The Culling: Early Access review

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  • Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now (Early Access) 
  • Publisher: Xaviant
  • Developer: Xaviant
  • Players: 16 (online only)
  • Site: http://theculling.com/
  • Game code provided by the developer

Look carefully, and you’ll find some videogames on the market which allow you to play online with other people so that you can pretend-kill them. There are at least six. The Culling, at its most fundamental level, is all about this and nothing else. However, it offers a twist on the experience which you may not be used to; especially if you play exclusively on consoles.

This isn’t a game with a story – which is just as well, as it really doesn’t need one – but it does have a narrative premise (of course that’s a different thing, shut up). The Culling, you see, is a hyper-violent gameshow. Sixteen contestants are individually dropped into a self-contained arena armed only with their fists and their wits. Then, by any means necessary, they must arm themselves and ensure that they are the last ones to survive. There can be only one! Or, er, two in a team match.

Disappointingly, there are at time of writing only two maps (an island, and a prison & surrounding area). Each map is very large however, and gameplay itself ensures that the experience never gets stale or predictable. There are a few elements that you must master in order to enjoy any sort of success, and one of these is crafting. All crafting recipes are available in the menu & pause screen, though you’re best off committing them to memory as best you can. Crafting allows you to make your own basic weapons, armour, and traps. Almost everything only requires branches and rocks as base materials, which are readily available in both maps, lying around or easily harvested by knocking chunks off bits of the environment. Of course, it’s not as simple as racing to be the first to craft the most impressive arsenal.

Environments look quite nice, but it’s not a great idea to stop and admire them.

The in-game currency, FUNC, is spent at varying amounts each time you craft something. Managing your FUNC and your crafting priorities plays a significant part in your chances of survival. When you initially spawn you have only a handful of virtual pennies; enough to, for example, make yourself a basic weapon or a set of the weakest armour. FUNC can be found as you explore, paid out at ‘recycling’ machines in exchange for useful items or most weapons, and of course is awarded if/when you manage to kill another player. You need to balance this with the fact that you might find yourself ambushed at any moment, and you have no way of knowing how well equipped your next opponent will be.

It can be quite a tense game at times therefore, the sound of footsteps or a nearby door opening sending you into a panic – or eliciting a grin of glee – depending on how confident you are. Opening (painfully noisy) lockers in a desperate search for high-tier weapons and buff-granting injections could precede a fight for your life by any amount of time. You could go ten minutes without encountering a single player, only to run into somebody who kills you within ten seconds; other times, you could be unlucky enough to stumble into an opponent soon after you’ve spawned, and long before you’ve had a chance to get your hands on any decent equipment. The latter will happen on occasion, as the game you spawn into could have been ongoing for a while. It’s a price just about worth paying for bountiful players and short wait times.

There are a few more variables at play. Everybody gets to choose an airdrop; the contents of this package, and how long you have to wait until you can call it, depend on what you pick from the list. None of them come cheap though, and you’ll need to be seriously FUNCy by the time yours becomes available. It could be argued that this system allows the top players of the match to press their advantage by a huge amount in the final stages, leaving everybody else struggling even harder to keep up.

The best tactic in a situation like this is usually the classic Run Away And Hide.

Limited inventory space means that, with a little luck, you can pick up some half-decent leftovers from somebody else’s kill. This isn’t something it’s ever wise to rely on, though, in the same way that it’s a bad idea to cross your fingers that a random event – a free crate drop for the first person to reach it, say, or damage slowly but continuously dealt to anybody still outside after a warning period – will happen to gift you with an advantage.

There are guns in The Culling, but your chance of getting one is generally limited to an expensive late-game airdrop. It’s not too tricky to craft a bow or blowpipe – and you can throw anything you’re carrying – but 90% of combat is melee. Sadly, melee combat is (as you might perhaps guess from the rough-and-ready visuals) far from graceful. It essentially works on a rock-paper-scissors system, thusly: hit somebody blocking, and you’re stunned, leaving you open for a counterattack. Shove somebody blocking, and they’re stunned. Shoving somebody who isn’t blocking has no effect; attacks will completely ignore a shove. There is therefore an element of tactical thinking, but toe-to-toe fights ultimately feel like a catfight in treacle.

Still, it’s the sort of game that creates hundreds of little stories for players to share. Like the time we had a rooftop scuffle with an enemy, who leapt to the ground in retreat, only to have us plummet after and finish them off with a single charged slash; the time another player ran in circles counter-clockwise round a building away from us, so we ran in the opposite direction and met them halfway for a deadly surprise; and the time one guy ambushed us with a stun gun, allowing his partner to dive in for the kill with a chainsaw.

Very rough around the edges; but there’s a lot of fun to be had, and the developers remain very active, listening to the community and updating the game. This is an Early Access title worth laying down the cash for.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value.

He doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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