I was lucky enough to be provided with a key for access to The Culling over the weekend commencing the 26th of February – and how can you turn down the chance to play a game which, on the surface, seems to be a lovechild of Farcry 3 and Battle Royale?
That opening remark about the game isn’t actually too far off the par, the game is set in a wonderful, lush, forested island – an island scattered with buildings and other man-made structures, all hanging abruptly off of a weakly drawn road that cuts its way through the woodlands. And, certainly, you have just one life as you struggle to find a way to play by the changing rules as to survive.
My time with the alpha started simply with me toying with the tutorials of the game. They taught me the basics, how to craft a blade, a spear, and lay out traps. Later tutorials were more focused on the ability to react quickly to changes in the situation – with a rather memorable tutorial level challenging me to shoot six enemies, in which I shot five, missed a shot on the sixth, and then flung the gun at the enemy, with it actually registering this as a hit and telling me to report for the next level.
Throwing a gun might seem ludicrous but it works, it really does. You can throw anything you can pick up. I’ve yet to kill someone by throwing healing products at them – but that’s just a matter of time. Throwing an empty gun, or something otherwise useful, at people is something I’ve wanted to do in a first person game for ages. (Dead Rising doesn’t count – third person, but very satisfying – thanks for asking.) My first experience with a player ended with me chasing them across a bridge, throwing a rock into them as they aimed their poisoned blow dart at me. The rock was enough, knocking the enemy back for long enough for me to close the distance and end them with short, sharp punches.
Of course flailing wildly is no real guaranteed recipe for success, and nor is throwing everything you pick up – although fun. The game features two distinct types of items: those you make, and those you find dotted around the map. Items you find can range from ranged revolvers to a massive selection of melee weapons and traps.
While you can certainly do away with your rivals with a blow dart, and a couple of spears – if you do manage to scavenge up a recurve bow, rifle, or a few javelins then you are massively better equipped than your enemies and it becomes a game of predator and prey, rather than a tense crawl as you desperately try and ensure you are getting the first hit.
Indeed, traps are included for the more cunning player.
The world is littered with pieces of rock, and wood – these can also be cut from tree and rock with bladed weapons. Rock and wood might not sound like much, but the game’s crafting system includes about 20 craftable items, ranging from bandages to heal you, to caltrops and snares to entrap other players. Snares are particularly useful, as if an enemy gets caught in them they need to actively hold the use button in order to free themselves, leaving them completely open to attack while they do so… and this game has backstab bonuses.
Each of the weapons in the game have different attack speeds and damages, so it is perfectly viable to beat an opponent if you’re more adept with a slower weapon. To further balance this out, there’s a robust block, push, attack system in place. What this means is that if an enemy is blocking all of your hits, you can hit Q to block-break, which will stun them, rather than you being stunned should you hit their block. This means that combat remains extremely volatile, and melee is a matter of skill, timing, and positioning.
The game’s map is a decent enough size, with outposts and bridges dotted around it, a snaking river way throughout, and a small arena in the middle – for the tense finale. Ultimately the size of the map isn’t important, the twenty minute timer and inability to respawn would work just as well on a map half the size – but that big open space contains crates, lockers and power-ups, and that’s how the game turns you from essentially a cave-man into a well equipped killing machine. Assuming you get to them first, and assuming you are equipped to open them.
Some crates, you see, require FUNC – a currency which you accrue through murder and survival. Those crates are sure to contain deadlier weapons, as although the FUNC does start racking up, it’s uses are many. FUNC can be used at healing machines to get your health back up, it’s used for crafting – and in this way serves as a good way to stop people spamming snares, and it’s also used to summon up a care package for you at the applicable location.
Care Packages are boxes of wonderful loveliness, they include a weapon that you set in your loadout at the start of the game – for me a recurve bow – as well as a variety of other goodies for your backpack. Of course, these holy-crates-of-OP are called in from set locations and are dropped in via airdrop, which means that anyone nearby will become immediately aware of where you are, and the fact that there’s about to be some very cool stuff in that area shortly.
As I said before, it’s in your loadout that you select the main content of the care package, while you’re there you can also change what your character is wearing – you unlock cosmetic gear as you play – and more importantly set a couple of skills to roll out with. Once you’ve played a few rounds of The Culling, the skills section is definitely a place that you’ll want to revisit, as each of the options inside can really serve in your favour if you can get them to match your play style. For instance, as I always kept a spear on hand – as it just feels right – I picked a skill which increased the damage I deal with them.
People will argue that all of this has been done before, in mods for other titles, but to them I would say that this is built from the ground up to deliver the atmosphere, rush, and exploration that this type of game requires. Everything that the game needs is already in place – in this, an Alpha build – it’s setting, items and structure are already cemented in place.
It’s a bit late in this to talk about the setting, which is a TV show where contestants battle to the death – but, it is something I need to discuss because it plays an important part in a deeper tactical game within. As it’s a TV show, there’s a narrator whose real world job would be to keep the tone light, while in game he serves as an indicator of what other players are doing in the world. For instance, when somebody dies he will report it in. He also talks to you intermittently about things. This is extremely critical to be aware of when you are sneaking around – as the cameras in game will also do the same – so you may well hear a contestant being talked to near you, which is just as critical an indicator as footsteps and lockers swinging open. There’s also a weapon in game which is a little underused, it’s a non lethal rifle which sets off an alarm on your radio, broadcasting your location to everyone nearby. In these early days something like this might seem like a waste of time, however if you know that there are multiple groups (there is a mode with eight teams of two) hiding in the hills you could easily play them against one another with it. Alternately, you could light up your team-mate after surrounding them with deadly traps. Oh, the possibilities!
In closing, I had a whale of a time with the alpha. It was so tense at times that the only thing causing me to move forward to explore was the ticking timer, and not wanting to get killed by the encroaching walls. We have had years of games giving us quick respawns, removing the risk of putting our characters in danger – The Culling had me seriously considering my movements as I didn’t really want to win, I just wanted to survive.
I’ll reserve final judgement for when the game launches later in the year, but thus far I’m mighty impressed.