My hands shook. My heart pulsated like someone was ramming it through with a jackhammer. A weird light crept into the edges of my vision. I’d just gotten my first kill in The Culling, and I might have been freaking out a bit.
The Culling is the latest out-of-nowhere Steam chart-topper, and it’s got quite a bit going for it. It’s the first standalone game born of a popular survival game mode called Battle Royale. (Well, second if you count H1z1's recent controversial split into two entities, one of which is Battle-Royale-focused.)
Basically, it’s a lot like Hunger Games, which itself is overtly inspired by—wait for it—a Japanese novel/manga/movie called Battle Royale. 16 players, either solo or in teams of two, are dropped onto a massive island with nothing but their skivvies and their instincts. Unarmed, players then have to craft weapons, traps, and tools to slowly pick each other off until only one is left standing. They can also amass a currency called FUNC to call in supply drops with temporary buffs and more advanced weapons. Oh, and they’ve only got 25 minutes to do it. All the while, an announcer blithely calls out deaths and other events, adding a grim game show feeling to the proceedings.
The result is a tense experience, one where each sighting of another human fills me with a mix of nausea and bloodlust. Combat is, admittedly, pretty clumsy, as is... the whole game, kinda. I had issues with the resolution randomly changing, losing control of my character, and a crash so bad that I had to restart my PC. The Culling is still in Early Access, so hopefully these issues get cleared up in the future.
Sometimes, though, that clumsiness actually works in the game’s favor. Haphazardly swinging away with a crudely hewn stone axe or whiffing with a bow-and-arrow adds to the feeling of being some poor, random schmuck stranded in a gigantic holo-cage deathmatch. Fights are ugly and agonizing, but victory is thrilling. I hope the developers tighten up the overall feel of combat and some the weapons (throwing spears is a chore) a little, but I don’t hate the awkwardness as much as I would in other games.
Even victory over an opponent can be terrifying, because you never know who might have been watching, waiting for their chance to pounce. In that sense, it’s almost a relief to get dragged, kicking and flailing, into fisticuffs, gun-fu, or a spear and entrail rodeo, because at least something is finally happening. It’s the moments in between where you feel like both predator and prey, picking through (hopefully) abandoned buildings and laying traps, praying that you’re not stumbling into somebody else’s.
Even crafting, simple as it is, can be nerve-wracking. What if somebody backstabs you while you’re staring so intently at a rock that it turns into a knife?
Eventually, it all comes to a head, which brings me back to the story of my first kill. I was creeping through the shadows of a wooded area, trying to mask the sound of my footsteps as much as possible. I sighted him sprinting across a creek, and he sighted me. He had only his fists where I’d already fashioned an axe, but he decided to go for it anyway.
I slashed viciously, but he blocked and stunned me. After he landed a couple shots, I blocked and stunned him. He was landing more, but my axe was carving him into bloody cutlets. Suddenly, he put as much distance between the two of us as he could. Then he whipped out a gun. “Oh fuck,” I said to myself, shortly before following it with, “Wait, why didn’t he do that earlier?” I tried to strafe, but his shot landed. And I was... fine?
I resumed laying into him, and he dropped to the ground in an ugly heap. I barely had any health left, and I was bleeding profusely, but I won. In real life, my hands were shaking. However, as my win-at-all-costs terminator tunnel vision faded, I noticed something. My character’s whole body was flashing, and an obnoxious voice wouldn’t stop blabbering about emergencies.
I picked up my fallen foe’s gun. Its purpose? To fire emergency beacons that won’t shut up for two whole minutes. In The Culling, that’s an eternity. I was a walking, talking neon-lit “Murder Me” sign. That’s when I realized: my opponent knew he wasn’t gonna make it out of our encounter, but he decided to set one last trap before I hacked him to pieces.
He succeeded, and somebody else shot an arrow straight between my eyes about a minute later. Hell of a welcome, The Culling. Hell of a welcome.
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