and documents you will stumble upon on your hunt. Which means that only slowly will you begin to uncover whether the camp is filled with nefarious activity or just a bunch of blissed-out lovers tired of society's shit.
That means in one playthrough, running through the camp with the itchy trigger-fingered gusto of an action movie hero could cost a lot of innocent lives.
Unlike Rouse's last game The Suffering, Church doesn't boast a shred of supernatural activity. Instead he wants us to question the human condition and deal with other forms of darkness, namely the absence of truth and the depths of the soul.
The game's heavily political spirit will ask questions of you. Questions such as: How far would you go to save someone you loved from themselves? Or to preserve your way of life? Would you take the lives of multiple innocent people to do so? Terrorist or savior? How will you choose to answer?
The Church In The Darkness opens doors on PS4, Xbox One and Steam for both PC and Mac in early 2017.