They all claim that they have the answer, when they don’t even know the question
Reviewed on the computer, via Steam.
The occult, eh? Daft upside down crosses and pentagrams and that. I love me some the occult. So when I saw Cult of the Lamb pop up on my Steam recommendations, I was very much interested. Form my own the occult cult, lead them to gloriously spooky wrongdoings, knock about with demons and kick some gods’ stupid faces off? Sign me up. I was enthusiastic about this one.
It’s a roguelikelite game, with sort-of-top-down-but-a-bit-front-on combat. Think Binding of Isaac’s viewpoint. Rather than Isaac’s shooty gameplay, though, it borrows heavily from Dead Cells and Hades, giving you two randomly selected weapons—one melee, one (limited) projectile—at the beginning of each run. This sounds great, right? Isaac and Hades are superb games, so putting them up a tree together and forcing them to kiss each other’s beautiful, bloodstained faces can only be a good thing, right? Right?
Er, no. Maybe. Er.
See, Lamb has a trick up its sleeve. It’s not simply a tight, focused combat roguelike like Dead Cells. It has an entire other half, a resource-gathering colony management game. See, it’s not enough that you duff up sods and recruit followers—you have to actively look after them, attending to their food-based needs (at both anatomical ends), building and maintaining their shelters, and ministering to their spiritual malaises. This is… well. I’m not a fan of colony management at the best of times, and especially not when it’s as half-arsed as this. I just want to kill things.
At least, when killing things is good. This… is okay. It has the same fundamental core loop as a lot of other combat roguelikeishlites—hit a sod, roll through attacks, fire off a ranged thing, repeat. But it’s just unsatisfying enough to be frustrating. Enemy attacks are telegraphed through that enemy glowing white, which is a fine enough way to alert a player, except that the perspective means enemies are often obscured by tall grass. On top of this, powerful enemies cause apocalyptic amounts of screen shaking (though this can be thankfully reduced in an accessibility menu), which honestly sometimes makes it difficult to orient yourself. There are few audio cues—enemies make noise while they’re attacking, not prior, making this a game that refuses to let you enter the ‘zone’ in any real sense. Even being hit lacks feedback, making a slightly odd noise like a cheap football being dropped onto concrete, but with no solidity whatsoever.
There are plenty of unlockable weapons and temporary upgrades, but these feel unimportant. The upgrades you’ll collect on a run are essentially either ‘more health’ or ‘better punching’—very few interesting synergies or builds are available. Even the weapons seem ill-thought. As an example, you can be given a dagger, which deals low damage at a high attack rate. However, attacking enemies with this deals a lot of knockback, meaning much of the time your combo frustratingly fails to connect. Other, slower weapons lack this issue, but as you’re given one melee weapon at the start of a run with no choice in the matter, you’re relying on random chance to have fun.
So, the combat bit isn’t great. What about the colony management?
Er, well, it might as well not be there. Cult of the Lamb suffers from a major issue, in that it appears afraid to actually be difficult. Followers are insultingly easy to gather, manipulate and placate, with automation of farming, cleanup and loyalty enforcement meaning your only challenge is burying the dead (this takes two buttons) or gathering enough grass to keep them fed (other, more complex meals are available but totally unnecessary.) Dissenters happen, but can be locked in a prison. Sidequests are given out, infrequently, but amount to ‘build a thing here please’. It’s shallow, dull and repetitive—and doles out upgrades at an astonishing rate (I had maxed out my combat capabilities by day 40 of the game, meaning with the right weapons I could one-shot every enemy including bosses. This was all on hard mode.)
There are some things about this game that are truly good. There’s a nice nod to actual ritual, in that the optimal way to treat followers (sermon, daily ritual, meal, work) quickly becomes second nature—it’s literally ritualised. The art style is wonderful, and clearly had a lot of time and effort put into it, though I reckon without this eye-catching visual aesthetic the game would quickly sink without trace. The side tasks—fishing, seed gathering, a fun dice game—are well executed, but literally pointless (I didn’t actually visit the final NPC I found, as I was already bored with the game and just wanted it to end.)
Somehow, Cult of the Lamb has managed to showcase influences from a number of the best roguelike games available on PC, while simultaneously missing the point of every single one. It’s a swing and a miss. Perhaps with some braver decisions about adversity, a few side mechanics being stripped out and an overhaul of the base-building it could have been great, but as it is it’s a mediocre potboiler with a cute art style.
I wish it were better 🙁