The Culling mixes the ever popular survival PVP genre and mixes it thoroughly with franchises like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. The game drops sixteen players into an arena armed with nothing but their wits. They will have twenty minutes to craft and scavenge the tools and weapons needed to kill off their opponents and emerge as the lone survivor.
The current Steam Early Access build as of the publishing of this preview supports two game modes, a total 16 player free for all or eight teams of two players. The free for all mode is the main attraction, as winners are awarded special tokens that will give them access to scheduled matches with limited edition cosmetic loot as a reward. Currently there is no server browser, just a matchmaking queue. In my testing, a match could be found after a few minutes of waiting, though often the latency would leave a bit to be desired. Xaviant Games says they are currently hosting servers in North America, Europe, and Oceania. Though players can team up with a friend on Steam as part of a two player team, larger groups can only use the Private Match function.
At the beginning of each match, players are dropped into the arena at set spawn points. The arena has several set buildings where weapons and equipment can be scavenged, becoming a hot spot for combat. Right at the beginning of a match, players are faced with the decision to either make a sprint for the nearest building in hopes of beating other players to the loot or using up precious seconds to create a basic weapon for self defense. While crafted weapons will do in early game, the damage output pales compared to the higher level weapons found in equipment cases and air drops.
The crafting system in The Culling is simple enough to do on the go, but deep enough to provide a large variety of items. The Culling dispenses the ever popular Minecraft-style crafting grid in favour of a one plus one system. Starting with a rock and a stick as the two basic materials, a whole variety of weapons, equipment, and ammunition can be crafted based on what item is being held hand and what is being added. Of course, crafting has a cost. F.U.N.C. is The Culling’s currency that is used for opening blue crates, calling in air drops, restoring health, and paying for crafting. Currency can be earned by killing opponents, recycling items at collection points, and exploring the map. Since F.U.N.C. is used for multiple purposes, spending currency wisely is key to winning the game. The entire system is brilliant for a game like The Culling, as the crafting is complex enough to give it a reason to exist without being so over the top that it becomes too dangerous to be practical.
Character customization comes in two flavours in The Culling. Players have access to a small number of cosmetic items to start, with more being awarded semi-randomly based on performance in matches. On the more practical side, each player is given three perk slots and their choice of an airdrop crate. There are a lot of perks available to suit almost any play style. The variety of airdrop crates are pretty slim in the beginning, with three basic crates to compliment the three default builds, a trap crate that explodes when opened, and a random crate option. Extra airdrop packages can be unlocked by opening a new crate in the game, usually through the random crate option. Having all the perks unlocked, but slowly doling out the cosmetic and slightly lesser used airdrops is a good balance between keeping a level playing field while still giving players some sense of progression.
The Culling’s combat system is very melee heavy. There are three main actions in melee combat: block, shove, and attack. Blocking will stop incoming melee attacks and cause the enemy to stagger and be vulnerable to a counter attack. Shoving an enemy will stagger a blocking enemy or deal a small amount of damage. Finally, attacks will deal damage, whether it is a quick attack or a charged heavy attack. Weapon damage is based on the item, with certain types of items providing bonus damage from behind or inflicting some nasty side effects. Ranged weapons have their own role in The Culling, though their numbers definitely pale in comparison to the melee weapons. Guns are rare, which leaves thrown and ranged weapons as the bread and butter of ranged builds. It is hard to go with only ranged weapons, as being struck in melee combat will result in the player dropping the ranged weapon to the ground. Thus, smart use of traps or excellent aim is a must. I am not a huge fan of thrown explosives right now. There is something that feels very foreign about the throwing arc compared to other games. It is almost as if it feels more like a grenade launcher than it is a thrown object.
Overall, The Culling’s combat feels very tight right now. It has enough depth to discourage spamming and encourage skill, without being so overwhelming that it might as well become a fighting game. The gameplay is extremely tense, especially during later parts of the game where the arena begins to shrink.
The audio/visual presentation is decent for the most part. There really isn’t anything special about the game’s visual assets right now. The audio is solid, though the game’s announcer really makes the game shine. The actor delivers his lines with the classic American game show excitement, which makes the whole feel of the game equally disturbing as it is light-hearted. The lines are a bit limited right now, but more lines are being added with each patch.
The Culling is off to an excellent start. They have a great premise and so far the execution is excellent. The game is easy to pick up, yet rewards skill. It is an intense experience that might just end up being a must buy when the game is finished.