Cultic: Episode 1 (PC) Review

I live… again… AGAIN!
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In what’s become an incredibly crowded indie genre, with an increasingly high bar for quality, Cultic still impresses – even if it wears its inspiration proudly on its sleeve. The thematic elements, twitchy gunplay, enemies, firearms, and visual style all pay homage to 1997’s Blood – but Cultic has more modern elements like greater environmental interactivity, weapon upgrade mechanics, less maze-like levels, great gamepad support, and accessibility options. As a result, I spent half my playthrough wondering if Cultic would still stand out from the crowd without that nostalgic hook, the other impressed by the consistency and level of polish on display from solo developer Jasozz Games.

Cultic Asylum
A decent narrative… for those that want it

Cultic places you in the boots of a disgraced detective still desperately searching for a cult they believe responsible for a spate of kidnappings in the area. Ambushed on arrival at a supposedly abandoned rural asylum, they drag themselves out of a mass grave, grab a hatchet, and set off to track down the cult leaders while violently dispatching their deranged followers and anything else foolish enough to stand in their way. Now despite a stylish opening montage that reveals the extent of the cult’s actions, Cultic never forces narrative elements on you. How much you get out is entirely up to you.

If you’re just looking to reach the exit of each level with all secrets found and all cultists culled, Cultic still offers a satisfying sense of progression thanks to a decent range of environments, new weapon pick-ups, and increasingly deadly enemy variants that ramp up the challenge. On the other hand, if you read the scattered notes and keep an eye out for environmental storytelling, you can slowly unravel the fate of a small mining town infiltrated by cultists and better understand the source of the human, undead, and monstrous foes that oppose you. You’ll discover the fate of the former residents, the twisted experiments performed by the cult leaders, and the presence of an ancient power slumbering below ground. Now there’s nothing I’d consider novel, but there’s more depth to the narrative than you might expect in the genre.

Cultic Creatures
So many ways to draw blood

If your approach is narrative-be-damned, Cultic’s minute-to-minute gunplay doesn’t disappoint. As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, fans of retro-FPS will find it mechanically familiar – but it’s still smartly designed, polished to perfection, and wrapped in an audiovisual package that ensures a thick, oppressive atmosphere throughout interspersed with moments of exciting combat. The detective moves fast, can leap massive gaps, jumps twice their height, slips through tiny ducts and crevices with ease, and can dish out a solid kick to knock back enemies or send environmental objects flying. This degree of mobility is essential given the size of many environments and this ensures simply moving through each level or hunting for out-of-the-way secrets feels slick and satisfying. The only downsides are the glaringly obvious stage boundaries – another authentic element, I guess – and the ease with which you slide off slopes, narrow beams, and staircases (I recommend abusing quick-save/quick-load when platforming).

When it comes to the mid-20th century arsenal at your disposal, it sticks to a traditional layout: a hatchet in the first slot, pistol in the second, then a shotgun, machinegun, grenade launcher, a scoped rifle, flamethrower, and throwables. To Cultic‘s credit, combat encounters are varied enough to ensure they all remain situationally useful, while the weapon upgrade system adds even more damage or functionality to keep them relevant. By collecting boxes of weapon parts – most of which are hidden away as secrets – you can increase the damage and clip size of most weapons, but also modify projectiles and add secondary fire modes: think bust fire for the pistol, knock back for the shotgun, shrapnel rounds for the grande launcher, or a full-auto mode for the sniper rifle.

Cultic Weapon Upgrades

Now you could play Cultic as a straight-up shooter – bunny-hopping around to minimise damage and focus on upgrading the shotgun or machinegun to deal with mobs at close range – but there’s scope for variation and creativity. You could upgrade the stability of the pistol, add magnum rounds to the lever-action rifle, and fit a better scope to the sniper rifle to pop heads or hit weak spots from afar; or you could focus on luring cultists towards explosive barrels and lanterns to set them ablaze before mopping up the survivors. Although not particularly efficient, flinging a chair or even an eyeball can get the job done. The most likely scenario is you’ll experience a little of everything as Cultic does a decent job of mixing up the environments and combat scenarios throughout the episode, with higher difficulties swelling the size of mobs and making secret caches of ammunition and armour feel essential.

The first episode begins in gloomy forests and blood-soaked mining facilities, filled with hatchet- and firearm-wielding cultists but plenty of space to move. You then descend into labyrinthine mines and half-flooded crypts, taking on telekinetic ghosts, zombies, and skeletal warriors in tight spaces. You then fight back across the surface against better-armed cultists and finally raid the asylum, defeating mutated beasts and an ancient evil within. Most environments are designed around mobile, twitchy gunplay, but Cultic also includes some light platforming and puzzling, as well as several creepy set-pieces that typically have you explore initially quiet locations, slowly ramping up the tension, before everything inevitably goes to hell. In contrast to these skillfully-crafted scares, the two major “boss” fights are disappointing as they require little more than strafing back and forth around a stationary target, unloading your most powerful weapons while dodging projectiles and mobs.

Cultic Gore Time
Red-browns, green-browns, blue-browns, brown-browns….

Cultic’s presentation feels authentic in a way that older fans might love, some might enjoy it as part of the retro experience, whereas others might find eye-watering. Think of environments with low geometric complexity; flat and often misaligned textures; pixelated sprites for weapons, foilage, enemies, gore, and pick-ups; and so many shades of brown – emulating a limited 8-bit colour depth – that Cultic puts most cover-shooters from the Xbox 360- and PS3-era to shame. As an older gamer who enjoys authenticity, I was more impressed at how Cultic manages to effortlessly incorporate 3D voxel-like objects, modern lighting techniques, and destruction physics without breaking the illusion.

The audio is also top-notch, with a satisfying crack to gunfire, meaty bullet impacts, the tortured cries of deranged cultists or mutants, and a fantastic soundtrack that swings from oppressively moody to pumping high-tempo beats during mass firefights (my favourite: “The World Asunder”). At its best, I was constantly reminded of Jerry Lehr’s eclectic Project Warlock soundtrack. To ensure you appreciate the audiovisual experience to the fullest, landing a critical hit will sometimes trigger “gore time” – a sepia-tinged (i.e. even more brown) and sound-distorting slow-motion effect that lets you admire showers of gore while also providing a slight gameplay advantage as you line up the next headshot.

I live… again… AGAIN!

As a final point, I want to highlight Cultic‘s excellent gamepad support and accessibility options. You can freely tweak gamepad sensitivities, dead-zones, and auto-aim parameters but even the default settings hit that perfect sweet spot that makes you feel skilful rather than assisted – even if you subconsciously know your bullets are gravitating towards critical spots. Additionally, the accessibility options are excellent. You have fully remappable controls, the ability to reduce head bobbing and flashing effects, damage direction indicators, and even the ability to visualise sounds. It puts many other games – including those with much larger teams – to shame and deserves praise.

So with that said, I’d easily recommend Cultic as it’s fun and polished, albeit also traditional and possibly too brown. If you treat retro-inspired FPS as an occasional pleasure, Cultic ticks all the right boxes and the level of quality is high. If the genre is your bread and butter, Cultic still provides an enjoyable ride but you might find the lack of a fresh narrative premise or novel gameplay hook more of an issue.

A review code for Cultic was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Cultic: Episode 1 (PC) Review

Cultic: Episode 1 (PC) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    7/10 Good
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good

The Good

  • An intriguing narrative element if you want it
  • Slick movement, satisfyingly twitchy gunplay, and creative combat options
  • Large levels packed with secrets and a few scares
  • An authentic yet modernised visual style paired with a great soundtrack
  • Excellent gamepad support and accessibility features

The Bad

  • Underwhelming boss fights
  • Lacks a novel premise or unique gameplay mechanic
Total
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