When it comes down to the basics, survival is everything. What would happen if random strangers were dropped into an isolated location, with only weapons, resources, and a desire to be the last man standing? How would bloodshed and the fight to survive overcome our more “civilized” tendencies?
These are all questions that we’ve seen played out plenty of times in books, movies, and television, and for good reason. Timeless stories like The Most Dangerous Game showed us the struggle between the hunter and the hunted, while Lord of the Flies gave us a look at how nature can always get the better of our human tendencies. From there, more recent takes on that theme, like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, gave an even more dystopian look at how survival drives us, even against all odds.
Those examples all bring us to The Culling, the multiplayer-oriented survival game that pits player-against-player in a brutal, fast-paced bloodsport on a remote tropical location. If that scenario sounds more than vaguely similar to the wildly-popular The Hunger Games, it’s by no means wrong to think that way. The Culling bears far more than a passing resemblance to the premise of the mega-popular books/film series.
However, what developer Xaviant has done with the title so far (which is currently available through Steam Early Access) shows that even an idea that’s been well explored in other places can work incredibly well elsewhere. Case in point — a Hunger Games-styled deathmatch where players need to think fast, and kill even faster, to remain alive and (successfully) be the last man standing from their 15 other competitors.
The Culling is a multiplayer-only game that pits 16 opponents on a tropical island, where players will need to find resources, craft items/weapons, and set up traps to eliminate their competition before they get eliminated themselves. With a strict 20-minute time limit, The Culling challenges players not only to take out the remaining competition, but also to be as efficient and cunning as possible to gather, craft, and outsmart their opponents as much as they need to rely on survival.
Like many other survival games (whether they are single or multiplayer oriented), crafting is essential to success in The Culling and knowing where to gather resources and how to capitalize on them quickly will play a large part in whether you face life or death on the battlefield. For the bulk of the game, crafting is kept pretty simple: combining two rocks will make a knife. Adding a stick to the combination can produce a spear, while another stick on top of that can produce a bow and arrows.
Learning the ins and outs of the crafting system will certainly help players in the early stages of the game — the period where most of the casualties will take place. However, within a few minutes and with the player pool greatly decreased, the focus then becomes and learning where to hunt down the remaining players while working towards bigger, stronger, and more deadly weaponry and traps to take them out, whether it’s instantly or weakening them for an easy kill.
Aside from crafting, players in The Culling will also collect and utilize “FUNC” points (the in-game currency) to call in special supply airdrops. Once the required number of FUNC points are earned (by either killing other players or collecting them in the environments), various loadouts and crates can be summoned that may just help even the odds in your favor, whether it’s a supply of deadly melee options, firearms, or more devious traps and equipment to silence your enemies.
More than most other multiplayer games I can think of recently, The Culling excels at keeping players aggressive — as much as finding a safe corner to hide away may keep you alive longer, by the game’s end your combination of a stone knife will be no match for a player with more deadly firearms ready to take you out.
Not that it can’t be done; crafty and cunning players can still get away with some pretty incredible comebacks, but everything in The Culling (so far) is implemented with the idea of making players stay on the offensive. Whether its key landmarks or areas (such as sheds, gas stations, airports, and more), The Culling hugely plays off “risk and reward” scenarios, where players may find themselves walking into a deathtrap almost as likely as they may find a heap of rewards waiting for them inside.
As the title is in Early Access, much of The Culling is subject to change or (in many cases) is still undergoing some desirable polish before we see what will (eventually) be the finished product. Though the environments are often striking and offer as much beauty as they do strategic opportunities to take out opponents, the character models in particular suffer from some stiff animation and strange modeling. Likewise, combat can suffer from some odd timing and lag issues, all the more detrimental in a game where a wrong move can mean a player’s quick death.
In particular though, The Culling will be a title that (so far) seems to have a fairly steep learning curve, and may need some dedication on the part of the player to fully grasp its mechanics and how to live longer than 30 seconds (which is a lot harder than you may think, surprisingly). This aspect of the game isn’t helped by some of its more random oddities and quirks, in particular with the spawn points being sometimes inconsistent on keeping players at equal distance from other opponents. I’ve had a truly mixed bag when it came to matches where I could successfully get my bearings and stand a chance at survival, versus times where I was (sometimes unfairly) bum-rushed by other players by spawning right into the middle of a particularly heated area of the map.
Having first played the game earlier this year at PAX East and spending more time with the currently-available build on Steam Early Access, The Culling is clearly the type of game that, at a first glance, is riding on the coattails of popular genres and outside media. Classifying it as a Hunger Games-styled survival/arena multiplayer game is even easier to see than it is to write, and for that The Culling will definitely have some appeal just by its concept alone.
However, even if The Culling gives off the vibe of being an imitation on the familiar idea of pitting man-versus-man out in the wild, what the game has accomplished so far has shown that with just the right amount of ingenuity and craft, The Culling takes its “battle royale” approach and makes it into a compelling and fast-paced experience that’s equal parts stressful as it is exhilarating. With its survival-focused mechanics and a mentality that really embraces the idea of “kill or be killed,” The Culling emphasizes risk at the potential cost (or gain) of reward in some interesting (and often very satisfying) ways.
The thrill of seeing humans clash with humans can be dated back all the way to ancient history. As much as the Roman gladiatorial games were one of the heights of competition for ancient civilizations, The Culling shows that spirit is alive and well with gameplay that’s as much fun to watch (making it a prime title for streamers) as it is to engage in. Though it has its rough edges right now, ultimately The Culling shows that players shouldn’t be afraid of death, but instead take it head-on before it has the chance to strike.
The Culling is available now through Steam Early Access for PC and Linux, while the game will also come to the Xbox Preview Program on Xbox One later this year. No official release date has been given yet for the game’s full release, at this time.