Premature Evaluation: The Culling

Every week, Brendan is thrown into the deadly arena of early access to fend for himself amid the crafting games and first-person murderthons. This time, he tries to survive The Culling.

When the man with the pink mohawk walked into my tripwire and got his leg trapped, I knew I had him. This creep had been chasing me the whole way down-river, firing arrows at me and harrassing me every step of the way. He pursued me to the arena in the centre of the jungle, where I quickly set up a handful of traps at various entry points. He plodded in and – snap! – gotcha. I ran at him. This was it. Spear up, Brendan. Revenge!

Then I was smashed in the side of the head with a pickaxe. The man’s team mate was still alive.

It has only been a few months since we last explored The Culling, the fatal Hunger Games-em-up. Alec dived in and enjoyed himself. For me, the incident above was pretty typical. At its worst, The Culling is a 15-minute jaunt through empty jungle followed by a shonky knife fight in the dirt. But at it’s best, it is a messy, stressful bloodbath. At the end of my first kill (which took me an embarrassing 90 minutes of playtime to achieve) my heart was pounding and I felt like I had been given a shot of clandestine fluid from some giant animal’s adrenal gland. What’s more, the circumstances of the kill were exactly what I wanted from a Battle Royale simulator.

I began, as you sometimes randomly do, on the very outskirts of the dome. The map is fairly large. It’s comparable to something like Rust, though not, I think, as big as ARK: Survival Evolved‘s huge island. At the centre you have the arena I mentioned – a metallic, multi-level ring where many of the “shows” come to an end. There’s a reason for this, which I’ll talk about soon enough. First, the murder.

I was near a tunnel entrance, a long tomb-like sewer. I already knew how to craft traps. Bash trees to get branches. Bash stone to get rocks. Smush them together (rock + stick = caltrops, caltrops + rock = tripwire) and you have a handful of nasty things. But in my hurry I also made a blowgun and discovered that you can make poisonous darts by dipping it in a nearby container of poison.

There are all sorts of things you can make with enough F.U.N.C, the game’s nano-currency. But you rarely have enough to do everything you want, especially at the start. You have earn this stuff over time, or you can discover it in the long-decayed remains of previous contestants. Sometimes you find dismembered arms or bones in fridges. It is that type of game.

I hustled into the tunnel, where some side rooms full of lockers gave me extra goodies, including a barbarous hunting knife. I considered the tunnel. Hmmm. Only two entrances. All right then.

I set up tripwires at both ends and got out my trusty MAN TRACKER. This device is something you can usually have airdropped in with enough nano-monies. Simply go to a designated air supply point and press a button. But thanks to the perk system I already had the do-hickey in my inventory. This perk system was added after Alec went on his murder sprees. It offers you the chance to make a ‘loadout’ – specialised characters with starting items or better stamina. A ranged specialist might have a perk that grants bonus damage with any bow, a bestial knifeman might have health bonuses and a perk that grants extra speed when you have a knife equipped.

For me there were more interesting perks. The man detector shows the direction of the nearest contestant and begins to beep when they are within 99 metres. I also chose an ability which made me invisible to these devices, in case anybody else had one, and a perk which stealthified my footsteps and crafting noises. I was determined to be hard to spot.

I was fumbling about in the locker rooms, periodically looking at the man detector, when it started beeping. 97 metres. 88 metres. 79 metres. Someone was coming into my tunnel. I got the poison blow darts ready and ran to the tunnel proper just in time to see the doors spring open and the poor schmuck get caught on the wire. I fired off my darts.


Missed again.

FINALLY, a hit. Any second now they will succumb to the poison and –

Oh no.

My prey scrambled out of the trap and injected themselves with something. Then they ran straight at me. What followed was an inhuman scuffle of slashing, shoving and stabbing. With 9 points of health left, I landed the final blow. Amid a bloody haze and the sound of my own heartbeat, the game congratulated me.

“You killed Super Space Jesus.”

Then the gas came.

This is the reason everyone ends up in the dangerous central arena as the show goes on. After a few minutes have passed, the map starts to “close”. This means that toxic gas starts seeping in at the edges of the dome. The tunnel was beginning to flood. I ran down the sewer and out the other end, abandoning the blowgun that Space Jesus had knocked out of my hands. The gas is the main character of the game. It flushes everyone out, and the sickly green canisters dotted around the map can also be shot or triggered to release this stuff, making whole areas inaccessible for a time.

Unfortunately for me, this meant I was headed to the centre again. Where yet another pink-haired monster shot me and then stabbed me with a trident.

“You were killed by KARMA.”

Kills are hard to pull off in The Culling and your first attempts at survival suffer greatly from the professional murderers who know the map and the crafting system by heart. It soon becomes clear when you look up at the scoreboard (a gorgeous list of deaths floating in the sky) who has been playing a lot of this game, and who has not. Which is arguably true to the spirit of something like the Hunger Games, a story in which contestants are divided into those who can slice a man in two and those who can barely hold a stick.

It’s a sharp and nasty distillation of Rust. But obviously it lacks the edge of uncertainty of that game – you might meet a person in Rust and stare at each other for a few seconds, then back away slowly, run away, and never see them again. To take another example, in the Division’s Dark Zone, you might hang out with a stranger for a while, travel with them and kill enemies together, then double-cross them as they try to extract their loot (you bastard). Like Battle Royale and its imitators, you do not know who to trust in these games. But you can trust, if you chose.

The Culling forgoes all that new age mumbo jumbo. It simply lifts all the survival and crafting elements wholesale, implanting them into a vast ‘one life only’ deathmatch. This makes it both familiar and strange. The rules are as straightforward as Quake – kill everyone (unless you’re playing team mode, in which case you will have one friend) but the methods of rubbing rocks together to make knives are a la mode. You could probably call the genre “craft ‘n’ kill” or something. I don’t know.

Myself, I probably got more enjoyment out of spectating. In terms of survival, I wasn’t bad – often getting down to the final three or two. But this was probably just because I was excellent at avoiding other players. I only wish being a trap-loving sneak was as viable a playstyle as gathering as much ranged weaponry as possible and touring the buildings while murdering all around you.

As such, it doesn’t lend itself to a spidery playstyle. Hiding is not really a valid long-term strategy, what with all the poisonous fumes. And this is my major bugbear. It’s a game which suggests you can lie in wait like a tasseled wobbegong. It even has a pre-made loadout called the “Trapper”, with perks that improve traps and decrease crafting time. But while you could lurk in a single building or cave or sewer, you’d be ill-advised to. The gas will always flush you out eventually and while you have been holed up, those constantly moving from building to building are reaping the benefits of picking up new weapons, and crafting as they go.

I’m a sneaky, awful person. I love being Winston in Overwatch, jumping behind enemy lines and harassing the snipers, then leaping away when things get tough. In Dark Souls 3 I like to use the Young White Branch to pretend that I am a gravestone when someone invades, and then I play hide and seek with them for AGES. The Culling comes tantalisingly close to letting you play like this, but ultimately it rewards brute strength and better sword fighting. Not only does this force you to fight in close quarters using the slightly wonky combat system (first-person stabbing, blocking and parrying has rarely been done well, especially in multiplayer) but it also means there are some completely obsolete elements.

For instance, a backstab attack inflicts a lot more damage than a normal attack and there is a perk that gives you immunity to these backstabs. But there are so few opportunities to commit to this strategy. This is an online FPS for the PC, after all. Everyone is permanently glancing in every direction like a paranoid crow on cocaine. So what’s the point of this perk? And with so much of the map based on wide open spaces, what is the likelihood of you getting the chance to backstab at all? For gits like me, it’s very frustrating.

At the same time, it can still be very funny. After I died to Karma – the pink-haired, trident-toting monster – the map closed in with more gas, flushing the last remaining survivor towards him. My murderer ran out of rounds and threw his rifle at his opponents head.

A few seconds later, he knocked the man’s bow out of his hands. He ran towards it, grabbed it, and then immediately threw that at the man’s head as well. The whole scrap went on to last about two full minutes, with both of them dancing around like marionettes trying to slap one another without getting their strings tangled up. It was ridiculous. Of course, Karma won in the end.

This opens up another criticism. Matches are 25 minutes long, so the time investment of a single show (not to mention the long wait times to join a bloodletting) is sizeable. It means that a fight to the death can be exhilarating, especially when it comes down to you and one other contestant in the last minutes, taking swipes at one another with sharp rocks. But it also means that an early loss, or many deaths in a row, are extremely aggravating. While games like Rust aren’t exactly noob-friendly, there is at least some chance the person you just saw dandering across the plains won’t cull you from the world. Here, it is literally the name of the game.

So there it is. By it’s nature, The Culling is an unforgiving game. It requires speed, constant movement and a lot of practice. The frantic cousin of DayZ, if you will. But it is also a funny game in its own right (and I don’t mean the announcer’s quips). It’s not for the likes of a rogue such as I – it is far too hectic, the playerbase too skilled at murder – but having felt the rush of the kill I can definitely understand why it has been riding high in the charts for so long. So if you do see me out there again – running into a tunnel perhaps – please do come and say hello. That’s it, in here. Come in. Come in.

The Culling is available on Steam for £10.99/$14.99. These impressions were based on build 1205242

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  1. vahnn says:

    This was my first survival battle royale craft-then-kill game (unless you count DayZ and Breaking Point among these types of games.) It was incredibly fun, but for some reason didn’t last long on my hard drive. I think I’m going to reinstall and check it out, since it’s been a few months.

    • vahnn says:

      Reinstalled, played 4 games, 7 or 8 kills in 1v1 melee fights, but the general theme in all 4 games seemed to be “do stuff until you encounter a guy who can do this bullshit running 180-spin jump bow shots indefinitely without missing a shot until you die worthlessly.”

      I mean, props, because that’s very difficult to do. The bow is not the easiest weapon to aim. But come on, game! So looks like I’ll be sitting on this one a bit longer, perhaps.

      • CartonofMilk says:

        This is every Multiplayer FPS to me. It’s why i haven’t played one since Battlefield Vietnam ten years ago. I much prefer going against AI. I want to feel like i can kick ass in a game, even if it’s just an illusion. Multiplayer FPS game make me feel like i’m a chump, a lamb to the slaughter, a loser. And it’s anything but fun. Maybe if they had a way to separate players by skill. Check your stats and put you in games with people of about equal skill (i assume some of them might have done that by now). Then that might be fun for everyone and not just the super elite players. I can’t very well become elite either when i get killed within seconds every time. No time to even learn anything.

  2. Cimeries says:

    I played a bunch of this after you repped it a while ago. I think it does a fantastic job of combining the best elements of DayZ-a-likes – crafting, constant paranoia, scrappy fights for survival – into a much tighter, stylish package. I love literally rubbing two rocks together and somehow “nanomachines” makes it work. I love hitting an enemy with a blow dart and lobbing spears at them as they flee, bleeding and vomiting. I love picking up an axe the enemy lobbed at you and using it to bash his brains in and I love the man tracker very much. It’s a great, tight little game that, last I played it, still needed a lot of rough edges sanding off. The map also isn’t anywhere near comparable to Rust. I think the medium – large Battlefield maps are closer in size to this, but that’s good because you want to be forced to run into people a bit.

    I found the best tactic was to stay out of everyone’s way, letting enemies cull each other while scavenging like crazy, then going in for a final battle in the middle at the end. The alternative is to get early kills to earn func to allow you to craft more quicker. There is a good variety to approaches to explore.

    Ultimately I fell off it, not because of any one thing though. I think having just one map means it gets a little old, and the melee combat is a bit wonky, but a simple attack/block/push system gives it a good rock paper scissors vibe, even if hit detection can be occasionally off. There is little like the thrill of finishing off an opponent with your friend and then chasing after his friend as he flees into the bushes, only to have him set off a poison cloud to cover his escape.

    Clever, fun but in need of a little refinement, I heartily recommend this and should really see what’s changed in recent times.

  3. Kitsunin says:

    I quite like this game. Unfortunately, I have one really really huge gripe with it. I don’t like the combat. The problem is that, at the end of the day, you’ve got to be capable of killing folks to win, and at the end of the day, if you totally screw up your timing or aim, or you’re being dragged down by lag, you can have a superamazing samurai sword (or whatever high-tier weaponry) and still get owned by the guy who has only managed to scrounge up a rock, every time.

    I know that if I could make the combat work (I have no idea why I can’t!) suddenly the survival aspect would matter, but as it stands it’s just so infuriating having all the feats I accomplish at survival and acquiring gear, completely dashed the moment I try to do something with it.

  4. Kollega says:

    Whenever this game comes up, I can’t help but read the title in the Abridged Paradox voice, due to an Atop the Fourth Wall review of a shitty DC Comics crossover event with a similar premise, also called “The Culling”. That alone probably means that I’m not the target audience :P

  5. DiiGiiTAL says:

    “…but the methods of rubbing rocks together to make knives are a la mode.”

    Totally read that as ‘cocks’.

  6. IRLAlex says:

    I might be one of those experienced players you’re talking about (currently at 750 hours of playtime). I’ve never quite loved real time PVP full stop but goddamn do I fucking love this game.

    A few notes, while there are no doubt some useless perks (looking at you Regenerator, why are you so slow), Immunity isn’t one of them. It actually has a huge advantage in team games because a large strategy there is 2v1 a guy before dealing with their partner. In solo, it isn’t very good though.

    Otherwise about being a Rogue, while you might need to win at least one full on fight during the end, it is pretty viable as one of the other experienced players (HolyForce on the The Culling subreddit) mains it as a strategy. If you’re still up for it, you should try his build out: Black clothes, stealthy/run with knives/inhuman + Stalker/Smuggler. One thing he does is get a second mantracker and have someone else pick it up, so he stalks that person who is stalking another person, has them fight, then comes in to clean up when they’re both weakened. It requires patience and probably some ability in its own way than your standard brawl build.

    As for myself, I’m running Run with Knives/Master Crafter/Cannibal which is all about forward momentum. Knive’s are the first weapon to be crafted before crafting others, Master Crafter crafts it in half the time too and Cannibal lets me heal back to full faster so I can continue to wreck face.

    There are still some issues with the game (Early Access for a reason). Largely I’d say Guns, FUNC Economy Balance, Stun Guns, Woundless (not op but can be centralizing), Pierce (I despise this wound type), default crafting times are too slow (or so I think after using Master Crafter). Bows are still in a weird position, they’re not as ridiculously overpowered as they used to be but aren’t exactly right quite yet.

    All in all, I bloody love killing in the culling.

  7. 0karmaaa says:

    That Karma. guy would be me lol, was a fun game I remember very well. Feel free to add me on steam (link to if you ever want to do some teams or just talk about the game.