I spent some time with Early Access FPS The Culling, which takes sixteen players and drops them in an arena where they scrouge for crafting supplies, craft and find weapons, and whomp each other to death as a dome of poison gas slowly closes around them. It’s a standalone battle royale game, in other words, and a fun and promising one at that.
You begin with a fairly limited character creation screen, select some perks that increase your damage with bladed weapons, allow you to slowly heal from injuries, and so on, and choose what types of weapons you’d like to find in your airdrops. Then you’re unleashed in the outdoor arena that contains hills, trees, and a few buildings. As the 25 minute timer runs down, players begin killing each other while scavenging for crafting supplies, healing items, and weapons. They also gather F.U.N.C., a currency earned by killing players or scavenging, which can be spent on health dispensing machines or to unlock crates, or to call in your supply drops.
Dubious as I was about crafting in a Last Man Standing game, I think The Culling does a good job with it. It’s relatively simple: pick up a rock and use it with another rock, and you’ll have a stone dagger. Throw in a stick and you can make an axe. Keep adding to it and you’ll soon have a spear or a bow. Need a bandage? Shave some bark off a tree. Holding one resource while targeting another will tell you what the resulting item will be, making it easy to learn what goes with what.
The added touch here is that the crafting feels good. Rather than just hearing some vague crafting sounds and watching a timer, you can actually see the sticks or stones in your hands as you struggle to shape them into a weapon or item. Crafting the same things in match after match has the potential to becoming boring quickly, so at least they’ve done a bit to spice it up.
I’m hoping the melee combat will be goosed to be a bit more satisfying. It’s fun and frantic, but it’s currently kinda messy. You can shove opponents to knock them off balance and stagger them with a good block, but the hacking and slashing is sloppy and the feedback when you land a blow or get struck isn’t great. Hopefully it’ll be tightened up while it’s in Early Access.
You can throw weapons as well, like spears, axes, and grenades. The only ranged weapon I used was my crafted bow, which felt good—plus I got to see my opponent’s body fill up with my arrows before I ran out of ammo. (I even threw my bow at him, though that was an accident.) You start with room for only three weapons or items, but if you find a backpack you can add an additional two slots.
You can also build traps, like punji-stick snares, though I never managed to trap anyone, mainly because there are only sixteen players and their numbers get quickly whittled down. Poison gas traps scattered around can also be activated, and late-game supply crates may explode rather than give you weapons, adding in a little gamble to the proceedings.
There’s an energetic V.O. host making various announcements about who has just been killed and how, and informing everyone when airdrops are inbound. He also voices the healing machines. (“Have you been injured in your toilet area?”) After a few rounds you’ll start hearing the same quotes repeated, but I still enjoy the commentator’s relentlessly peppy attitude. There also a few smart design decisions. Want to check out the leaderboard to see how you’re doing and who’s left? Just look up: it’s projected on the side of the dome so you don’t need to toggle a menu.
As tense and relentless as the action can feel at times, there are also great stretches of quiet moments. After a handfuls of players have met the nasty end of a spear or been pummeled to death with bare fists in the opening minutes, the remaining gladiators can take quite a while to come in contact with each other. I spent a lot of time in my best match (I placed 3rd) simply scavenging, swapping out crude weapons for finer ones, and lurking near health dispensers hoping to hear someone stumble into my snares.
Unfortunately for me, another player spent his time finding a gun, presumably from an airdrop. Gun beats bow, obviously. Though I lost the match, I still unlocked a random cosmetic item for doing well overall.
In its current state The Culling is fun and fairly inexpensive ($15/£10 on Steam), and it’s easy to see why it instantly became a Steam top seller and a popular show on Twitch. The melee definitely needs some tightening, and I think the rounds are perhaps a bit too long at 25 minutes. You need time, obviously, to scrounge and craft, but the final 10 minutes of the matches I played (and then spectated after death) were a little long as the remaining players took their sweet time meeting in the middle of the arena for the final showdown.