CULTIC: CHAPTER ONE
25 years….It’s been 25 years since undead badass and certified one-liner churning machine Caleb rose from the dead and kicked cultist butts all over our monitors. To me, Blood is nothing short of an emotion that I do not get tired of revisiting. While the future of the series is…uncertain, to say the least, CULTIC, developed by the sole badass Jason Smith and published by 3D Realms (not the OG peeps) was shaping up to be the perfect homage to the Monolith classic. A spooky setting- check. Classic no-nonsense first person shooting- check. Hundreds of cultists to murder- check. Dynamite chucking for ludicrous gibs- check. What more could I ask for? Turns out, not so much.
Blood fans waiting for a proper successor be like…
CULTIC is an old-school inspired first person shooter developed by Jasozz Games and published by 3D Realms. Chapter One of the game was released for PC via Steam on October 13, 2022. Chapter Two will be made available for purchase down the line as downloadable content.
CULTIC takes place in 1963 in the fictional county of New Grandewel. A serious of mysterious kidnappings and murders have taken the eerie locale like the plague. You play as a now-disgraced detective that was in charge of the investigation. Like any classic vigilante cop, you decide to take the law into your own hands. Unfortunately for you, it does not end well and you find yourself awake in a mass grave of rotting carcass, human and otherwise. If our detective could speak, I’m pretty sure he’d say something like “I live…again’ before going on a murderous rampage.
CULTIC wears its inspirations on its robes. The suspenseful story, eerie lore notes, brooding atmosphere and the overall tone of looming dread with a pinch of dark humor pays homage to classic horror media, literature, and of course, horror-themed video games the likes of Blood, Splatterhouse, Resident Evil, Condemned and DUSK. The only thing that’s missing is a snarky protagonist. I know it’d have been very much on the nose, but I’d have loved to see a specific badass do the voice of the main character. The silent PC does add to the immersion but I definitely would have connected with him more if he had more of a personality.
Smell of Dynamite in the Morning
Amidst an ocean of old-school inspired first person shooters, CULTIC stands different as a game that’s filled with nostalgia but retains the modern sensibilities of a shooter. From the outside, CULTIC is similar to any other bazillion boomer shooters released between 2017 and 2022. Lots of guns, explosions, voxels, gibbing, all presented in pixelated glory. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. CULTIC is not a Blood imitator and it’s not just a Blood successor. After blasting through the 10 level chapter 1, I can confidently say that CULTIC stands tall in it’s own league.
CULTIC puts the player in extremely detailed maps filled with items to interact with, secrets to find and a shitload of cultists to kill. While the core gameplay is of the tried and true variety, it’s the little things that make all the difference. First and foremost, the most important aspect of an FPS, i.e, the gunplay is solid here. You get a nice selection of cool guns such as the Mauser handgun, the overpowered lever-action rifle, Sten SMG, the 90s signature sawed off, an FG 42/II sniper rifle, flame thrower, and even a prototype China Lake pump-action grenade launcher. All of the guns feel crunchy, pack a punch and features secondary, and in some cases, tertiary modes of fire. Similar to modern shooters, most of the guns can be upgraded by finding weapon parts to make them more powerful than they already are. Then there are the non-firearms like the hatchet that can be swung, charge-swung and thrown, the Blood-inspired dynamite and molotov cocktails, the latter two you can combine to make the mighty Cluster Firebomb.
The excellent gunplay is complemented by the spectacular audio-visual feedback and a wide selection of enemies to try out those guns on. Headshots are rewarded by crunchy sounds of brains popping that can even trigger slow motion and explosions are a glorious mess of pixels and gore. Hell, you can even use eyeballs as projectiles against cultists. There’s even an achievement for doing so! Aside from all of these, the player can perform stuff like dodging, sliding, mid-air kicks, using dynamites as custom mines, catch hatchets thrown at you, throw lanterns and chairs at enemies, and even set up creative traps if you’re of the imaginative kind. Aside from some cramped spaces, a lot of the levels in CULTIC encourage such creative playstyle. The level design, while not as memorable as its inspiration, is still pretty damn impressive for a single dev. Each level feel unique and resemble late 90s FPS map design where maps are divided into loops of linear pathways that lead to wide, open environments. Jason Smith has put in a lot of care and love into making sure that each section of the map feel interesting design-wise. It’s these little things that make CULTIC stand out amidst a wave of formulaic Boomer Shooters.
CHONKY & CRUNCHY
Similar to most of its brethren, CULTIC also goes for a highly pixelated Build Engine aesthetic using a mix of polygons and voxels. I don’t know if it’s just me but I remember the art design being a bit too muddled on the demo and that it was hard to make stuff out. The final release looks a lot cleaner and there are some options you can fiddle around for a less grainy look. Some may find the art style a bit too strong for their tastes and that’s ok. For me, the art style played a big role in simulating the morbid, macabre atmosphere. The game runs amazing on my main system with an RTX 3070 as expected but runs like crap on my work laptop with i3 11the gen and an integrated Intel UHD GPU.
Since I’m no expert, I don’t dare comment on the quality of the soundtrack. All I can say is that I really dug the tunes found the whole thing quite befitting of the game. I might have even bought it separately if there was an option to do so! Really solid stuff right here.
CULTIC: Chapter One, with its horror themes, retro art design, beefy gunplay and well-designed levels is hands down the best old-school inspired shooter released this year. There is so little to complain about the game that are not on a technical level. It’s crafted with so much love and care that it’s easy to envision CULTIC becoming one of the, if not, the best throwback FPS ever made by the time all the chapters are released. Kudos also goes to the publisher for launching the game with a fair regional pricing.
FINAL RATING: ESSENTIAL