Crouching in brush, my fingers tighten and tense around the handle of my axe. It was a lucky find, pure steel, much superior to its stone brethren that lay scattered beneath the corpses of my first few victims. While most were still cobbling together their blowguns and spears, it hacked away at their limbs and severed their arteries. The weakest of the flock had now all been culled, and only the strong or incredibly lucky remained.
Pulling out my tracker, I mark the direction of my nearest adversary. I’ve no idea what condition he’s in, but I lack a sufficient ranged weapon. Without a way to harry him from afar, my best option is to close the distance quickly with an ambush. My blowgun will disorient him, but it’ll be up to the strength of my axe to fell him. I check my tracker again. He draws close.
I hear him before I see him. His lack of stealth betrays either inexperience, or brash confidence brought on by superior arms. I slink into the shadows, ready to deliver my judgement. He stops for a moment, and I hear a distinct blip in the distance. He pops out of the bushes, compound bow drawn. He, too, has a tracker. My ambush was failed before it began.
In the blink of an eye, hunter becomes the hunted. I sprint from my concealed position to the relative safety of a nearby building. If I can lure him inside, the closed space may be just what I need to even the odds. He isn’t terribly skilled with the bow, and doesn’t manage to hit me as I close the distance to the door. The arrows whistling past my head tell me that his aim is just shy of true. I caught a glimpse of his armor while fleeing. This will be a tough fight.
Crouching behind a staircase, I recover my stamina and save my strength for the fight to come. Certain that he has the upper hand, he barges through the door with sabre drawn. His confidence will be his undoing. My snare trap springs, binding him in place and preventing him from attacking. I flank around behind him, and deal a devastating backstab. It quickly removes half of his health bar. A brief skirmish ensues, but my victory was assured the moment he barged through that door.
As he lies dead on the floor, I take a moment to bandage my wounds and inspect the corpse. I take his compound bow, filling that much needed hole in my arsenal. Despite my preparations, the fight was still hard fought, and the bandage only takes me to 80% health. I head outside, ready to spend my hard earned F.U.N.C. on the healing machine.
As I walk outside, some asshole kills me with a fucking grenade. Fuck.
From one of these perspectives is how the story of every round of The Culling will go. It’s a grueling, brutal, and deeply satisfying crawl to being just short of victory. I don’t begrudge Mr. Handgrenade, since I too was him at some point. He too will likely be slain by someone who magically found a rifle. Rifle Man will likely be ambushed by someone else who found some explosive, and the match will end. It is the circle of life in The Culling, and we all have our place.
For those of you unfamiliar with the scenario I’m describing, The Culling is an upcoming game in the ever more popular “Battle Royale” style. While a lot of players still enjoy the fast paced, instant respawning, Call of Duty (or Quake if you’re old) style frag-fests, the ever widening market of gamers has given rise to a more methodical type of shooter. Some of us prefer our attacks planned and reflexes more steel than twitch, where the perfect kill is a matter of planning and not quickscoping. It’s not Grand Strategy level intricate nerd porn, but hard enough that a lot of more casual players will be turned away.
It’s a trend that has been going on for a while, with roots back in the original Day Z modification. The basic premise has always been pretty much the same, with variable focuses on crafting, building, scavenging, and ganking noobs. I’m vastly oversimplifying it, but all of these games can be assessed on a scale of Day Z and Minecraft. Looking at H1Z1 and Rust side by side, it’s easy to see the inspiration that led them both to very different conclusions. What’s universal is that these games are brutal and punishing.
Games in this vein also try to offer some kind of environmental danger in the form of zombies/mutants/monsters/bears. Regardless of whichever of the dozens of this type of game you pick, any player will tell you that the zombies are basically just background noise and the real meat is the intense player vs player combat. Some titles have attempted to offer more varied enemies or bosslike monsters, but it’s hard to create threatening mindless beasts when some psychopath a mile away has been tracking your position for half an hour just waiting to stab you in the back.
The kind of punishment that these games can dole out has always turned me off of really getting into them. I love building up my inventory and slowly crawling my way up from prey to predator, but it’s soul crushing to lose hours or even days of work to a single misstep. Trying to play on a PVE server also just feels hollow, as the zombies/mutants/demons don’t offer enough of a threat to give a satisfying experience. Luckily, The Culling has heard my calls, and delivered a third option.
Taking place on a tropical island, The Culling drops 16 contestants into the middle of a sprawling enclosed arena with one simple goal: kill or be killed. There isn’t much by way of story yet, but the quirky announcer and visual design that splits between caveman and sci-fi tech gives it it’s own flavor. More adult than The Hunger Games, more brutal than Battle Royale, and more savage than The Most Dangerous Game, The Culling is a game with many inspirations, but little imitation.
I like to imagine that the design doc for The Culling just has “INTENSE SURVIVAL COMBAT” at the top and then just a bunch of other bullshit elements crossed out with big red Xs. Pared down to the most critical elements, The Culling does away with the zombies and crawling around on your stomach for three hours to get a can of peas and a screwdriver. You drop in, gear up, and fight to survive.
Not to say that this game isn’t methodical. Starting a round, players will have 20 minutes to gear up and gank each other before being slowly pushed to the center arena. This fact alone should raise some eyebrows. For a typical survival game, 20 minutes is barely enough time to eat your first rusty can of peaches. For a typical arena shooter, 20 minutes is enough time to rack up 30-40 kills.