Title: The Culling
Version Tested: PC
Available On: Windows PC
Publisher: Xaviant Games
Genre: Survival, First-Person Shooter, Crafting
Official Site: http://theculling.com/
Release Date: Early Access – March 4, 2016, Regular Release – Sometime in 2017
Where to Buy: Steam
The only light is streaming through small holes at the top of the box you are trapped in. The only sound is your labored breathing. A clock is ticking down from twenty seconds. When it hits zero, the box falls apart and, disoriented, you stumble into the surrounding jungle. Over the next twenty minutes, you must find or create weapons and other instruments of survival, because fifteen other people found themselves in the exact same situation as you. Only one of you can leave this jungle alive. Welcome to The Culling.
The Culling is a first-person arena shooter with an emphasis on crafting and strategy. You and fifteen other players are placed in a large, outdoor arena full of buildings, items, and hazards. Rounds last twenty-five minutes, with the arena shrinking as needed to force people together. Even though the game is in the very early access stage at this point in time, the basic premise of the game is already laid out. The central strategy is knowing when and how to pick off the opponents you encounter. Crafting explosives, poisons, and traps can be devastating as can just sneaking up and getting a few solid melee attacks in before they know you are even there. If you concentrate on one target and take too long in finishing them off, however, someone else could come always swoop in and steal the kill from under your nose. And then turn around and finish you before you had a chance to recover.
Even in its early state, The Culling is an extremely intense game. Since death means starting over from scratch in a completely new game, every encounter has weight. Blindly sprinting in firing a bow and arrow is fun for about three seconds, and then you’re back in the lobby, trying to find another game. Adding to the finality of encounters is the fact that the arena you are playing in is gigantic. You can explore for several minutes without seeing anyone. If you see someone moving on the horizon, do you attempt to follow them? Or do you bide your time, hope they failed to see you, and continue crafting and gathering resources so your build is superior if you encounter them again?
Every action in The Culling carries weight. You gain money (called “F.U.N.C.”) by exploring, but you gain more by killing other people. You can use this money to call in airdrops full of powerful equipment, open special boxes that almost certainly have something good inside, or craft even more powerful items. Different items inflict different status effects on your enemies; do you want them to bleed out? Or would you rather disorient them so it is easier to sneak around them and attack with powerful backstabs? Buildings almost always have powerful items in them; do you want to set up a base full of traps so you can pick people off who come searching for loot? Or do you want to avoid them and let the other contestants thin the field before you strike for the win? There is very little time for mindless playing in a round of The Culling, and that helps make it so satisfying when you do pull off a good kill.
The presentation of the game is also fascinating. Each round of The Culling is framed as a futuristic, murder-filled game show. There are watching your every move. An over-enthusiastic announcer lets you know when special events are happening or when another “contestant” is killed (“Someone was just beaten to death! WITH A ROCK!”) Instead of pulling up the scoreboard with a key, you merely look up to the dome surrounding the arena to see how many more people are still running around. Although it doesn’t really tell a story of why you are trapped in a futuristic murder game show, these little touches, at least, add a bit of narrative to an otherwise straightforward arena shooter and add a layer of immersion.
Some of the strengths of The Culling are also some of its downfalls. The huge arena is nice, as it makes encounters more intense. However, there is a level of frustration on both ends of that scenario: “How did I encounter someone this quickly?” is one problem, although the next game may have you wondering, “Why the hell can’t I find anyone?” Some of the other issues come from the fact that the game is still in very early access. The melee combat lacks solid impact; it takes a lot of hits to kill someone, so fights between knife wielders devolve into that stupid “back up, circle, jump, stab” dance that melee combat often translates to in games. There is not a way to practice without diving into the game, which can be completely overwhelming to people just starting the game. There is nothing more to The Culling right now than jumping in, getting some kills, dying, and starting over. I’m sure many of these problems will be ironed out as the game progresses, but it is a very bare bones product at this point in time.
Developer Xaviant has said they plan on keeping the game in Steam Early Access for about one year, with an expected release in early 2017. I give this one a hesitant recommendation – if you have been burned by some Steam Early Access games before, you may want to wait until a few more features have been added to The Culling. If you are craving a new way to spill blood, give this one a go. It is relatively inexpensive, and it doesn’t take much time invested to start having fun with it.
Have you tried The Culling yet? What do you think of this genre of survival/crafting/arena combat? Let us know!