The Culling Closed Alpha Impressions

If you have ever thought it might be cool to participate in the Hunger Games, there is a game for you: The Culling. The trailer describes Xaviant’s The Culling as an intense 16 player, 20 minute battle arena. It will soon be available on PC through Steam.

There are two main game modes: free-for-all and 2 player team play. The game modes are fairly straightforward. You spawn somewhere in the arena, a reasonable distance from other players. Once the match loads, you have a tropical landscape to explore.

During your exploration, you can discover items like branches and stones, which can be used in crafting your own weapons. You can also find crates and buildings where you can pick up a variety of the game’s weapons and items to aid you in your survival.

Weapons like tomahawks, guns, lead pipes, and dynamite are all available for you to discover as you seek to be the last player standing. Unlike many other online multiplayer games, in The Culling, you have only one life. This adds a level of intensity and danger that is absent in many other games.

Thankfully, your one life has some level of sustainability. You do not die extremely quickly, and there are opportunities to escape. In addition to that, there are also healing stations and special chests where you can spend a kind of currency (F.U.N.C.) to replenish life or acquire stronger items. Nevertheless, each match has a high level of intensity as you never know if an enemy could be lurking in a nearby bush or hiding in the corner of an abandoned building.

While the ranged weapons have limited ammo, they do offer a significant advantage over those with melee weapons. Throwing weapons are also in the game – grenades, spears, etc. However, I found these weapons difficult to use as there isn’t much of a helpful crosshair system for them. There was a considerable learning curve on those items. To balance out the power of ranged weapons, hitting a ranged attacker with a melee weapon causes them to drop their ranged weapon.

The combat is pretty simple, but fun. Melee attacks can be blocked. Blocking can be countered by pushing. This combat system allows there to be a nice balance rather than just spamming left click to swing your weapon. Weapons have different attack speeds and damage. A hammer is much more powerful than a knife, but a knife is much quicker. Each weapon has a proper use.

In addition to dying by a variety of sharp and blunt weapons, players can also be killed by poison throughout the arena. A player can activate all of the poison containers in the arena, which sends out a deadly green smoke. Players receive a warning when this happens and can try to escape. However, this poison spreads quickly and often claims several victims.

Whenever another player dies, there is an announcement in the game notifying the remaining players that someone has been killed. The announcement also reveals the cause of death. This can be a helpful reminder that death is always a present danger. However, there is not much punishment for dying (other than you lose). You are not required to spectate for the remainder of the match; you receive your reward, and you can immediately leave and queue for another match.

Each match will only last around 20 minutes. Once you die (or win), you receive a reward. Players are rewarded with a variety of cosmetic items like hats, shirts, and hair styles which you can use to change your character’s appearance. However, there does not seem to be any incentive in the reward system to survive longer.

Players can customize their appearance with items earned from each match.

Outside of the game, players are able to customize their appearance and load out. You can select perks that suit your play style, improving your chances of being the last man standing. These perks can increase resistance to damage, increase movement speed, increase damage with a certain kind of weapon, etc. There are many to choose from, but the differences between the perks can be quite a gamble, and may not offer much advantage in a particular match.

One of the highlights is, surprisingly, the tutorial. While the game’s mechanics aren’t especially mind-blowing, the commentary and humor throughout the tutorial reminded me of something like GLaDOS in Portal. I found it to be particularly enjoyable. The announcer makes some fairly humorous comments during the matches as well. This feature definitely adds character to the game.

The crafting system is a pretty interesting concept. You find certain items in order to craft specific weapons, traps, or bandages. For example, finding two rocks can allow you to craft a knife (which you make by banging the two rocks together). The ability to create traps in addition to knives and other weapons is also pretty cool. The size of the map makes the proper placement of traps pretty important, especially late game. It took me a few games to realize the potential advantage that utilizing the crafting can give you, especially at the beginning of the match.

Another highlight is the level of intensity that this game brings. With no respawns, you are forced to play carefully. This makes each match pretty exciting. However, the intensity is diminished a little bit by the lack of penalty for dying quickly or incentive for surviving longer. This one life winner-takes-all style of play is the central feature of this game. Little about the gameplay itself is exceptional, but the adrenaline of the single life death match is the key feature to this game, making it seriously enjoyable.

Overall, the game is pretty solid, but it lacks depth and variety, at least in its early Alpha stage. The map is fairly aesthetically pleasing, but there is only one. The game would benefit from a little more variety of maps and landscapes. There is a decent variety of weapons and items to choose from. Also, if you die early, you might find yourself always wielding a lead pipe or a similar mediocre weapon. It can also be quite challenging if another player has had better luck and found a gun or bow.

This game definitely has promise, and I can see it becoming a highly competitive game. New maps and additional objectives could add longevity and replayability to The Culling. Additional backstory explaining the purpose of this Culling could also help achieve some of this depth, though such an addition is unlikely to add much to the enduring nature of the game. Team battles are honestly not much different than solo playing when queueing alone. I would imagine this mode being rather enjoyable if you could queue with a partner, I would also enjoy larger teams beyond the teams of two. Another area for improvement could be adding to the progression system. The rewards after each match are basically the same no matter how long you survive, and they are all simply cosmetic.

The Culling offers an interesting premise for a game, but it presently suffers from a lack of variety and depth. Its intensity definitely brings value and excitement, but I hope to see further development on this foundation in order to give this game strong staying power. I found myself having considerably more fun the longer I played. The game drops on Steam Early Access on March 8.

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