Cultic Review – New Old School Triumph

Developed by Jasozz Games

Published by 3D Realms

Available on PC

MSRP $9.99

I have played a lot of boomer shooters. I mean, I’m not as prolific as someone like Civvie or GmanLives, but I still play a lot. Ever since David Szymanski dropped Dusk on the world, it seems like there’s been a sort of arms race to find the next big boomer shooter. A lot have tried, and a lot have failed. There seems to be a sweet spot between innovating and respecting what came before. It’s a difficult balancing act that a lot of games fail to master. I’m happy to report that Cultic pulls it off perfectly.

Cultic is a simple game. You wake up in a mass grave, and as repayment for this rough treatment of your still-living body, you’re gonna go wild on some cultists. The story is sparse, which is just fine, but not as sparse as other entries in the pantheon on boomer shooters. Letters found around the world add texture to your journey into madness and violence. Some are funny, some hint at deeper goings-on with the cult, and others just help build the wonderful world of Cultic. You will violence your way through an entire county seemingly taken over by this mysterious cult.

There are no shortage of interesting areas for you to explore. Secrets abound in every area, and they’re *gasp* actually fun to find. You won’t be wallhumping or engaging in over-complicated puzzles to discover secret areas. Almost all of these areas are found by having a curious mind and just exploring a bit. The levels are each fairly open, and you are consistently rewarded for hopping off the beaten path and looking into the small, hidden alcoves of the world. For example, in a mid-game level, you’ll come across a house with seemingly no way to enter. Through a bit of poking around, you’ll find there is one way to get in: the chimney. Cultic allows you to be violent Santa Claus, and that’s just great.

“He keeps talking about the violence”, you say to no one in particular, “but he hasn’t told us how we do violence”. That’s a fair point, random person I made up for the purpose of this review. I think a game like Cultic needs good violence. Thankfully, Cultic has good violence. Cultic shares a bit of DNA with Build Engine classic Blood, and that becomes ever more apparent with the range of weapons and styles of violence you can dish out. You start with an axe, whereas in Blood you start with a pitchfork -though you can find a pitchfork later, the main character remarks that it wouldn’t make a good weapon -. The axe remains a fairly fun weapon throughout the game but is easily outclassed by the pistol, shotgun, machine gun, scoped LG42, grenade launcher, flamethrower, molotov cocktail, and TNT.

There is a glut of weaponry in Cultic, and every single one of them is fun to use. A fairly robust upgrade system means that your guns stay fun to use until the final credits. I found myself actually favoring the lever-action rifle over the shotgun after I’d sunk some upgrades into it. Boomer shooters are often judged by their shotguns, but in Cultic, the shotgun shits comfortably on the same level as all the other weapons. Nothing is vastly better than anything else, and even if a gun feels underpowered, you can throw a couple of upgrades on it and notice an immediate and satisfying difference.

The guns of course are nothing without hordes of enemies to use them on, and thankfully, Cultic has you covered. Cultists abound in these cult-controlled places, and the biggest mistake they ever made was leaving you in a shallow grave. Headshots satisfyingly pop heads, shotgun blasts send enemies sprawling, and I found out later in the game that if you blow up an enemy’s head, you can grab one of their eyes and throw it at their friends. The simple physics system actually adds an unexpected layer to the combat. Instead of just shooting your way through a room full of enemies (absolutely an option) you can instead choose to open by throwing a chair

The physics system is actually very fun to goof with. Boxes can be stacked to get to secret areas, chairs can be thrown at enemies, and there’s even a cheeky interaction with a bar of soap. Being able to pick up almost everything adds a whole new level to combat. My favorite weapon in the game quickly became the lanterns found laying around the world. It’s a small hint or spoiler, but every single enemy in the game hates fire. I don’t know if this has been changed at all, since I played a reviewer build, but even the harder boss-type enemies went down easy to a thrown lantern.

A big thing that differentiates Cultic for me is the music. Most of these types of games go for a driving, hard metal soundtrack. Cultic doesn’t care for all of that. Instead of metal, Cultic is filled with spooky synths. The music feels like a Carpenter soundtrack on steroids. It kicks in during combat, dies down during exploration, and succeeds at being unobtrusive enough to not take your entire attention. It is the perfect soundtrack. It weaves into the fabric of the game, never standing out, but never far from your mind. Props to Jason Smith who did the soundtrack. Actually, Jason Smith did more than just the soundtrack. Every single aspect of the game was done by Smith. From animations to sound design, it was all Jason Smith.

In a gaming landscape absolutely sa40turated by boomer shooters, you have to be exceptionally innovative or do the classic stuff exceptionally well. Cultic is rare in the sense that it does both. It innovates while staying true to its roots. It dazzles with deep systems but comforts with old-school standards. It is an exceptional game, and well worth your time.