Infiltrate a cult in an ever-shifting procedural narrative with multiple endings.
I’m happy to say The Church in the Darkness is finally coming to PlayStation 4 on August 2!
You may have seen us on PlayStation.Blog a while back, and ever since then we’ve been working hard to bring the game to life. Because this isn’t just a game about infiltrating a cult, this is a game designed to be replayed for both its procedurally generated gameplay but also for its shifting and changing narrative. Each time we want you to wonder: how dangerous is this cult and what am I going to do about it?
The Church in the Darkness is set inside a religious cult in the 1970s, a time when people were looking to start new societies and sometimes those groups went horribly wrong. Our group is The Collective Justice Mission, who have moved down to South America to build a socialist utopia in the jungle. The twist is that we change the personalities of the cult leaders every time you play.
You infiltrate the group looking for your nephew Alex, to see if he’s okay. The game has many elements which make the gameplay replayable — changing goals, shifting objective locations, and modified guard configurations, to name a few. But we also use procedural storytelling techniques to change the beliefs and motives of the cult leaders. As you absorb the world of Freedom Town by hearing the cult leaders over the PA system, reading letters and documents, and talking to the few friendly people in the cult, you have to decide just how dangerous this cult is. But no matter what version of the cult you face, you’ll have to watch out for their guards, because this group never tolerates trespassers in their town.
In my research on real-world cult groups, what fascinated me the most was how these organizations can be very hard to understand from the outside. Indeed, for those in the group, it will often not seem like a cult at all. Even if a group has cult-like qualities, if the people in it are not hurting themselves or anyone else, it’s their right to live how they want. So as someone coming from the outside, how do you know? By making a replayable game with a shifting narrative, we get to explore this story from all sides.
In our launch trailer above, you’ll get some hints of that — you may find messages written out in sticks on the ground that say one thing in one playthrough but something else in another. A twisted metal sculpture may have a strange worship session in it one time, or it may have a stoning in another. You may come to quick conclusions about which group is better, but the answers are often more complicated than that.
The game is also about choices. What happens once you find your nephew Alex? Maybe he’s fine, maybe he wants to leave, or something in between. Maybe you can get a character to tell you where the leaders Isaac and Rebecca are, and you might decide to go confront them with what you’ve seen and learned. In addition to classic infiltration gameplay that allows you to play lethally, non-lethally, or anywhere in between, you also get to make those key narrative choices about what to do with Alex, Isaac, and Rebecca.
All of the choices you make during the game feed into our system for determining how the story is going to turn out and lots of endings are possible. To help players explore the many possibilities, we’ve designed an “Endings” screen that lets you see what you have unlocked so far.
We also want to keep you challenged as you play through the game multiple times. The game’s difficulty system offers substantially increased challenge with each level. When you re-play, you can bump it up a difficulty level to experience the game in an even more intense way, which can get you unique badges on the endings screen, letting you track your overall progress. And of course there are some high value trophies tied to finishing on advanced difficulties, not to mention all you’ll need to accomplish to get that precious Platinum Trophy.
The Church in the Darkness has been a passion project of mine for a number of years. With what we’re doing with experimental narrative, I’m eager to see how players experience it, and a bit curious to see if you figure out how it works under the hood. In the jungle there are no easy answers, and I want to hear what your unique story means to you.