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Cultist Simulator (PC) artwork

Cultist Simulator (PC) review

"Cards against Cthulhu "

Sometimes, I just give up and go a little mad. Thereís nothing wrong with that; we all crave a way to escape the harsh realities of life, so why not find a few like-minded sociopaths and join the gibbering legions of the insane? Only, that lacks the prestige I feel a bubbling irrationality on the scale of mine should command. Iím not your run-of-the-mill madman; you wonít see me accusing Her Majestyís finest of secretly being well-disguised lizard people, or tell people, at length, about the ravenous dog-lemon hybrids that lurk in dampest sewers. Iím not stupid; Iím just not particularly sane. I want to peel back the veneer of the world to peek at the writhing shadows and grin knowingly at the atrocities then lain bare. I want to stare, long and hard, into the void and then mockingly bellow crude untruths about its motherís sexual activities when it undoubtedly blinks first. Most importantly, itís spectacularly important that my broken brilliance isnít forever kept a closely guarded secret, discussed exclusively between myself and the voices in my head who tell me to burn things. Itís too large and grand a thing to hide. The burden must be shared.

ďYou should form a cultĒ, the wisest loudest of the voices casually mentioned one day. So, I put the petrol canister away (because, letís face it, I can do that anytime. Itís forest fire season, after all), and decided to do just that.

To that end, Cultist Simulator presents perhaps the least imaginative but most accurately named game Iíll write about today. Itís the 1920ís, a very decadent time for cult-like cultism, and you have the chance to build your chittering empire of insanity from the very ground up. It wonít be easy; all that communing with dead gods and sacrificing nonbelievers tends to be frowned upon by the unimaginative everyman. Youíll need for many things; meeting places, a dedicated following, financial backing, sharp minds to unravel ancient texts, thugs to do away with the simple threats and influence to deal with the more complex. Youíll have it all, and lose it all when your mind finally breaks, or your body canít keep up, or youíre betrayed from within, or youíre discovered by the police, or you run out of money and starve. And youíll do it all with just a deck of cards.

So. You start off small.

Thereís only one card to begin with. An exciting little chap called Ďmenial employment'. Your options are limited to placing this solitary card into the solitary stack marked Ďworkí. Now you have a job and all the perks that come with it, like wages, dissatisfaction and mounting resentment. But in playing this lone card, you start a train of events that might well have you exploring unknown realms, conversing with the stars themselves or commanding unimaginable power. Probably not, though. Youíll probably just get arrested or die. You lack clarity.

Cultist Simulator is very much a trial and error game. As you progress, you find yourself awash with new cards and new stacks in which to place them. You can toil away as a labourer; it certainly lends an air of anonymity to the period cultist of yesteryear, or you can try to improve your station. You court madness as a hobby; why not channel that into horrendous paintings someoneís probably pretentious enough to buy? Youíll be an untalented hack to begin with, but it might help shepherd all those dark thoughts you keep having into something profitable. Or be boringly ordinary and apply to be a clerk at a nearby store. But that supervisor keeps forcing overtime upon you, and how are you supposed to take council with disembodied whispers when you barely have enough time to sleep? Something will have to be done about him. Only youíll have to be careful; you already have a weary police officer disinterestedly following your case. It would be foolhardy to give him reason to further his inquiries.

Other problems persist; perhaps you find yourself prone to illness; if you donít have enough health cards available to correct that, perhaps youíll die. Youíll need to invest time and effort into your dreams in the hopes of igniting inspiration or catching the attention of something that shouldnít exist. But playing with such forces before you are ready can break whatever flimsy reserve of sanity you have, or throw you sobbing into a spiral of suicidal despair. So probably donít do that. Grind away at the foundations. Carefully, cautiously, seek out like-minded folk to share the burden with. Make connections to the seedy underbelly of the town; never hurts to have the option of a heavy or two when things start to get a little real. Obtain forgotten literature. Learn how to read it. Uncover a secret so awful that you gouge out your own eyes. Start again.

You slowly crawl towards success by exploring your options, by building a million small victories on the backs of every crushing defeat. And thereís a million ways to lose; putting effort into furthering your career seems like a good plan initially. As an underling, you stand at the beck and call of your superiors, but if youíre a supervisor yourself, then who watches the watchers? Only itís deceptively easy to get too invested in the charade and slip into the ordinary life of a pedestrian without even noticing it until youíve finished paying your mortgage and have married Kate from accounting. Start again. Or, sometimes, one aspect of your life will advance too quickly, and the rest is unable to keep up. Maybe youíve grasped the musings of the mad gods and youíve found a powerful influencer. He has big plans for your cult, but before he starts, he demands a sacrifice. Only youíve not gotten around to collecting any followers yet. So itís your blood used to grease the cogs of chaos. Start again.

Your journey grinds on, plagued with the same beginnings, but unique in their dreadful outcomes. Your failures, both mundane and fantastical, entwine into awful knowledge you might have been happier having never known. Slowly, you have learnt a terrible balancing act; you know how to keep yourself fed and clothed, youíve learnt how to foster a false bubble of normality so the foolish outside world thinks of you as nothing but ordinary. But you also know which hands to shake, which smiles to return, which abandoned buildings to infest. Little by little, youíre that much closer to kicking at the pillars of the universe. You may not be too pleased with what that can often dredge up.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 18, 2019)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted July 18, 2019:

What a weird premise for a game. Your intro covers it well, but then your review feels a bit tougher to read than your usual works. I'm not sure why. Surely the subject matter doesn't help, but there's perhaps a bit less flow than usual towards the middle of the piece.

Thankfully, when you get into the 'start again' motif in the last third of the review, you're back in top form, culminating in a very well written final paragraph which sums things up rather nicely.

Check on this sentence:

"Itís the 1920ís, a very decedent time for cult-like cultism"

Anyway, good job covering more strangeness. That's generally your M.O. though, isn't it?
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EmP posted July 19, 2019:

One day, I'll review a nice, easy game. It's been a while! Maybe my hesitant returns to AAA gaming will assist that. one day you'll review anything at all!

This is a weird game which was a bit difficult to get down in words, but I figured I'd give it a go. Thanks for the catches, and cheers for reading! Onto the next oddity.

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