Early Access Check-In: Making money and changing lives in Honey, I Joined a Cult
Early Access Check-In is a new series to provide brief updates on early access releases and share impressions of what's available to play today.
From an outsider's perspective, it's easy to see gaming fandom as some sort of fucked up cult. We put studio figureheads on a pedestal, hang on their every word (or Twitter post) desperate for announcements and the smallest crumbs of information, funnel money into their works, and dress up goofy to show our dedication.
Sole Survivor Games decided to take that to its logical end with their... business sim(?) game, Honey, I Joined a Cult. It's a charmer of a business sim, even if early on, it's missing truly unique game mechanics.
Honey, I Joined a Cult (aka HIJAC) released on Sept. 14, 2021, on Steam Early Access for PC. Developed by Sole Survivor Games and published by Team17, this indie business management sim follows in the footsteps of its brethren, Prison Simulator, Academia: School Simulator, and so on. It puts you in the shoes of a "charismatic" cult leader who, fresh off of their last cult's failure, is looking to rebrand and put down roots to keep the revenue stream flowing.
The opening interactive scene shows the downfall of your leader's initial cult: the Space Fish cult, complete with squid helmets and a leader named Space Commander Charlie Fishnut. It's a fun little intro, but otherwise — as is the norm for business sims like these — you're left to give your cult and its members their own personalities and tell your own stories internally.
The game lets you add your own personal flavor to the situation right from the start. As pictured above, you're free to fully customize your cult's look and even its object of worship. I kept things pretty basic, choosing to lightly customize the game's first of ten premade cults. And so was born the Cult of the Moon, led by Vice Moonpie Bob Biscuit, full of Moonmen worshipping The Moon Itself.
There's a fairly involved tutorial that teaches you how to build out your compound, assign rooms for certain purposes, and get your cult up and running. It's more than most games like it provide, and I felt more than capable to start squeezin' money out of sucke- uh I mean... to start enlightening people about the beauty and power of The Moon Itself.
To do so, you and your staff have to convince others that worshipping The Moon Itself is a worthwhile endeavor. Each staff member under your guidance has their own statistics that help in recruiting members, going on secret missions, and getting the most out of your cult's followers.
There's the usual stuff: Intelligence, Retail, Social. And the not-so-usual stuff: Espionage, Bluffing, and... Butchery.
Your staff uses these stats in special rooms that anyone in the local community can use, like Meditation Studios and Energy Spas run by your staff. The better the visitors' experience, the more likely they are to keep paying for your services and slowly convert to your cult's beliefs. Over time, you can shape them into followers and eventually into full-fledged staff members.
Rooms are dressed up in fun, creepy and cult-y ways: like the Maggot Rejuvenation Chamber, where people take a dip in a pool of maggots... for rejuvenation...? But on the whole, it's surprising how much the "cult simulator" feels more like a "spa simulator." It's one of my few complaints about what HIJAC offers so far — it lacks uniquely cult-y gameplay mechanics, despite its aesthetics and some goofy cult-related bits of writing.
It's a touchy subject to tackle in a business sim for sure. Cults are the source of some fairly heinous crimes of abuse and manipulation. But the game's tone keeps things light and playful. It's more about making money and using people for labor (so not too far off from Prison Simulator huh? HEY-O) — so it's not too surprising that some of the darker associations are avoided, but it does keep it from feeling that unique.
All the money you make funnels back into the cult itself, and throughout my four hours messing around in the cult sandbox, I was able to build up a pretty substantial following. Our daily sermons kept the faith alive. Our weekly outings were spreading the word about The Moon Itself, while gaining us notoriety with local law enforcement. And my staff was happy and healthy, having finally switched over to homemade gruel and burger meals rather than paying out of pocket for meals from our single, solitary vending machine.
It was a smooth experience managing my cult and I have no doubt that it'll only get smoother with time. I did have issues with some of the pacing, as evenings in The Cult of the Moon crawl by with nothing else to do but wait for your staff to wake up in the morning. A few systems required a little more manual control than you'd like to be functional (I'm looking at you maintenance crew), but these are the kinds of things that an Early Access period can be used to fix.
In its current state, there's a decent amount of fun to be had, and it's familiar and enjoyable for fans of business sims. The developers have already promised tons of content in the months to come, with a roadmap including greater theming options (complete with special rooms and endings), tons of new events, branching choices within your staff's Missions, and general tuning improvements to the experience on the whole. I'm fairly confident in Sole Survivor's ability to deliver, considering how much is here already for HIJAC's early access launch and with how engaged they are with their community.
If all goes well, Honey, I Joined a Cult will soon be better than ever, and we'll all be bringing people together... with great intentions. Definitely. We swear.