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    Cruelty Squad review


    What is it? A psychedelic assassination nightmare.
    Expect to pay $20 / £15
    Developer Consumer Softproducts
    Publisher Consumer Softproducts
    Reviewed on Nvidia RTX 3080, Intel i9-9900K, 30GB RAM
    Multiplayer? No
    Link Steam (opens in new tab)

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    Just looking at Cruelty Squad can make you queasy, but it passes the most essential immersive sim tests with bright, nauseating colors. I used classic vent routes to quietly assassinate a bouncy castle made of flesh one playthrough, switching to a rocket launcher and using my guts as a grappling hook for a more direct approach the next. I stacked enough barrels to climb over entire buildings, and picked off some targets with perfectly timed sniper shots from across the map. 

    Cruelty Squad is Deus Ex if it were made today, the natural product of furious people exhausted by wealth inequality, police militarization, and the stubborn structures that keep humanity rolling towards total annihilation of the soul. Yeehaw.

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  • But Cruelty Squad wants to have fun before the inevitable end. It’s a stealth action game that props up the pure, lizard-brained joy of feeling like I outsmarted the designers through wild experimentation, even if I’m doing exactly what they expected. Like Hitman, it’s a cathartic exercise in taking out the absolute worst people alive. It’s an audiovisual marvel, a virtual world disintegrating in front of your eyes. And it’s one of the most brilliantly absurd games I’ve played in a minute, a vision of the future where people are considered corporate subsidiaries and the weapon market ebbs and flows based on what guns are licensed for use in popular anime. 

    Thoughtline Miami

    You’re a depressed assassin for hire in the bad future, killing on behalf of the Cruelty Squad, “a depraved subsidiary company tasked with performing wetworks for its host conglomerate.” The structure is similar to Hitman: Pick out some guns and tools, then explore a massive level, avoiding or killing guards, finding efficient routes and vantages for a clean, quick kill. 

    Successful kills and extractions grant you cash for body mods, from basic stuff like body armor to juiced up legs for a higher jump. And whatever guns you find in a level and finish with are added to your arsenal, now available to take into any mission. It’s a super rewarding track that lets you explore more aggressive or stealthy playstyles while casting replays of previous levels in a new light. 

    Tiptoeing through each level as I master their bizarre layouts, memorizing enemy placement, pathing, and navigation is a joy. I’m happy dying on repeat to poke around for the perfect sniper nest or stealthy infiltration route (or Satanic summoning circle). Doing it over and over again with new weapons and tools, be it a DNA-scrambling pistol that turns enemies into a static gut explosion or a tape player embedded in your arm for whatever reason, is just as fun as the first time around.

    Death kicks you back to the start of a mission, but Cruelty Squad never loses momentum. You can harvest organs from corpses and catch fish to sell on a virtual stock market, keeping the cash flowing and the new body mods coming. There’s even a gun with damage that scales to how much you have in holdings. Subtle commentary? Not at all, but I respect Cruelty Squad’s openly angry mockery of everything late capitalism. We’re venting together. 

    Cruelty Squad is one of the most sinister, upsetting games I’ve ever played

    Cruelty Squad’s spaces are easy to lose time in, each with a distinct premise and seemingly endless secrets to dig up. I played a level in a deranged woodblock suburbia five times before I found the city beneath the city, pitch black catacombs full of terrible stuff. The Cancer City Megamall is composed of massive atriums and outdoor plazas patrolled by towering cyborg cops, a literal vent-crawl maze acting as its veins and defying usefulness just to riff on a classic immersive sim cliche. 

    There’s an intense apartment building shootout, where you’re actively hunted from the start. I found a few hidden levels, each more wild than the last, trips into seemingly impossible spaces where nightmares live. Cruelty Squad’s level design is so broad that it even turns into a full-on horror game at times, and a good one at that. 

    (Image credit: Consumer Softproducts)

    That’s OK: Cruelty Squad transcends small problems like that with its wild level design and the breadth of tools it gives me to explore them. And what makes it really special is the perfect tension between fun and disgust it maintains throughout. This is some prime existential PC gaming horror. 

    When I take out the Mayor of Cancer City in that megamall for the fourth time, it sends the police cyborgs with machine gun arms into a violent frenzy. They are not programmed to protect citizens, ripping through the crowd gathered for the speech as they hunt me. As I leave, I think about all those wasted organs I’m not trading on the stock market, and then very quickly think about how that’s a pretty awful thing to think about. 

    But I’m not sure anyone in Cruelty Squad is thinking kind thoughts. This world is sick and rotten, the putrid meat falling off the bone, and all by terrible, beautiful design. All that’s left is the brittle skeleton of our favorite pastime here on PC Gamer: a computer game. And holy cow, it’s a good one.

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