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The Culling will put you on edge

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Three days, three acres, three thousand men

The Culling was born of frustration. It began life as a co-operative alternative to survival games where players regularly screw each other over, like Rust or DayZ. But then as it became apparent that human nature inevitably makes every consequence-free video game space a lawless Hell on Earth, the game's direction took a turn. Now, violence was not just an option but actively encouraged.

Tonally, The Culling is somewhere between Borderlands and Battle Royale, which means it's essentially a gritty reboot of The Great Outdoor Fight. There are occasional 'jokes', delivered by a smarmy Claptrap-esque announcer. In fact, the lines are written in the great Claptrap tradition, in that I cannot recall any of them, I just know that they exist.

There's so little justification for the violence in The Culling that it almost feels refreshing. "Go kill people", it seems to say, "may the most depraved contestant win. Stop thinking about the Hunger Games!" 

For that alone, it has my interest.

Although its narrative justification may be razor thin, The Culling has a set of simple mechanics that help push matches in the right direction.

There's an oddly obtuse crafting system, where you can most certainly punch trees and get sticks, but then you can also fuse rocks together and get a weird rock knife thing? Put that knife on a branch and you've got a spear, but put that spear on another branch and you've got a bow and arrow? It's full of holes in the way that most crafting systems usually are, but at least it's only a going concern in the tutorial area. Once I was out and about in the arena, I was scouring for rocks like my life depended on it. As it turned out, it totally did.

Crafting and supportive airdrops are powered by FUNC, the game's all-in-one currency. Smaller craftable items require less FUNC to be crafted, while larger items demand a more sizable deposit. FUNC (pronounced "funk") can be harvested from the bodies of your enemies, like a magical form of cannibalism, or from piles you just happen across on the ground. By tying everything to a currency and placing a very high emphasis on early-game crafting, The Culling forces you out into the world.

There are a lot of ideal playing situations I could glean from The Culling -- namely rolling up on the game with 16 like-minded pals and just taking each other to task with crummy little hatchets. Or, alternatively, a world where I would be given enough time to get really powerful and well-acquainted with the game.

Unfortunately, the time I spent with the game wasn't really that. I never quite figured out where to find the secret guns, but my foes had no such hangup. With enough time, I could see myself learning the map's secrets and rolling up on some fools with an AK, but that means investment beyond what I am currently willing to dedicate.

My favorite moment in the demo was an encounter with two adversaries. They were fighting each other at a gas station, and I was lurking in the bushes with a bow and arrow, ready to pounce on the victor. Of course, I messed up every aspect of the ambush, and died in seconds, but the mere idea that I could've pulled off some baller move was intoxicating.

I can only imagine what it's like when the plan actually does come together.

The Culling is available now through Steam Early Access.

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Mike Cosimano
Mike CosimanoSenior Reporter   gamer profile

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    Filed under... #Competitive Multiplayer #Indie #Notable #PAX #preview #Previews #Survival

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