The thing about me is I love window management. I keep a tidy row of tabs. I am an Inbox Zero person, when possible. I find keyboard shortcuts pleasurable, recalling the experience of playing piano. I try to perform actions with the least amount of input possible. Now I’m emailing. Now I’m editing a Google Doc. Now I’m in Photoshop. Now I’m managing a cult that I’ve sort of made into vegans, kind of, minus their penchant for murder and eating bowls of poop.
Wait, that last one was Cult of the Lamb, not work. Sorry. My bad.
Cult of the Lamb is kind of like if Stardew Valley, Hades, Animal Crossing, and Happy Tree Friends had a vile, vile baby. It is half a procedural dungeon crawler in the vein of Hades, half a town management sim, complete with farming, crafting, and, in this case, amassing a group of loyal followers who won’t question your edicts, even as they grow hungry and poop-covered.1 Some have described Cult of the Lamb as a critique of organized religion, and it is, I suppose, but only the most obvious critique. Blind adherence to anything is bad, especially charismatic leaders who, like the player character in Cult of the Lamb, make shit up on the fly. The writing is terrific on a sentence-level—sometimes funny, sometimes profound, always dark—but a deep satire this is not.
Unless, that is, the message is that cults are really satisfying to run, because that one rings loud and clear.
Unlike Animal Crossing, you can continue to play Cult of the Lamb as long as you like in a given day, and your villagers—I mean, followers will continue to prompt you with requests, which might include marrying them, allowing the cult to welcome several elderly followers, or, yes, making them a bowl of poop to eat. Reader: if you find puerile humor to be distasteful, steer clear of this one. Seriously. However, if you ever wanted to play Hades while a Stardew Valley/Animal Crossing combo is running in the background, essentially putting a timer on your battles as your cult’s faith, hunger, and health depletes with every passing moment, this is your game. Gameplay involves toggling back and forth between these two genres, each feeding mechanically into the other in a way a good genre combo ought to. Every thing you do in one half of the game helps the other. Successful runs get you resources that you can then turn into better structures for your followers, which increases their faith, and the more faith your followers have in you, the easier your runs become. As gamers, we love feedback loops, and Cult of the Lamb has them in spades.
Cult of the Lamb is a multitasker in its heart. It succeeds not because it’s doing any one thing better than its obvious inspirations, but because it does a lot of things competently all at once. It’s not as deep, mechanically, as Hades when it comes to the dungeon crawling. It lacks the customization or variety of Animal Crossing and the, well, perfection of Stardew Valley. It is also, in my experience, pretty buggy, requiring you to quit to the menu as the game refuses to progress or outright freezes, sometimes multiple times in a row. Yet, despite its comparative lack of depth and its work-in-progress stability, Cult of the Lamb is a people-pleaser. It says yes to everything you throw at it. It wants to do the job, even if maybe it’s not quite there yet, experience-wise. It’s got three applications open at once, all of them requiring its attention, and it’s going to do its darnedest to get through the workday.
Cult of the Lamb is worth playing for anyone who likes its constituent parts, and especially those who, like me, find pleasure in vehemently disregarding all those studies about how we can really only focus on one thing at a time, preferring instead to believe that they can work just as quickly as their keyboard shortcuts allow, Alt+Tabbing to the next window, and then back, and then back again, because even if I’m not doing everything perfectly, at least I’m doing everything, and I’m doing it now.
This game is very scatalogical, if you haven’t gathered that already. Very, very scatalogical. ↩