“Cruelty Squad” Review


Video-games have really evolved in today’s world. Ever since “Pong” was first released, the video-game industry has amazed us time after time with quality entertainment. Whether it was the emotionally heartfelt stories that they told, the delightful design of the environments they took the players to, addictive gameplay, or just the aesthetic- video-games have come a long way.

What’s even more uplifting is when a game innovates and gives you something different. Some games have really managed to subvert expectations to a higher degree- like how “Gone Home” appeared like a horror game when really it was a love story, or how “Undertale” made sparing every foe in the game more rewarding than slaughtering them mindlessly.

Have you ever played a game where you just keep asking yourself questions that start with the word, “What”? That’s where “Cruelty Squad” comes in, and shows players that sometimes to set the bar high, it initially has to be set low.

The game is a first-person action game revolving around your character being a part of an outfit, the titular “Cruelty Squad,” which carries out contract killings under the orders of an ugly creature wearing a cap. While that sounds brutal in play, it’s the style of the game that will make you ignore your dirty deeds as a hitman.

What will grab anyone’s attention first is the art style. Retro games use dated, pixelated graphics to harken back to the glory days of gaming history, and there are games today with sub-par graphics that could have used possible improvement. Never before have I ever seen a game that tried to have bad graphics on purpose… until I played this one. Textures look as if someone held the copy-paste key down by accident, models are all low-polygon, and environments range from questionable to outstandingly absurd. It’s considerably close to a psychedelic fever dream.

All of “Cruelty Squad’s” missions take place in these various locations you are sent to, and take on the linear structure of, “Go here, kill them, find the exit.” The game makes it far from tedious with insane amounts of depth and a sense of humor that unravels as you keep playing.

It may take adapting to when it comes to controls and the off-beat structure of the gameplay. To aim down any sight on any gun, you have to hold the shift-key. Meanwhile, reloading requires you to hold the right mouse button and drag your gun downwards, rather than stereotypically pressing the “R” key. 

Other than the control scheme, combat may be simple, but also requires agility and vigilance. Enemies in the game are more dangerous than they are smart. Due to their frantic walking patterns, they may catch you off guard. Aiming for the head is common logic in terms of first-person shooters, and this is no exception. 

In very heated moments, this game can prove difficult. Whether it’s the enemy or what kind of firepower they are armed with, you need to consider all factors carefully. Otherwise, you will regularly watch the timer count down after your health runs out, and then your character explodes in a “Predator”-esque fashion.

Weapons in the game are acquired by bringing them to the end of the level once they are found. While their impact isn’t visibly noticeable, they are vastly different and are best used in certain situations. For instance, during a mission that took place inside of a mall, it took several tries for me to be chased into a gun-store by a mechanized, machine-gun wielding behemoth that, unbeknownst to me, had a rocket launcher in the back, and it was able to do more damage than my puny silenced submachine-gun, or my pump shotgun. 

To even the odds further, equipment and implants can be bought in the menu, and can be equipped in certain slots of your body. Money can rarely be found in missions, but it is mostly gained by selling stocks, fish, or organs harvested from corpses on the stock market- each with their individual rises and falls in terms of the price-tag. This allows you to be more flexible, and dangerous, but that’s not saying all of these are flawless. For example, the most defensive armor was a bio-suit that claimed it had no draw-backs, but once worn, your HUD and your weapon are blocked by the limited vision, courtesy of the suit’s helmet. This, however, isn’t as bad as something like the cassette tape player, which is exactly how it sounds, and is useless.

Playing your cards right, you are allowed a lot of player freedom. Equipment and implants definitely play an integral part here. Sometimes, you won’t need to use the front door. Simply using your intestines like a grappling hook, or springing up to a balcony could open a new pathway. 

“Cruelty Squad” also allows for stealth, and some equipment do enhance this method of play, but going in guns-blazing was more entertaining. After all, for a game that takes its unseriousness seriously, it’s better to play it in a colorful manner. 

What equipment and implants don’t affect are simple things you are allowed to do from the start. You are able to throw anything not bolted down, even your own two guns, and cause enemies to burst. To the game’s credit, nothing was more satisfying to throw than toilets, which function like nerve gas once they make an impact- instantly clearing rooms of people within a radius. If there’s no ammunition or nothing to throw, your powerful “kick” isn’t just for destroying doors. Kicking most enemies results in them flying all over the room in random directions until they come to a complete stop, and nothing is better than seeing your target fly out of a jacuzzi and through a window in a ski resort.

“Cruelty Squad” is a hidden gem of a game that uses immature humor and fast-paced, deep gameplay to keep anyone hooked. Design choices look terrible, but it only adds to the point. Gameplay mechanics follow in this as well. This is a game, and a joke at the same time, but unlike most jokes, this one never gets old.

(Tai Goodman was awarded second place in Group 1 for “Best Entertainment Story” at the Georgia College Press Association conference in April of 2022).

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