Doom is back! Well, I don’t exactly mean the franchise because it’s been back for several years now and arguably never left. I suggest the “spirit” of that game, which inspired dozens of similar games during the 1990s, some of which became classics in their own right. In recent years, titles like Ion Fury, Amid Evil, and Dusk brought back all the aesthetic and playable elements of the so-called ‘Doom clones.’ This review will look at another game that continues that tradition: Cultic.
Connoisseurs will say that this is a clone of Blood, another of the great exponents of the genre and the era, rather than a Doom clone. They are not wrong. After looking at the trailer for the new game, I see many elements that remind us of Monolith’s classic, from the enemy cultists to the TNT I use against them. But don’t think its similarities to past experiences – and some more recent ones we’ll talk about later – mean that Cultic doesn’t have a personality of its own.
The game’s story takes place at an unspecified time in the mid-20th century. A detective investigating a series of disappearances finds clues linking them to a religious cult when he is suddenly relieved of the investigation. Unable to leave it at that, he decides to continue investigating the cult himself. When he follows the cult’s trail to an abandoned asylum, he becomes embroiled in a new horror story.
|Platform||PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam|
|Special Feature||old-school-inspired shooter|
Low-res, low-poly horror
Cultic’s visual style and palette are carefully designed to take us on a journey back in time to an era of EGA graphics and computers that weren’t capable of putting too many simultaneous colors on screen. Like Doom and most of its ‘clones,’ the enemies and objects I take on are nothing more than bitmaps, but the environments are fully three-dimensional.
I love retro aesthetics, and this game’s aesthetic fascinated us from the very first moment. I know this is something that has been repeated ad nauseam. Still, the low level of detail means that the violence and terrifying stories must be complemented by our imagination, which always gives a work a unique charm. This title has a relatively high level of violence, including exploding heads and pits full of corpses. The low resolution may make it less repulsive, but it also makes it more unreal and fascinating.
Initially, I am only confronted by color-coded cultists that indicate whether they carry axes, guns, or larger caliber firearms. Still, as I progress through the mines, villages, and catacombs of Cultic, I am confronted by greater horrors that take the plot in a supernatural direction.
Once upon a time, there was a cult…
In the era’s games that inspired this title – such as Doom, Blood, and Duke Nukem 3D – the plot was not a high priority. The excuse for the adventures of their protagonists was usually described briefly in the manuals and rarely had any relevance to the development itself or the mechanics. It is clear that Cultic’s developer also considers the story to be secondary to gameplay and aesthetics in his title. Fortunately, he did not leave it aside, and I can find out what is going on while playing, even if it is entirely optional.
A few paragraphs above, I described the game’s basic concept, narrated in a cinematic sequence at the start of the game. I must search for documents and typewriters by exploring the 10 levels to get more depth. There’s also a lot that can be intuited from the straightforward environmental narrative of the environments. It’s not a particularly deep story, but I appreciate its context. I understand the context it provides us.
While Cultic is a complete game that will keep us entertained for about eight hours – depending on the difficulty and how much you explore – its story doesn’t end there. This is just the first chapter. Developer Jason Smith and 3D Realms have already promised Cultic: Chapter Two.
But does it merit playing another one of these titles?
Doom, Blood, and other titles in the same genre could be chaotic. They were very fast-paced games, with intense gunfights where you could lose all your health in less than a second. Cultic is a bit of a departure from that style. The combat levels are much better designed and offer more strategic options. When bullets start flying and explosions ring out, we’re going to find ourselves running from place to place and full of adrenaline, but it doesn’t feel as ‘cheaty’ as Blood, and its conveniently hidden enemies could be.
In addition to the pistol, shotgun, machine gun, and other period-appropriate weapons, I have tools such as TNT cartridges and Molotov cocktails. These and their “alternate firing options” allow for different approaches to engagements, and I can take out many from afar or before enemies see us. Stealth is, surprisingly, a good option for avoiding combat or getting a head start. I can also grab barrels, chairs, and other objects and throw them to distract or attack.
After spending several hours in this world, Cultic stopped reminding us of Doom clones and became more and more like another, much more recent classic: Resident Evil 4. Even graphically, although they don’t have the same graphic quality, they share the same tone, atmosphere, and color scheme. The rhythm of the battles is also surprisingly similar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith -consciously or not- was basing it on Capcom’s game. Even the survival mode is somewhat reminiscent of Mercenaries mode.
Throughout the game, I can also find ‘workbenches’ where I can upgrade our weapons. However, this mechanic ends up feeling like ‘filler.’
Worshipping the past
Cultic is an entertaining game, but it has a big problem. None of the elements we’ve talked about positively are new. Nor is it the best exponent of them. We’ve seen a lot of games like this in the indie gaming scene, and from the recent Realms Deep 2022 presentation, there are plenty more on the way that looks a lot like it.
The supply of retro-style first-person shooters is quickly becoming saturated. Some compare them to the roguelike boom of the last five years. Cultic is a perfect game, fun and intense, that will entertain for several hours those looking to relive the experience of gamers 25 years ago or those who want to experience it for the first time. But there are so many like it that it may go unnoticed, even if it has elements to stand out.
Does it? I have my doubts about that. What it does it does very well, but it is not the first and will not be the last to do it well. Besides, it should be remembered that Blood already had a remastering a few years ago.
Cultic VerdictCultic Verdict
Storyline90/100 AmazingDeath is only the beginning. Crawl from your grave and gear up to fight your way through the ranks of a mysterious and twisted cult. You, your guns, and your dynamite will have to shoot, slide, blast, duck, dodge, and maybe throw a gib or two to survive in this old-school-inspired shooter.
Graphics / Design100/100 The bestNice 8-bit graphics.
In-app purchases100/100 The bestNo purchases. One can Download CULTIC Demo for free.
Controls70/100 GoodMouse controls is a plus, but a bit complicated overall.
- Attractive and nostalgic retro aesthetic
- Excellent level design
- Good mix of combat and exploration
- Not in English
- The narrative leaves a lot to be desired
- The objectives of each level are not always clear