Developed by Consumer Softproducts, “The Authority on Life”, Cruelty Squad is hard to describe without including words like weird, nightmare, depressing, or grotesque. It’s like H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński made Deus Ex. You’re a drugged up, emotionally detached fixer in the corporate run hellscape of the 22nd century. Go into a level, kill your targets (maybe everything else) and get your paycheck. It’s everything that happens in between that makes Cruelty Squad stand out.
For a game that looks like something on the PSX with textures and colors made in MS Paint, Cruelty Squad’s gameplay, while a bit more stripped down compared to other tactical shooters or immersive sims, is solid. Weapons are incredibly powerful and tear enemies apart, you can kick enemies so hard that FEAR‘s Pointman would blush, and the movement is top tier. Before each mission you’re allowed to customize your loadout with a selection of weapons and equipment that range from benign to revolting or almost disturbing, then you’re dropped into a large, open-ended level, full of hidden paths, secret levels, and new guns and equipment to find. Each successful mission rewards you with money to buy new equipment, and any new gun you find and bring with you when you beat a level will be permanently unlocked, so keep your eyes open.
Before I get too far I have to mention Cruelty Squad’s first curveball: reloading. You have to right click on the mouse, then slide it downwards to reload weapons. It’s weird at first, and you’ll find yourself wishing you just had to press a button; but once you get used to it, it becomes deeply satisfying, like pulling the lever on a slot machine. It’s when you find yourself out of ammo during a firefight, panicking as you fumble with your mouse, that this seemingly innocuous addition amps up the tension in a way I didn’t think it would.
You’ll learn very quickly that Cruelty Squad doesn’t hold your hand: enemies will spot you and kill you quickly, health doesn’t regenerate on its own, and the game doesn’t tell you much after the tutorial, but it also means that you’re free to complete your objectives in nearly anyway you want (be it straightforward or ass backwards). Go in quietly, go in loud, choose close range or long range, non-violent or ultra-violent. Talk to people, kill people, eat people, take their organs, see what brains are selling for on the black market, then buy some stocks. Buy yourself a new intestine that’s also a grappling hook, buy glasses that let you see people through walls by “sensing holes in the background death matrix”, find a gun that shoots living balls of flesh that eat people’s brains, then take a break and do some fishing. Cruelty Squad manages to give the player a ton of choice in terms of playstyle and level traversal without ever feeling overwhelming, and I keep coming back just to see the weirdest, jankiest way I can complete each mission.
Cruelty Squad is more Cyberpunk than Cyberpunk, grislier than Hotline Miami, and *almost* as nasty as Postal 2. It’s weird and creepy and rough around the edges, and I can’t seem to pull myself away from it. Dark humor permeates its every corner, from NPC conversations to weapon descriptions. I can’t recommend it to everyone, but if you like old school tactical shooters, nightmare fuel, or just want to read the hilarious reviews on the game’s Steam page, I’d suggest you check it out. It’s an oasis of love and friendship.
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