‘Honey, I Joined A Cult’ review: follow the leader

Sole Survivor Games' debut is a groovy must-play for management sim fans

As far as cult leader origin stories go, Honey, I Joined A Cult (HIJAC) starts from humble beginnings: with a few devoted cultists and a dream. And, for cult leader Andy The Spooky, an impossibly large pumpkin on his head.

The Children of the Pumpkin, who follow a deity called Jack and worship a giant pumpkin every 7PM, adored Andy and his pumpkin head. Every cult is designed by the player and comes with a hefty amount of customisable options, from the name of their church right down to their uniforms and pronouns – but of course, it’s all a grift.

There are a few resources to manage (PR, Faith, Influence to name a few) but at first, the aim of the game is to rake in the cash from unsuspecting marks. The first step to doing so is building a compound worthy of the hustle. Your compound starts off as an empty field, where you’re able to construct buildings wherever you like. It’s all kept very simple to understand – a drag-and-drop system allows you to place foundation and walls wherever you like, and there are several available options for construction materials. If you want ramshackle pagan vibes there’s wood, while for more modern-day cults there are things like concrete and brick to build with. Combined with large quantities of decorative items, there’s substantial room to carve out an identity for your custom cult – a hundred giant lava lamps, anyone?

Honey, I Joined A Cult. Credit: Sole Survivor Games.
Honey, I Joined A Cult. Credit: Sole Survivor Games.

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Once you’re working with four walls and a roof, you can assign certain functions to rooms – think bathrooms, canteens, kitchens and bedrooms. Getting the essentials out of the way first is important – no cultist is going to stick around for long if their nine ’til five involves eating gruel and shitting themselves – but as HIJAC progresses, things get far weirder. Within a month, the Children of the Pumpkin had a Ministry of Propaganda to help out with PR, a small concrete building to run covert operations from, and a room for grifting followers with fake spirit summoning. The topic of cults could easily make for darker territory, but because HIJAC frames it in such a silly light, you can’t help but laugh as a hoodwinked follower gets rapidly spun around on a discombobulating disc, spewing out cash and influence with each nauseating spin.

For players, managing the compound’s visitors is essential to creating a budding cult. Full-time cultists who have been recruited into the fold can be assigned jobs to do across the base, while followers, who visit the compound during the day for therapy sessions and church visits, must be kept busy with a variety of activities. The systems at play here have oceans of depth: there’s a lot for micro-managers to dig into, and a ridiculous amount of traits and quirks means keeping your cult happy is far harder than it seemed. The Children of the Pumpkin saw a mummy curse our brightest researcher to never use the toilet again (leading to a very, very messy office), while a week later, a major setback to morale was caused by a collective backgammon boycott. It’s important to keep everyone happy, because disenfranchised cultists are a one-way ticket to increasing Heat – a resource that causes the compound to be protested by townsfolk, and eventually raided by the authorities when it gets too high.

Honey, I Joined A Cult. Credit: Sole Survivor Games.
Honey, I Joined A Cult. Credit: Sole Survivor Games.

On top of these quirks, each cultist in HIJAC can be leveled up, earning skill points that can be invested into a host of talents. Beyond the satisfaction of creating a well-oiled worship machine, these role-playing systems do wonders for adding character to each tiny sim on your screen. Splashing a few points in public speaking will turn a cultist into your finest recruiter-slash-PR-rep, while someone talented at espionage will perform excellently when you dispatch them on missions. HIJAC could easily have turned into a by-the-numbers game about stats and sims, but Sole Survivor Games’ take on the genre is brimming with heart, and the detail in each cultist means there are plenty of procedural, memorable stories waiting to happen.

The only real issue with HIJAC is pacing – the amount of full-time cultists you can recruit is locked behind tech tree upgrades, and although it’s quick to hand out new rooms and buildings, you never quite have enough people-power to run them efficiently. On one hand, this is where HIJAC gets its difficulty – having to keep your resources topped up with the limited tools you have – but on the other, it’s frustrating to have a ton of exciting rooms and not enough cultists to play with them. HIJAC can feel slightly dull when you’re waiting for a dozen plates to stop spinning,

Honey, I Joined A Cult. Credit: Sole Survivor Games.
Honey, I Joined A Cult. Credit: Sole Survivor Games.

Though the pacing between cultist caps can result in some dreary downtime, HIJAC‘s research tree is nice and light: there are plenty of new rooms and tangible upgrades to unlock, and projects don’t take long to complete. As mentioned earlier, the scope of your cult snowballs with size – fairly mundane meditation rooms are traded in for buildings dedicated to maggot-dunking therapy, and you’re able to pick different ideological routes that elevate your cult’s hustle into genuinely supernatural turf. There are three to pick from – one that’s all about flower power peace, another dedicated to marching into the future with robots, and a third that’s simply named Darkness. As Children of the Pumpkin were all about the Halloween aesthetic, the last one is the path they went down – which meant getting in touch with long-forgotten gods, summoning demons, and generally being a Right Bad Bunch. Right now those are the only three paths to follow, which feels a little bit limited considering HIJAC‘s creativity – though more are planned for post-launch.

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For fans of Prison Architect and other management sims, Honey, I Joined A Cult is guaranteed to deliver the same satisfying thrills – albeit, with a very culty twist. If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to run a cult, look no further – but if you’re more of a follower than a leader, the Children of the Pumpkin’s door is always open.

Honey, I Joined A Cult version 1.0 launches on November 3 for PC

Verdict

Honey, I Joined A Cult is a bright and colourful devourer of free time. Like a real cult, untangling yourself from Sole Survivor’s phenomenal debut proves very difficult thanks to some in-depth customisation and role-playing systems.

Pros

  • Plenty of customisation creates brilliant emergent storytelling
  • Lots of missions, upgrades and buildings to keep you busy
  • Groovy ’70s aesthetic

Cons

  • The UI – especially in the missions menu – can be awkward to navigate
  • It can take too long to recruit new cultists
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