The key art for Cultist Simulator has popped up in my social media’s feeds at least dozens of times. But for some reason, perhaps due of fear for the horrors that the game hides, I never got actually sit down and investigate what was it all about. Now, a week after my “first” discovery, I feel like I’m not going to be able to escape.
It starts in a simple way: you’re given the choice to select your profession, write down your name and get your first card. Everything in Cultist Simulator happens on a table board, the perfect place for its card-based gameplay. All that happens narrative wise, from the story bits to encounters, progression and activities are tied to nothing more than the table and your cards.
Passion, funds, a collection of essays, health, notes on a possible collaborator, a locksmith’s secret, books, rites, sacrifices, warnings, letters, disease. Cards are your tools, your weapons and defenses against your inner demons and those who oppose to your cause. But worry not, as not everything is left to imagination. The art is both outstanding and detailed enough to spark a thought in our mind, slowly absorbing the player into the experience.
Also, following the influence of the creator’s past projects, Cultist Simulator is a text-heavy game, with descriptions for pretty much everything that appears and happens in your table. The effects of studying an unknown book, the feeling after getting a promotion or the disciples you get to know, thinking how you can use them for the cult’s personal gain. These descriptions help to get you into this fictional, Lovecraftian world set in the 1920s. The same that you are trying to tear apart.
Being the villain in video games is not something new (I really miss playing Overlord and Stubbs The Zombie) but I have never seen a game this complex in terms of a narrative progression based solely on your decisions. The way you use the knowledge acquired from books, how you interact with the people around you and the impact you make in society are always varied and different from each player’s point of view.
Seeing a few screenshots of Cultist Simulator doesn’t do enough justice. For me, the game clicked when I watched a gameplay. Once you start a new run, the clock automatically starts ticking. All activities are time limited, which at the beginning serve only as an element to get things going. You go to work, you use funds to buy a book and the start to study it on your spare time. But then a disease may arrive, or your life might be threaten by starvation. That’s when time takes a different shape.
And please, don’t even get me started on the complexity of all the cults and arts that you can get to know in the game. Below is an image about this that I’m yet to decipher.
Cultist Simulator went through a successful Kickstarter campaign that ended on October 1st, raising £82,033 in a month with close to 5,000 backers. The devs, perhaps without realizing it, created this “cult” around the game, waiting for the next update to see how the development is going. While we still have to wait until May 31th to play it, there are tons of blog spots with information about the project in the official site.
The game is being developed by Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan, founders of the studio, along with a number of associates: Martin Nerurkar (UX and additional coding), Catherine Unger (original art direction), Clockwork Cuckoo (icon production), Sarah Gordon (card illustration) and Maribeth Solomon (music).