CULTIC Review – 8/10

Toasty…

It would be an understatement to say that the BUILD Engine was incredibly influential for shooters back in the day. Raging onto the scene with Duke Nukem 3D, then continuing that legacy with the likes of BLOOD, Shadow Warrior, Powerslave, and Redneck Rampage, all of which are either memorable successes or cult classics, this era is still fresh in the minds of those who lived through it, the explosions, gore, and one-liner laden shooters seemed all but conquerable. What CULTIC does is tap into that legacy with bewilderingly amazing competence.

It shares a lot with those classic shooters, but has new features to compliment that age-old formula, including knee slides, upgrade-able weapons, darkness management with flashlights and lighters, and modern voxel technology which makes up a plethora of props. Combine it all into a spiritual sequel to BLOOD and you have both a high bar to live up to, and quite a lot of nostalgia appeal. But is it all just for show?

I will admit, I died quite a bit playing this, which is refreshing. Too often I find myself breezing through shooters, barely even thinking and using my reflexes to pull off skill-shots to survive by the skin of my teeth, but here it seems to encourage fast-paced frenetic gunplay and then slowing it down at times with claustrophobic interiors, or even moody wide-open areas. But not here. Here enemies will dial-in on your location, fast, using dynamite, flanking you, closing the distance, and sniping at you with their guns, or throwing their axes to force you to keep moving. It keeps the pressure on whenever there is combat due to their accuracy and persistence. Sometimes you get a reprieve where it slows down and you have to figure out the path forward by finding a key or lever or some item, but for the most part it is an adrenaline rush.

While the game does not have “bosses” in the traditional sense for the vast majority of its length, it does have mini-bosses. The first mini-boss I came across was a chainsaw wielding psycho who had quite a lot of build up. Dark caverns, bodies strung up, booby traps littering the path; it all seemed to just build up to a naturally terrifying encounter with an enemy that at first appeared as an intimidating obstacle, turning into a minor annoyance later as he gets thrown into the mix with other enemies. Such is the case with a number of other enemies, which the game introduces and then adds to its repertoire with gusto.

The level design is sharply designed to mirror the campy/moody setting it is going for, with cultists and the undead intelligently placed to add a sense of believability to its absurd setting, something which I appreciate in a game. I tend to prefer video games that give a sense of place and context to the player, areas and levels which have a purpose or quality of living which makes it feel like a world I am inhabiting, but this becomes especially important for a horror game, where the primary motivating force behind the player is a sense of belonging to the environment, and the environments here are beautifully realized through the dark, gritty, and grimey art style. Rusted iron and rickety wood never looked so appealing.

The armaments are varied enough that the gunplay keeps itself from becoming stale, with shotguns, rifles, pistols, but also some oddities, such as a flamethrower, dynamite that you can either light and time to throw, or throw and shoot it to set it off yourself, as well as a pump-action grenade launcher. What better way to complement an armament than with a detailed array of way to kill your foes? Enemies appropriately react with gory explosions, blood-fountain headshots, and screaming incinerations.

Kaboom to you too

There is just something so refreshing about a shooter in the retro style revamped for modern audiences with its own unapologetically violent and gratuitous spin on the classics. That is not to say it does not do its own thing, it absolutely does. It provides more environmental storytelling, more interactivity, picking up objects and placing them to platform into secrets, or just to use cover when being fired at by a group of enemies, or even just for your own fun, along with some minor stealth aspects.

There are a few hickups I have with it, for starters being that the final boss is not that challenging, especially if you saved up the right weapons for him. There is also someone of a trip-up when it comes to introducing new weapons, as I got introduced to around 3 brand new weapons in the last quarter of the game, weapons that should have been sparsely populating the world earlier, or the game lengthened to space out their acquirement to feel less bombarded with new toys. I also feel there could have been more effort to be a bit more creative with some of the locations. We get a lot of outdoors locations, some of which start to feel as if they are blending together by the end, though we also get mines, mansions, and crypts too, the game feels to resort back to the woodsy ‘Evil Dead’ style design too often as a sort of safe-space for itself. Also of note is that, while I mentioned the quiet narrative it had earlier with its level design and pacing, it feels like more of a “Best Hits” than one solid continuous piece from beginning to end. Most of, if not all the narrative, is based around finding notes and journal entries and reading them at your leisure, so what little environmental storytelling is there is enough to string you along, but you easily jump from river-boat rampages to mine-cart conundrums in a flash. The gaps aren’t QUITE as fleshed out as they could be.

Going for 9.99 on STEAM, it just barely makes the cut at around 3 to 4 hours in length, with plenty of replay value to offer with a level select, alternate weapon upgrade paths, achievements, and secrets to discover. A great effort from someone who knows what they are doing, but is also clearly capable of delivering more than they let on.

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