By EVAN MILLAR
Like all great art, horror has the intrinsic ability to take us to some pretty emotionally extreme places. Whether it’s outrage, a positive cathartic release or just some good old-fashioned nausea, we’re drawn to certain works not only for their narrative content but how they make us feel during and after we witness them.
Judging on this merit alone, Consumer Softproducts’ CRUELTY SQUAD is an immensely evoking escapade of grimy, gruesome proportions: a game that will kick down the door to your subconscious, set fire to your sensibilities, and dump your body in an acid bath to corrode slowly.
Assuming control of an entirely expendable operative of the forenamed “Cruelty Squad,” you’ll liquidate assets (read: violently assassinate) in service of larger corporations, earning pay depending on how quickly and accurately a job is executed.
Sounds like pretty standard first-person shooter fare, no? Well, just one glance at CRUELTY SQUAD’s visual style should succinctly convey that it’s a far cry from anything even remotely approaching the definition of average.
Set in a self-described “sewage infused garbage world,” each of the game’s currently available 13 levels is host to jarring low-res textures that juxtapose with each other’s style or colour scheme. This results in a seasick feeling even from the comfort of your couch or chair as even character models appear to constantly shift with eerie, restless movement.
It’s telling that every level begins with an exaggerated undulating visual effect and sinister laugh to get you in the mood, and even the user interface elements feel alive themselves with your health represented as a pulsing glob that’ll change colour depending on how much damage you’ve taken.
And that’s not even taking into consideration the despicable atrocities you’ll be committing from moment to moment, as interacting with fallen enemies – be they human or bizarre flower-headed mutant canine hybrids – results in them exploding into a pile of gore and severed limbs as you consume their flesh for a minuscule hit of health.
Organs such as livers and brains can be harvested in this manner as well, fodder for trade in a dynamic stock market that’s accessible at any moment during gameplay and in the menus found before or following a mission.
All money obtained is put to use upgrading your despondent grunt via bio-mechanical augmentations that include an intestinal rope, pus-propelling boots, and a very freaky looking meaty exoskeleton… just to name a few.
Similar to HOTLINE MIAMI or the HITMAN series, learning the layout of each stage and mastering the most efficient ways to eliminate targets provides an amazing sense of accomplishment. And as with HOTLINE MIAMI, jumping back into the action is quick and painless thanks to CRUELTY SQUAD’s handy option to immediately retry each mission.
Amusingly, those curious enough to discover a fishing pole hidden in one of the stages will also be able to catch and trade anything they net. There’s even a lovely little aquarium back at the Squad’s HQ that populates with the more fish you catch.
Aside from its fishing elements, just about every element of CRUELTY SQUAD is seemingly designed to simultaneously unsettle and bemuse, and this also extends to its sound design.
Featuring music that ranges from disquieting drones and sparse melodies reminiscent of classic X-COM soundtracks to full-on industrial noise, the game also utilizes some appropriately squishy, nasty sound effects.
CRUELTY SQUAD makes it clear right from the start that it really doesn’t have any fucks to give, and it’s refreshing to play a game that is so unapologetically unique with nary a trace of compromise to be found.
So although it may seem like a bad acid trip at first glance, CRUELTY SQUAD is a surprisingly sobering experience when contrasted with the nightmarish consumerist reality that already exists just beyond the confinements of your computer screen.
CRUELTY SQUAD is available now for PC through Steam’s Early Access. Review code provided by the developer.