This game is a royale mess.
It took three matches filled with endless running, picking up guns I wouldn’t end up shooting, and a whole lot of silence before I saw another living soul in The Culling 2. When I finally locked the scope of my SCAR rifle on another orange prison jumpsuit-clad contestant, I got my first kill. That is, after both of us flailed around unloading and reloading multiple clips at each other. My experience with The Culling 2, the latest battle royale game with an increasingly familiar loop, cycled back and forth between boredom and frustration, with an emphasis on the former. This shoddy H1Z1/PUBG clone brings nothing of value to the popular genre, and so many people have already caught onto that fact that you probably couldn’t play it if you tried.
The Culling 2 feels virtually unrelated to its predecessor, which entered early access in 2016 before officially launching just last October (Xaviant stopped development on it two months later). Whereas The Culling offered a different kind of battle royale experience — one with a melee-focus, a small map, and just 16 players — the sequel sadly abandons that flawed but unique framework. With a 50-person match size and a much larger map, The Culling 2 is more of a slow burn, a drastic change from the fast and chaotic gameplay of the original. The altered premise places The Culling 2 squarely in the camp of well-known battle royale contemporaries. To its detriment.
Before dropping in for the first time, two things were clear: the massive mechanical issues and ugly presentation. This was evident during the standard battle royale lobby playground in which you kill time while waiting for other competitors to join the game by running around a football stadium, picking up guns off tables, and harmlessly firing away at each other. I tried each class of weapon, from pistols to shotguns to semi-automatic and automatic rifles. Each one, without fail, felt as unwieldy as the last. Whether you fire from your hip or aim down the sight, shooting is imprecise because of a harsh and unpredictable recoil. While this may be realistic, clunky controls for both moving and aiming make for arduous combat. It doesn’t help that your avatar moves less like a person than it does like a robot with a malfunctioning CPU. Dated and muddy-looking graphics and a framerate that commonly chugs when near other players further add to the presentational woes on Xbox One.
I thought maybe the performance issues were a result of the servers adding new players into a match, but that benefit of the doubt quickly disappeared when I made my first descent from the helicopter. Like Fortnite, the flight path is randomized and you can choose when to start your descent. But here, the moment right before hitting the ground and getting going isn’t seamless. Instead, there’s a disorienting frame skip transition screen that can, on occasion, face you in a different direction than you were facing when you landed. Although only a minor annoyance, this oddity sets the tone for the cumbersome nature of each match.
You come into each game with an empty backpack capable of holding four weapons and four slots for items such as weapon attachments, status modifiers, and bandages. You also have three pre-selected perks that can do things like increase melee damage or reduce recoil for certain weapons. Perks would be a neat addition if powerful weapons or items were hard to come by, but everything is available in excess. All but a couple of buildings I entered across the map had at least a weapon or two, often more. Within the first few minutes on the ground, I always had a full backpack, along with body armor and a helmet. I appreciated this at first for the relative speed at which it got me ready for action, but soon realized the map layout and sheer bounty of supplies all but eliminated strategy in the early going. Not having to move far to fill out your backpack removes the need for thought-out exploration.
The map is far too large for its own good, and bland to boot.
The map is far too large for its own good, and bland to boot. Pockets of commercial buildings and houses are separated by vast stretches of tall grass, trees, rivers, and barren plains. It’s sprawling enough to provide elbow room to 100 (like PUBG) or even 150 (like H1Z1) players. Of course, that means it’s simply not an ideal playing field for 50 players. It takes far too long to even hear another player unless you purposely parachute down alongside someone — which I started doing after numerous tedious matches. Further adding to this problem: I never played with any more than 30 players and routinely hopped in with 20 or less for lack of people joining. Also, most of the map is relatively flat, which artificially inflates its already confounding size. With so much flat, open space to cover, it’s extremely frustrating that none of the cars you find can be driven.
All told, the excitement of each match doesn’t really begin until the third or fourth gas phase, as the toxic fumes that shrink the playable area into progressively smaller circles gradually eliminate the oversized map problem. A game show announcer gleefully and annoyingly announces each phase, in what is almost always the first outside noise you hear besides your own footsteps. But by then, I had usually already picked up multiple bandages and medkits, and the gas is so forgiving that I could be a minute’s jog away from safety and still escape with near-full health, which hurts the overall stakes of moving with purpose. By the time the map constricts to a reasonable size, few players have died and everyone has already amassed an arsenal in their readily available expanded backpacks. This begs the question: Why not simply start each match in a smaller zone to eliminate the unnecessary slog of the first 10 minutes?
The Culling 2 has some of the worst gunplay in any modern game I’ve played.
When the action finally does get underway the combat mechanics and clumsy controls ruin the tension that’s supposed to exist in the late-game stages of a battle royale. When I finally spotted another player sneaking through some weeds it was a process just to ready my sights on them. Movement is already awkward enough when walking in and out of small rooms in houses, but it’s a whole different animal when faced with a do-or-die situation. Aiming is stilted and reacts imprecisely. You’ll move your scope to the right and it’ll go too far after you’ve let go. Once you fire a shot the recoil messes with your aim, causing the fumbling dance to start over again. Rarely did firefights go smoothly for either myself or my opponent. We’d routinely manually reload multiple times and try again. Besides a slash of grainy blood that streaks across the air, it’s hard to tell that you’re hitting anything, making it feel like you’re firing a high-powered air gun. It’s not an overstatement to say The Culling 2 has some of the worst gunplay in any modern game I’ve played.
Melee combat is just as unsatisfying and not improved from the original. Machete slashes and swings of a baseball bat don’t so much strike bodies as flail about the air. Again, the slash of blood tells you when you make contact, but it never quite feels like you’re hitting anything solid.
Sound is important in any battle royale – or at least it should be. Here, though, even with headphones on, I found it hard to detect the direction and proximity of footsteps and gunfire. Adding to that, on many occasions when I looked around to see if the noise was near the pop-in effect of graphics loading duped me into thinking I saw another player when really it was just the environment coming together.
Each match you put yourself through adds experience points and increases your level, but none of it really matters. As you level up, you get crates filled with weapon skins, clothing items, and Culling Cards — character banners that appear with your username. The variety of outfits and weapon skins is robust, but these goodies don’t provide nearly enough incentive to keep playing a bad game. Also, it’s hard to tell how match experience is calculated, but I was mis-ranked in more than a handful of matches. After I finished fifth and it said I finished ninth, I thought I was crazy. But then it happened again and again — a rather fitting culmination for this unpolished and unenjoyable mess.
As I’ve yet to join a solo match with a full 50 players, the prospects for the other variants — duo, squad, uneven squad, and uneven duo — are far more dire. I once joined a duo match with a total of two teams, which, as you can imagine, wasn’t fun. It’s also strange that the “uneven” variants are even allowed, especially uneven duos. Uneven squads eliminates the chance for random teammates, which makes sense, but uneven duos places you, a solo player, up against a duo. I’m not sure why it’s a feature, though I wasn’t able to find an uneven duo match anyway.