Cultist Simulator, as you can guess from the name, is an indie game designed to simulate creating and running a cult, which was released by Weather Factory on 31st May 2018. This is all I knew when I opened the game for the first time to live-tweet a playthrough. It’s been two weeks since then and I have somehow logged another 60 hours. Cultist Simulator is a truly brilliant, and incredibly complex, game!

The biggest flaw I could argue there is within the game is purely how complex it is – and that it makes no attempt to hold your hand. For this reason, I’d advise against going into the game knowing as little as I did – you will enjoy the game much more if you go into the game with at least a vague idea of what the gameplay pattern is and how to progress towards victory. However, the complexity of this game is also its strongest feature. Cultist Simulator is a real passion project from Weather Factory, which is evident in the attention to detail and sheer depth available – after 62 hours I don’t think I’m anywhere close to scratching the surface of what this game has to offer, and I’ve certainly not managed to beat the game yet (though I’d like to think I’ve been close). Not to mention that the game is still being tweaked and in the process of having additional content added – the creators can’t seem to get enough of it either!

The atmosphere in the game is perfect – the aesthetics and soundtrack combine beautifully to create a strong sense of immersion. The music reminds me a surprising amount of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds album, if that album were to be transposed to be about the occult rather than the alien. I have found myself a couple of times dawdling on the title screen for 15-20 minutes at a time before actually starting a run of the game so I can listen to the music without the gameplay loop drawing my attention. When you consider that all storytelling & advancement is done purely via text, it is incredible that the game has an atmosphere at all, let alone one that seems to perfectly conjure up its Lovecraftian inspirations.

The gameplay itself looks rather simple – you have four main resources you need to manage, including your money; going broke will cause you to fall ill or die. The more different actions you try, the more ‘cards’ you’ll have to experiment with. These cards can represent anything from places, to occult objects, to members of your cult, or even the police detective trying desperately to find the right evidence to shut down your cult. You’d be forgiven for thinking the gameplay was simplistic at first: click on a ‘box’ labelled something like work, give it a card that it would make sense to do work with, wait a short period of time and be told what the outcome was. Even this system is much more complex than it appears to begin with – different card combinations can massively change your outcomes, and some events occur part way through the duration, allowing you to add other cards into the box as well and so alter the result.

I cannot overstate how much I recommend this game – if any part of it at all seems like it may interest you, read up on it a little or watch a couple of YouTube videos before taking the plunge. I promise it’ll be worth your time. There is a quote from an anonymous fan on Weather Factory’s website that I rather like: “How to tell if you’re in an Alexis Kennedy story: There is no right choice. There is no wrong choice. There is only living with what you’ve done…” and Cultist Simulator once again embodies this feeling. (Alexis Kennedy is one of the two founding members of Weather Factory, alongside Lottie Bevan.)

If you are at all intrigued by the narratives weaved within this game, or the visuals, or in fact anything at all that this game has to offer (and you should be), then you will be thrilled to hear that not just one but both of the founding members of Weather Factory are coming to Imperial for a talk! Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan are two of our wonderful Guests of Honour for the 36th Picocon on the 16th of February, and considering the theme this year is ‘Intrigue’, it would be pure folly to miss their joint talk!

This talk and those of our three other Guests of Honour, each a fantastic science-fiction author, will take place on 16th in Blackett’s Lecture Theatre 1, as well as many other Intriguing (please forgive me, but I’ve been told I need to work more puns into our Picocon publicity) events – including the perennial Destruction of Dodgy Merchandise, which involves smashing odd bits of pop-culture with liquid nitrogen and a hammer. If any of these things interest you at all then please grab yourself a ticket from the Union store! I hope to see as many of you there on the day as possible.