BY DEAN MOSES
The Church in the Darkness
Game: The Church in the Darkness
Platform: Xbox One, PS4 Nintendo Switch, and PC Rating: M for Mature
The freedom of choice, a mechanic which affects either the narrative or the way NPCs (Non-player characters) react to you, the gamer. While the promise of choice is alluring for potential buyers, developers and/or publishers are often unable to follow through on hefty claims—cough, cough Peter Monlux. So, can The Church in the Darkness fulfill its similar promise?
The Church in the Darkness is a digital only top-down stealth experience. You play as a nameless, faceless protagonist, picking from either a male or female, followed by his or her skin color and a few items you would like to bring along with you, such as a medical kit or a handgun. Next you are dropped in a lush tropical environment walled in by trees as multicolored parrots soar over-head. Your objective is to find Alex, your nephew, who has been indoctrinated into a mysterious cult, which brings us to the aforementioned choice the game affords you. As you progress further into the island’s local, you will come across members of the cult, some of who are heavily armed and will shoot on sight while others are peaceful villagers who merely tend to the fields. Will you sneak up behind them and render them unconscious just long enough for you to make your escape, or will you kill all those who stand in your way? Your approach effects not only the ending, but also how you are treated by others, including potential quest givers.
I went in guns blazing during my first playthrough and kept getting captured or killed. The initial reaction to my merciless murders came through the village speakers. A disembodied voice denounced my actions and warned of the “evil outsiders.” I engaged in some more firefights and then met with a contact who was supposed to aid my venture, but instead turned on me due to my bloody undertaking. This provides the player with a good sense of morals, that although a stealthier, non-violent playthrough is more difficult it is also more rewarding.
The Church in the Darkness provides players with an experience that is best played in short bursts, wherein you can en-counter a whole host of endings. Despite its unique aspects, the high difficulty level and repetitive nature may find gamers putting the controller down mere minutes after starting.
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4 PC
Rating: E for Everyone
It has been said that we live in a topsy-turvy world. However, there is nothing more topsy-turvy than the land of Etherborn.
In this top-down puzzle adventure you play as an ethereal, pink humanoid who must traverse a beautifully rendered world bursting with colors that are sure to brighten your day. Despite being flamboyant to an almost whimsical degree, there is also an omnipresent somber tone pervading the atmosphere as you progress—yet progressing is not always an easy task. In Etherborn developer Altered Matter stays true to their namesake and uses the world itself as a game mechanic. You see, your bright, characterless protagonist can walk up and down walls in a way that would make Spider-man blush, as long as there is a slope leading down that is. Attempt to march straight off an edge and you will be unable to continue your momentum, leaving you to fall into the vast oblivion.
The entire game is centered around this world bending loopy-loop with a few glowing orbs that serve as keys you must gather in order to make further changes to the environment. While the puzzles can be challenging, they never felt unfair. A modicum of lateral thinking and you will surely by-pass a problematic segment after only a few minutes, which feels rather rewarding. Unlike the game’s charm, the plot is barely existent. There are a handful of cut-scenes interspersed through-out the gameplay that uses abstract language, but it is the dreamscape-esque landscape where the game truly shines.
Thanks to exquisitely artistic visuals and a melancholy, subdued soundtrack Etherborn is lifted above the sum of its some-what liner puzzle gameplay and into an conceptual, otherworldly encounter.