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Throwback shooters have become a genre of their own at this point, and that’s not a bad thing. They recapture specific eras within gaming that help remind us of the creativity of early game developers. At Realms Deep 2021 we saw over 150 games, many of them being throwback shooters in some form or another, but the one that stood out to me the most was JasozzGamesBlood-inspired shooter, Cultic. I immediately downloaded the demo, blasted through it, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.

An Intriguing Premise

One thing that caught me off guard with Cultic was its emphasis on the story. The demo opens on a cutscene with newspaper clippings, hinting at the cult’s murder spree being investigated by a disgraced police officer (the player character). It then appears that you are killed by the cultists, but reawaken in a pile of bodies ready to seek revenge. The narrative is somewhat hidden from this point on, with the player being able to interact with certain things in the environment and learn a little more about the cult’s activities. I also really enjoyed the silent protagonist aspect and personally hope this stays, as I feel that a wisecracking protagonist might spoil the mood a little. I’m very interested to see where the narrative goes in the full game.

The opening hints at a larger narrative. Source: Screen capture – Christopher Clawson

Something Old and Something New

What sticks out to me most about Cultic is the seamless blending of new and old mechanics. A good example would be the interactivity of the environments which is a staple of games like Duke Nukem and Blood, and in Cultic it’s taken to the next level with the game’s physics system, courtesy of the Unity engine, allowing you to do things like toss chairs at enemies. The game’s visuals are also a unique blend of Build engine-style sprites for weapons and enemies, combined with more modern visual elements like 3D models and lighting.

The game’s combat also feels very much like an amalgamation of old and new first-person shooters with a weapon line-up very similar to Blood – the sawed-off shotgun and dynamite seem obvious homages. The weapons of the game feel very meaty (although the lever-action could do with some beefier sounds), with headshots causing gloriously gory explosions, or dynamite annihilating an entire cluster of enemies. I also enjoyed some of the more modern additions to the shooting like reloading, which adds some great tension when facing a group of enemies. Other fun mechanics include the ability to slide or kick down doors and enemies.

Boom, headshot! – Source: Screen capture – Christopher Clawson

The game’s level design is also an area where we see a nice balance of new and old, with very detailed and moodily lit environments that still hold all the fun secrets you’d expect from a 90s shooter. Hidden weapons, items – there’s even a grenade launcher in the demo if you know where to look.

Surprising Tone

The tone of Cultic surprised me with how dark and gritty it was willing to go. The game opens with you amongst a pile of rotten and dismembered corpses, a foreboding score looming in the background. The cultists have a very ghoulish appearance, perhaps hinting at some kind of possession or corruption. This sombre tone is consistent throughout with no signs of levity to ease the tension, something I really appreciated and helped fully immerse me in the game’s world. There was even a segment towards the end that genuinely unnerved me and made me jump, highlighting that tone can be more effective than flashy visuals. The game definitely has a very ominous mood that feels more horror than the games it’s inspired by. If the end of the demo is an indication that the full game will feature more disturbing enemies alongside the gun-toting cultists, then I’m very excited to see where the blending of unsettling horror and 90s action will go in the game’s full release.

The game has an almost Halloween feel. Source: Screen capture – Christopher Clawson

Try it Now!

Cultic wears its influences on its sleeve. The impact of titles like Blood and the Build engine era are felt throughout this short demo, but what shines, even more, is its originality. I’m completely invested in this dark and horrific world that Jason Smith has crafted. In just this short 30-minute demo, I’m completely sold on the title’s potential.

I absolutely recommend that any shooter fan go and try Cultic‘s demo as soon as possible! It’s an absolute blast, and I’m excited to see what creator Jason Smith has in store for us in the full release.

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