Back in the olden days, I cracked open Blood on a school PC, and as the adverts warned, began my service to Satan, plus a lifelong glee for ultra-violence, pitchforks, and sardonic one-liners.
And of course, a lust for carnage. Blood, like Doom, took me to a strange and horrible world. Unlike Doom though, Blood didn’t exist in the liminal reaches of outer space and demonic nightmares. It’s dirtier than that. It was rusted pitchforks and rising from the dead, over big, beefy guns. The creatures are still fantastical, but the world itself is rooted in filth and horror.
So, I was immediately drawn to CULTIC as I sought to recreate the whimsies of my childhood. And in that regard, CULTIC did not disappoint, because while it’s steeped in retro fancies, it also brings its own take on a well-worn genre.
CULTIC begins with a noir-style introduction that shows you various cases of misconduct, murder, and lunacy linked to, shocker, a cult. Then you set the real detective work: arising from the dead — you awaken in a pile of corpses — and murdering all that cultist scum for sweet, fiery vengeance.
They are evil. For one thing, they leave mounds of bodies everywhere, they speak in dark, Satanic-style tones best suited for heavy metal growling, and oh yes, all of them hurtle towards you with guns blazing and pointy axes flailing. Now and again, it’s fun to startle them by chucking the decapitated head of one of their own at them.
The atmosphere in CULTIC is grimy as hell, complete with gray overcast skies and grungy pixel art that is as alluring as it is filthy. You won’t be wielding any special items: no futuristic death rays or magical, luminescent wands. Just hatchets. And dynamite, flicked on by a trusty zippo. And guns, so many guns. The weapon choices add to the savagery of CULTIC, similar to BLOOD, where you’re roving around with a pitchfork and hurling dynamite into graves.
Above you, a maudlin sky seethes with distant stars, changing as your work your way through your own lone death odyssey. The cultists themselves sound like unearthly beasts, and the soundtrack over groans and screams in the distance like a vast monster unraveling. You get your standard lot of zealots and chanters, and also zombies, plus plenty of folks that wouldn’t look out of place in a Lovecraft novel, but also some villainous abominations for good measure.
A video game protagonist wakes up in an on-fire science lab with nothing but an AI and a high-tech gun to…
And although the initial setup is all very industrial, little touches, like the yellow haunted-looking oil lamps swinging in the breeze, the bristling static on an overturned big box telly, the rusted gears of slow and horrible machines, or the satisfying click of your lighter as you crawl through silver grates and grungy tiled floors, lend it a gothic tone. You do eventually move onto environments that are grand and wonderful, lighting things on fire by stained glassed windows for that extra unholy vibe.
Although it doesn’t have the snarky one-liners that my particular favorite retro shooter BLOOD has (“Another day another corpse”), the silence and mystery of the protagonist suit a horrible and cursed setup where a sinister atmosphere is undercut with desperate violence.
You’re also navigating a big ol’ map, which is varied, giving the sense that you’re prowling through and uncovering something, as opposed to crashing forward through various rail-roaded obstacles.
When you’re not hacking, blasting, or setting fire to the cultists, you’ll also be piecing together bits of the investigation into the cult via written materials you find scattered around the compound.
The set pieces for the cult’s various horrors are delightfully over the top. I spotted a great many piles of corpses scattered all over the place, and at one point, a broken burnt torso cooking over a fire barrel.
As a shooter, CULTIC is awesome fun. It’s easy enough to blast away and fit in a few headshots for good measure. And by Satan, are the headshots gratifying, the blood spurting upward in gleeful rivulets. It’s a similar delight to watching folks scream and run around after you’ve set them on fire. Remember that, as you revel in the bloodshed, letting it wash over you like a purifying rain of shrieks and crackles.
And although the environments aren’t initially hugely compelling, they provide an interesting range of cover and interaction, meaning that there are plenty of creative ways to approach your victims, and prowl your way through the various areas. It also slams you often into a claustrophobic space, lighter in hand, or trapped between waves of enemies. As such, CULTIC strikes an excellent balance between horror tension and strategic manaervouring.
There’s fun interaction with objects, which are 3D and tangible, unlike the 2D enemies, whether that’s kicking a door down, flinging a cultist’s decapitated head, or making your own Molotov cocktails. There’s a sense of desperation in CULTIC, which seeps through all its mechanics, and is perfect for building up a horrifying atmosphere.
You are, after all, delving into a dark, lonesome quest here, and while the object use can be pretty hilarious (complete with splattered organs), it’s equal parts grim too. Like punching a red-robed cultist to death from behind while he takes a leak — and remembering to flush afterward.
And while there is a storyline, it is more hinted at than forced with exposition or cinematics. A lot of the time it feels like a personal nightmare, your character just descending further into a world brimming with menace. Overall, CULTIC is a pitch-black thrill ride into a brooding world of horrors.