Review: Honey, I Joined a Cult (Steam)

Honey, I Joined A Cult
is an adorable game that I don't quite know whether or not to recommend. The in-game artwork and sprites are very cute, and the writing is funny and gets a reliable smile from me every time. The premise of the game is that you are a charlatan cult leader with an aesthetic straight out of the 1970s. Your goal is to cultivate a core group of cult "members" (i.e., free laborers) and "followers" (visitors who are milked for money by paying to use fraudulent "therapy" rooms) while you can live out the easy life as a fake spiritual leader. If you happen to establish World Peace or summon a Great Old One in the process of all this, well, whoop-si-doodle.

The dark humor and cartoony graphics combine well if you're into that sort of thing (and I am). But the game suffers from a common problem that plagues many sims: once you have a good routine down, you're just grinding resources until you earn enough to cash in for an ending. My last game clocked a total of 14 hours, but I had most of the "therapy rooms" built at around 5 hours, and the remaining 9 hours was just letting the game run on autopilot in the background until I racked up enough resources to win the game. There are options to grind for upgrades to the therapy rooms, but they aren't very excited and just boil down to either "more decorations" or "more earned money" for each room. So a large portion of the game felt a bit of a slog, and I'm not seized with a desire to replay another cult flavor (the current options are Peace & Love, Aliens, and Darkness) because I can tell not much will be different in terms of core gameplay.

I will say, the game author(s) seem very much aware of this problem, but I don't really like the solutions they're trying out to combat the issue. For example, every so often protesters will show up to picket your cult and you have to figure out which cultists are best to send out to talk them down. The problem is, the entire premise of the game is that you (the cult leader) see all your followers as interchangeable dupes, so it's a bit off-message to suddenly have to pour over which one appeals best to Logic and which one values Emotion in order to vibe best with the picketers. Another attempt to jazz up the game can be seen with random events that happen during missions; the problem with these is that I hate doing missions and the funny random events didn't really make them feel any less of a hated obligation.

If I could make a wishlist for the game, I think it would be:

- Give me a bigger compound to build in. Some of my members want private bedrooms, but there's no room for anything but big barracks-style housing and a huge privacy-free bathroom where everyone does their business out in the open. Maybe we could upgrade to a bigger compound over time, as that would give me something to do with this pile of money that I sleep on every night.

- The "decor" category is huge and unwieldy to scroll through. It needs sub-categories for things like statues, tables, novelties, etc. They also start to feel pointless when all they do is increase the "status" of a room. Can you implement some kind of stat-boost for specific items in specific rooms: "important documents" speed up research, while the "teapot" speeds up cooking in the kitchen? Etc. Speaking of, give me fewer things that take up precious floor space and more things that I can hang on walls, please!

- I cannot give a 5-star sermon to save my life. Adjust the requirements for this to be less unforgiving, please? Speaking of unreasonable standards: 100,000 Influence points for a Steam Achievement is insane. Did you mean 10,000? Because I spent 14 hours on my last play-through and got 26,000 Influence by the end. I didn't want to sink another 42 hours into that save file just to snag the achievement, you know?

- The therapy rooms are interesting, but I want more of them! It feels very limiting that we only end up with half a dozen types of rooms. I wanted more rooms and (possibly) to have to choose which sorts of rooms my cult would specialize in. Picking my cult flavor only gave me one new room (the Maypole Dance room, which was admittedly VERY COOL, nice Wicker Man!) whereas I wanted so much more. There's so many flavors of 1970s chicanery to choose from--magnets, spoon bending, psychic card decks, blurry photographs, faith healing, and so forth--and it just feels very disappointing to be limited to maggot baths and yoga mats.

- The writing in the random events is extremely strong and I enjoy them very much. I would perhaps expand that concept to occur outside the missions as well. Police could show up to tour the compound and the player's answers could affect whether your political Heat goes up or down. Family members could visit the cult members and that could affect Influence or Public Relations.

- Speaking of public relations, I want to be able to throw events at the compound, even if it's just a text box on the Mission screen. I kept expecting the PR missions to evolve from more than just radio appearances. Admittedly I didn't do very many of those because they kept increasing my Heat for no good reason and Heat is hard enough to manage as is. I would balance that a little better; going on a radio show or throwing a charity event or hosting a gerbil-adoption day shouldn't increase political heat like that!

- [Trigger Warning: Sexual Coercion] I was not planning to use the "Free Love" room at all and was a little annoyed to find that it was mandatory in order to receive the Peace & Love finale. It might seem silly that I'm cool with playing a game about exploiting free labor from victims of religious abuse, yet I draw the line at sexual coercion but I do. The room is a cool game mechanic (letting cult members share positive traits and stats after "learning" from each bed) but I would *strongly* recommend implementing a statistical possibility wherein the chosen pair refuse to use the room because they're Just Not That Into Each Other; this would make me feel like they have a *choice* in the matter and are actively consenting when they do use the room. I have similar feelings about the incense room, for that matter.

Anyway, I have rambled enough and this is getting long. I enjoyed the game a lot, but I enjoy the IDEA of the game more than the implementation right now, if that makes sense. I hope that future implementations feature a little more variety and a little less slog.


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