The Culling (Alpha) Review – A Blood-soaked Free-for-all

 

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The Culling
Xaviant Games

Now that the zombie frenzy is finally beginning to abate a little, a new craze is emerging: competitive survival games. Since visual media (film/TV) and the gaming industry are essentially joined at the hip these days (at least the triple A gaming publishers and commercial film studios are) whatever is hot in one medium eventually influences the other. While certain games such as H1Z1 flirt around PvP survival modes that don’t come with zombies, it never really pulled the trigger the way that The Culling does. Other such games that are more centered around pure survival, including foraging and building your own lodgings, etc., such as Ark: Survival Evolved and Rust, are different beasts altogether. Those games focus more on the experience of surviving against wildlife, the elements, starvation, and so on.

The Culling is the first gaming entry that eschews all of what many might consider “distractions” from the “real” essence of competitive survival: Pitting a group of contestants up against one another in a faux gameshow atmosphere. The Battle Royale/Hunger Games-style of games are just on the horizon, with The Culling leading the charge. So what is it like to actually play The Culling? Let’s find out…

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To be perfectly honest, when I first saw screenshots of The Culling a month or so ago, and followed that up with a view of the trailer, I was a little disappointed. They looked pretty rough around the edges and the animations looked jerky and stiff. Later, while perusing TwitchTV, I spied it near the top of their player count/watcher list. I wondered how such an early release alpha game could have captivated the Twitch crowd and so decided to check it out (I didn’t want to spoil anything by watching it on Twitch).

I received my copy and after downloading it, fired it up. After discovering that I only had a few choices for character customization, I reminded myself that it was still in alpha. What I did like, however, was that there are a number of perks that you can imbue your combatant with. Everything from being more capable with ranged or melee weapons to starting with a backpack (for more inventory slots) or being able to sprint a little faster, is right there. This to me was an awesome feature to have since it really sets your character apart from others and allows you to play The Culling how you want to play it. You can even change your perks in-between matches if something isn’t quite working out.

After playing through the game’s tutorials, which are very well done and informative I might add, I discovered the fiction behind how it allows you to craft items on the fly (nano particles – this is the near future) which suspended my disbelief quite nicely. The fact that the developers, Xaviant Games, took the time to include this explanation was the first clue that led me to believe that they have a real investment in their burgeoning murder simulator.

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I knew that The Culling took place on a tropical island setting and featured sixteen contestants who would be fighting each other to the death. What I didn’t know was that you can either opt for a solo experience where it’s every man (and soon female) for himself, or you can pair up with a battle-buddy and go against seven other two-man teams. Since I was a little apprehensive about starting a game all by my lonesome newbie self, I chose the two-player variant. Little did I know that I’d still begin the game all alone, huffing and puffing in the darkness of a drop pod, near a state of hyperventilation at the anticipation of the match’s launch (the character—not me thank goodness).

Fortunately, I discovered that the compass at the bottom of my screen indicated where my long lost compatriot was – 750 meters away. That’s all, huh? Great. I quickly had to decide whether to search for craft-able items or haul a ** towards my buddy. Since I was a little overly paranoid at the thought of an early demise, I foraged around and found a few rocks and sticks that enabled me to craft a rudimentary hatchet so that I could defend myself if I were to be set upon early in the match, or attack enemies who hadn’t fashioned similar weapons yet.

Sadly, I was quickly notified that my teammate had been shanked to death by and enemy with a rusty blade. This news was cheerily delivered by an unseen announcer in an over-the-top, gameshow announcer fashion. Minutes later (matches are twenty-five minutes long) I was ambushed by a pair of contestants and brutally hacked to death.

The violence was so overblown and cartoonish that I couldn’t help laugh at the hilarity and surrealism of it all. The Culling is no Manhunt. Its brand of grisly action is offset by humor and quirky charm, two things that were absent in Rockstar’s 2003 murder-gameshow sim.

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This time, I devised a dastardly plot in my wicked little mind and chose a perk that made my character better at setting traps. I also opted for a solo match so that I wouldn’t have to worry about losing another teammate. The first thing that I did was craft a few snares and caltrops. From there I located a radio tower high upon a hilltop and rifled through all of its lockers and other containers. I managed to find a heavy wrench which I would use for my primary melee weapon. I promptly closed the main doors to mask my entry and set up snares on the entrances. Then I waited.

Due to The Culling’s brilliant locational sound engineering, I soon heard the pitter-patter of feet on earth and determined what direction they were coming from. I waited by a nearby door as the footsteps approached. Suddenly, it swung open and a sole contestant, along with his red Mohawk, came jogging in—right into a set of my snares. As he struggled to free himself from his temporary ensnarement, all he could do was watch me as I took swing after swing (actually all it took was four) and bashed his brains out. Carrying out this grisly deed made me either want to take a shower or sniggle and pat myself on the back for conceiving and executing (pun intended) such a well thought out plan. I ended up sniggling quite a bit.

This sort of naughty fun is carried out in such a witty and surreal atmosphere that it caused quite a few inadvertent laughs, although I could see some parents or religious groups getting all up-in-arms about it at some point, perhaps after skimming its surface and judging it right off the bat as they usually do. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and urges you not to as well, and is much more of a Huxley’s Brave New World or Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death than it is Orwell’s 1984.

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The Culling’s visuals are also better than I’d thought they would be, especially on higher end gaming PCs. Granted, there is still a little roughness in the character models and some of the environmental set pieces, but all-in-all they are well done and you can really see the potential in what the clever folks at Xaviant have begun. The sound is also well handled, from the snarky sarcasm of the game’s announcer that pipes in from time to time, to the gritty combat sounds (one enemy moaned and coughed up blood as I ran him down), The Culling really immerses you in its darkly-toned world.

There’s also more reliance on melee weapons and setting traps since firearms are much rarer than they are in games of similar ilk, such as H1Z1 and Day Z. Ammo is also harder to come by, which further nudges players to develop different strategies in order to take foes down. These factors make engagements either much more in-your-face and brutal, or in the case of remote traps more devious and methodical.

The Culling is an impressive start at what will hopefully be an excellent competitive survival franchise. Its rather brutal gameplay and subject matter is handled in such a witty and hypnagogic manner that it should amuse all but the most jaded and humorless gamers. It’s also a blast to play and I can’t wait to see how Xaviant brings it along. I’ll be following this one closely.

5

SCORE: 90%

The Culling’s visuals are coming along quite nicely and will only improve as the game progresses. Try playing it on a new gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to get the most of out of them:

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