Cruelty Squad is Wonderful and Depraved
[CIVVIE] I've been trying to catch this fish for an hour now. I think I got it earlier but it just… disappeared on me. The wheel, yeah you see it, I'm not crazy, right? *Martyrdom from Cruelty Squad* About six months ago I was on Twitter and people kept telling me to make a video on some new Early Access game called "Cruelty Squad" and I responded, like a gentleman, by grabbing a copy on Steam and playing it for about 20 minutes before refunding the game and trying to never think about it again because as first impressions go, Cruelty Squad is like going on a blind date with an exceptionally ugly person, like the kind of hideousness that makes you cut off the friend who set this whole thing up, who told you that this was a good idea, which is why I promptly blocked half of my Twitter follows and the entirety of New Blood, who will usually use their Twitter to champion good games and shitpost with the force of a thousand rectums. And that's what I thought the game was… an extremely elaborate shitpost… I mean look at it.
No sane designer would use these textures, these sounds, listen to this mission briefing. *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* Even the menus seemed to be designed to confuse the player, blocking out your choices with some pixelated intestines or nightmare faces. Normally when you're not blessed with the kind of budget you need to hire voice actors, or the dog food I paid Gianni with, text is fine, this though… This is like hearing a Banjo Kazooie character while you're going under anesthesia… Not to mention that the game limits you to a load-out, two weapons, and I don't have to tell you how I feel about that. With one of the weapons you can select at the start being a joke weapon that only temporarily knocks out guards. Going for a Pacifist run? Look at the title, this is Cruelty Squad, not "Leave 'em alive and play the dashing rogue" squad. I am, however, always grateful to a game that respects the efficacy of head-shots.
Too many games decide that you need two or three shots to the head with a high-caliber bullet to take someone down in the name of "balance". Well, Cruelty Squad balances that by having you die over and over again in every mission, without mid-level checkpoints, and all of this, at first glance, points to the kind of weird trash you find all over Steam. So I refunded the game, and people kept asking for it, forever, endlessly, and so I said that this game was too weird for my channel which is a blatant lie.
At the time I didn't want to cave into demands to play some shitty meme game. Once you cave to your audience, you end up making boring videos about TNT Evilution and losing all self-respect, but then something strange happened. I felt like my off-the-cuff tweet about the game being too weird was kind of harsh, and I don't like to be too mean to independent games, but then David *****- *beep* but then David *****- Honestly, when I said it was too weird for my channel, I thought that would, among the more contrarian segment of my fan-base, encourage them to play it, what could be too weird for this channel? Still, it took me a while to come around, a lot of the buzz around Cruelty Squad was that it wasn't just a good game, but a great game, deliberately wearing the skin of a shitpost game, and as someone who made a YouTube show that intended to wear the skin of the hackiest kind of Internet review show, only to confuse people and catch them off guard, I felt like a fucking idiot for not seeing it sooner and not giving the game a proper chance. So I bought it again.
This was when it was in Early Access. And I went through most of it, and about half of the secret levels, and then when it came out of Early Access, I realized I didn't have any of my saves backed up. That's fine, I wanted a clean playthrough for the video. Not a whole lot had changed, I don't think, it's hard to know because in Cruelty Squad, so much extra content is lurking in the shadows waiting for you to discover it and experience the pain. You know, once you get into it and disregard how it's intentionally assaulting your senses. I've been trying for the longest time to think of a way to approach writing a script for this game because it's… you know, completely insane.
Let's try this: The game's intro has your employer calling you, telling you you're a fucked-up loser, and offering you steady employment through an app, sort of like being an Uber driver that murders people. And yes, that blob of polygonal meat wearing a visor is you. Once you actually see the boss, who is… absolutely horrifying.
Your first weapons will be a silenced pistol and an SMG, and the SMG you shouldn't use under any circumstances and you'll want to replace immediately. *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* Once you get into the first mission, you'll understand that you're playing a waking nightmare, a horrifying misbegotten thing you'd find in a hospital dumpster, when was the last time you saw a game with a giant border around the screen that, at first glance, serves no purpose? A life… blob, that takes up entirely too much space on the screen, some kind of ammo readout with a nightmare face attached to it, and the textures, my god, the textures. It's amazing what you can get used to. Combat is gonna throw you off. Your weapons thankfully are effective enough, but one of the first enemies you run into are these vicious dogs with faces that open up into… something.
Your aim-down-sights key is Shift, not Right Mouse Button, because you reload with the Right Mouse Button by dragging it down, and then up, and this is something you're gonna have to get used to because sometimes, it just doesn't seem to work, you haven't gone down far enough. Now, I didn't get far in this mission my first time, I was almost immediately turned off by the game for all the obvious reasons I've already told you about, but the second time?! Well, the level design, in the tradition of immersive sims, is fairly open-ended. You have targets that you can see all over the screen and as I'd learned to do before, I avoided the front door and took the vent into the building, which took me pretty close to one of the targets. I head-shot a guard, and I'm in, no need to steal his organs, though, they're not worth that much.
The AI isn't too good in this game, but that doesn't really matter when they can kill you by sneezing. One silent head-shot after another, creeping around, this game can't be beaten, at least not by me, with a guns blazing approach. It requires surgical precision in a lot of cases. Your target is right here, he's unarmed, but he does have a shotgun on his desk, which you'll want to pick up. Something that will confuse you early-game is the fact that the F key kicks and the R key interacts since Right Mouse is your reload, R can be used for something else, but sometimes you're gonna end up kicking something you want to interact with, E is leaning, along with Q, which is a function I barely use because it makes your aim completely unreliable.
There's a special door here that you can go through now, which has a useful bazooka behind it. To unlock weapons in Cruelty Squad, you have to have them equipped in one of your two slots, and you have to finish the mission and exit with them. So I want to take the bazooka, unfortunately, when I go to a vending machine to pick up some health I get blindsided and killed very, very quickly. That door I went through, I'm not gonna be able to go through it again for a while, because my divine light has been severed. "I am a flesh automaton animated by neurotransmitters."
No one told me. It costs $500 to bring you back. Hell, I've seen more expensive monthly student loan payments. Death, while it is relatively cheap, must cause serious property damage. *surprise* That's okay. Even though I'm careful, I still shoot a couple of civilians who get in the way.
This doesn't give you a game over or anything. It lowers your end-of-level rating, I think. Missions in Cruelty Squad can be replayed endlessly, since death is cheap, and everyone in this world exists in a permanent state of un-death, even the player. The second time, I make it through, barely.
Cruelty Squad has a steep learning curve and also not having any of the equipment and nightmarish cybernetic augmentations makes things more difficult. The second mission isn't any easier. *entering-a-level sound* *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* *countdown to death* *player character goes boom* In Paradise, I have even more targets. At least some of these enemies drop ammo for the silenced pistol. None of the enemies you're encountering require heavier firepower. There's a car you can drive around, but the sound of it makes my ears bleed.
The car itself might bleed I mean… look, it's made of like flesh, I… Eww… *ear-splitting car noise* Here you'll see some of the more hideous creatures, this one explodes into a cloud of toxic gas on death, this target has a room full of Funko Pop vinyls, which hits a little too close to home for me. I kill everyone, not before heading into one of the basements and trying to wrap my head around how this game handles them, dark areas I mean, where the light seems to disappear in the most unnatural way, this is one of the strange things in this game that requires a very particular design, normally you would just not put light entities in an area to keep it dark, but here? Uh… I don't know… I just… I don't know… I have some money for upgrades, and in a previous playthrough, I found the helmet to be useful since it has a chance to negate a hit, and one hit matters a lot in this game. Someone else needs to be assassinated by the docks in this pyramid and with the gift of having played this before I know that I need two weapons from this level before I leave. The first is inside of a shipping container, this silenced SMG, which is one of my favorite weapons in the game and a life-saver in your early playthrough. Effective, silent, plows through enemies quickly.
I get up to the office, kill the target, slide down to avoid falling damage, and start swimming to the island across the way. Here, you need to pick up the fishing rod, which counts as a weapon, but is more of a money-making tool. Even more effective than playing the stock market. You can trade them in the same menu, along with human organs you might pick up along the way.
Intestines seem to be worth a lot. Before I go to the next mission at the police station, I want to go back to Paradise and grab the bazooka in the church. It's gonna be extremely important for a later level that, on my first playthrough, was like hitting a brick wall. In the police station, I like to grab the magnum too. I don't know why, I don't use it very much, but I like to have it.
It does this to my first target. *big bang* The second target is a little more- DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT FUCKING NOISE?! Jesus Christ, what is that!? Apparently some narcotics did that to him. I'll stick with maiming myself with cybernetic augmentations, thank you very much. At least I look somewhat human, or as human as anything in this game looks. The brick wall I was talking about before was this map, the mall, patrolled by giant nigh-indestructible mech-cops, where you're supposed to assassinate the governor, and if you go through some secrets, you can find a fine vantage point, but I have a quicker and more direct solution.
This though, what I'm doing right here, is wrong, do not go into these backrooms, they're a trap. These tiny, hard-to-hit, leech-like things are all over the place in here, they poison you, and your exit is back through the mall. These things will knock your health down quick, and avoiding this route will also avoid the weird, unsettling sewer-crypt with these unkillable happy-faced zombies. I didn't remember where the exit in this level was at first since my previous playthrough had me avoiding this level because of how many times I'd failed it previously. And, also, the toilets are biological weapons.
[H4MM3R reading] [CIVVIE] They've found me, I don't know how but they've found me, and they're storming my apartment. I have to kill my landlord and then find a way out, there's an easy exit, here, if you can avoid the toxic suckers. There are easy ways out of most levels in Cruelty Squad, but the levels themselves hide larger treasures you won't find without fully exploring. That's not to say that Cruelty Squad is easy. It's only easy right now. Later it gets… well, cruel.
Turns out it was an honest mistake and they didn't mean to try to kill me but you know how that goes, all is forgiven, somebody put "Tuttle" instead of "Buttle" on a form and so I had to kill like six people. Honestly, I need a vacation, I'm gonna do some fishing. [HANNIBAL] Close your eyes. Wade into the quiet of the stream. [CIVVIE] This nets me enough money to buy the stealth suit, which is one of the most useful tools I can think of. As you'd expect, it makes you much harder to see.
Though I have no idea what "20 universal length units" are. I remember this cruise ship mission is where I found myself becoming really invested in this game, really motivated to complete it, where I started finding good routes to take through the levels, actually enjoying things instead of being concerned the textures were loading in weirdly or that strange faces were plastered all over everything. Or the meat engines… the meat engines… For some reason, you have to take a helicopter to escape this mission instead of maybe using a boat. Bog Business was the second wall I hit during my first playthrough because all of the water is toxic. You can eat berries to counteract the toxins, but you're gonna be getting hit by it regardless.
I want to spend as little time in this mission as possible, so I make my way past the guards towards where my marker is pointing, which is an open clearing that's basically a shooting gallery. No, I don't think so, I have a more hands-off solution. There are better ways through this level when you have more upgrades. I still make it out, but at the very last second. Next I head to the casino for business, not pleasure, the pleasure stuff comes later. I have a job to do and they won't ban me just because I carried out a professional hit on their property.
These people understand the necessity of private business ventures. My target is some kind of grotesque macrocephalitic psychic soldier. When did John Carmack open a casino? What these things do is warp your vision and cause you to fire your weapon uncontrollably, which can screw them over, as it does here. This is one of those cases where remaining unseen saves your life.
I survive the encounter, but die from fall damage soon afterwards. So I do it again. This time I succeed, take the ladder down, and snipe the police, since they've finally decided this is a problem now that I've hit a casino. I sure hope this game doesn't get all political on me. After doing this, I restart the mission and fish for a while. *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* I give up on getting the big million-dollar prize and start fishing on the cruise ship, much more valuable stuff here, including a rare tropical fish with many uses in the bio-tech industry.
And what this game calls a dolphin. I use some of the money to buy gunkboosters in preparation for Idiot Party, my favorite level and the first one I truly made my bitch. *Runway from GoldenEye 64* This level is where I grab this nice sniper rifle and extremely useful light machine-gun. In my quest to record an even better total-owning of this mission after this, I was able to also record how many times I completely fucked it up and you get to see that too. Roll it, Katie! *Austin Powers Theme MIDI version* Now that I've gotten the money for gunkboosters and the fabled grappendix, that disgusting piece of technology that… yeah… ew… Very useful though.
Not for the next mission in the office tower. That one's fairly straightforward, even if it gets a bit difficult with the armored enemies, yeah this… collection of balls is a toughly-armored enemy and I shoot him with this many bullets. I don't like to be in a confined space with explosive weapons otherwise I'd use the rocket launcher. This is the penultimate "regular" level, it's the last "normal" level… things get strange from here on in. I'll put up the spoilers tag now because believe it or not, we're maybe halfway through this whole experience.
Be warned. Before I put up that spoiler tag, I wanna explain. I love this game. It is so goddamn fun.
Using different combinations of equipment and weapons to complete levels quickly. The weapons themselves are punchy and useful for the most part. They feel good to use. As strange as some of them are. This game is an immersive sim that is inviting you to break it and its systems in order to progress or even just to fuck around.
Because after a certain point, it doesn't cost anything. It is a game so funny and weird and interesting and so confident in its delivery that it purposefully looks like this. It is for sure a niche game that not everyone will like. But I have some 25 hours into it now.
And every time I go back, I find some new wrinkle in a mission that I thought I had fully explored and usually, that wrinkle ends up killing me and I have to restart. But I want to restart, and I want to uncover whatever this game is hiding from me. Now, onto the spoiler section and where this game gets really weird… *Time to Spare by An Jone* My first playthrough of the last level, Archon Grid, where I'm tasked with shutting the grid down… it took me a long time to find a path through that wasn't a waste of time or a dead end, you might notice the room close to the start where you can get your divine light back, get ready to visit that a lot! Most of this level, at least the first time through, you'll be looking for a way to the target, which is… oh who even… uhh… giant invincible crabs and janky blocks you have to push around… I… I… I take this route through it, I use the rocket launcher to take care of these horrible psychic things, move the blocks to get to the end, and I'm able to beat this boss first try. Remember, this is after my first, unrecorded playthrough which took hours. There's so many different ways to get lost or stuck or unable to progress because of these things which are called Gorbinos which might have something to do with Gorbino's quest which is an in-universe game… Listen, I'm only scratching the surface in this video, that's how deep this game, this game that appears, on the surface, to be a shitpost, goes.
The final boss, of this level, can be easily machine-gunned into non-existence. I'm not sure of the in-universe consequences. Then… the ending… I think maybe if I wait long enough something will change. This is… wrong.
It kicks me back into the menu. Guess I'll go after the secret levels. One of them, I guess not really a secret, is the unlockable House level that costs a million dollars, which is only slightly exaggerated when talking about the housing market. Some of these secret levels are easy to unlock. You'll find these paintings you can jump into like it's Mario 64, one in the cruise ship level behind a fake wall here, another behind a door in Idiot Party that you need divine light to get to.
But if you die once, Divine Light is severed, so that's fun and not frustrating at all. FUCK! *Austin Powers Theme MIDI version* *Austin Powers Theme MIDI version* NO! GOD DAMN IT! *Austin Powers Theme MIDI version* *Austin Powers Theme MIDI version* Some are not easy to get to. We gotta talk about The Dark World. In Paradise, there's a basement, and you remember how you went into the basement there and everything got dark? Yeah. You need a flashlight. You can get night vision goggles, but they're in the Dark World. Don't buy the nightmare vision goggles from the menu, that's a trick.
So how do you get the flashlight? From one guy walking around in the police station so you have to complete that mission to pick up the flashlight before you leave, and even then, going into the Paradise catacombs is a horror show. It's full of these zombies, and soldiers that will kill you in a second. You have to look for the red on their goggles because you can't have a gun and a flashlight out at the same time. Insert your own Doom 3 joke here. Somewhere in this mess of catacombs is the painting you need to go into but also a cursed torch, which if you equip it will enable an extra Hard mode on you on each map which makes the enemies harder and gives you an extra target, and also removes all hope. The Dark World, as you'd expect, is dark, and the mission briefing says that the guy you have to kill hired you to break into his mansion and kill him, you know for shits and giggles, poops and laughs, turds and tittles, bring the flashlight and the grappendix and also bring your psychic hat to find out that there's a tiny manhole where the exit is that took me forever to find, and also being the gunk shoes to prevent falling damage that you otherwise have to take, stay stealthy you know.
The ski lodge is way easier even if the enemies are tougher. A bunch of doors that need to be destroyed with rockets or possibly the powered-up kick, I just blew them up, and I was able to find a secret flamethrower because there are a shitload of hidden weapons as well as hidden upgrades, speaking of hidden upgrades, there's a toxin suit thing, that may or may not work I don't know, in the upgrades menu that costs 100k, and I'm not paying that, but if you're looking for it, and by that, I mean dying over and over looking around Bog Business for a secret area, you can find the toxin suit which is most useful in Bog Business but also keeps you protected from those goddamn toxic bugs, which you need for Miner's Miracle, the secret level accessible from a painting you can find in Bog Business in this barely-hidden tunnel system. You go into this… meat… oh god I'm… it's so… *throws up* That's nothing compared to the auditory punishment of the secret level you get to from Idiot Party… *horrible night-club techno music* I feel like the Terminator, except I succeed and this is killing my soul.
I do get this cool-ass gun that I really like. It's a nailer. Sort of like an upgrade to my silenced SMG. It seems to be able to head-shot anything that isn't in rock-solid armor. I'm getting the fish this time, the wheel, the wheel of fish… [KUNI from UHF] A red snapper… [CIVVIE] But… I'm never getting a million dollars I'm just doing the same shit over and over again, grinding against the… wait… what is this? *horrible night-club techno music goes seizure-inducing* [KUNI from UHF] NOTHING… ABSOLUTELY NOTHING… STUPID… YOU'RE SO STUPID!!! *horrible night-club techno music goes seizure-inducing* *Katie signs in* *horrible night-club techno music goes seizure-inducing* *horrible night-club techno music goes seizure-inducing* [CIVVIE] Cruelty Squad HQ… I've been there before but there's nothing interesting besides a tank with all the fish I've caught but there's a door I know I can get in now that I have that thing that curses me… Is the fish all staring at me part of the curse? I go through that door and it explodes into meat and then I'm dead, I'm not fast enough to get through there… I had to look at a walkthrough, I'm sorry, how the fuck would I possibly find out about the secret door where I get the DEATH surgery? DEATH. I'm dead now. It lets me wall jump.
It's permanent. There's a target in Cruelty Squad HQ… and I… cannot… kill the bastard. Hard as I try.
He bleeds but he doesn't die and if he shoots you too many times, your body starts to feel weird… he's like re-splicing your DNA. NOW? NOW your body starts to feel weird?! So I say what if I can knock him out? And you can! Remember that dumb weapon from before that knocks people out! I used it, and then I shot him with a high powered sniper rifle… it's great when you have the ammunition gland and it never runs dry, I kept knocking him out and I shot him in the ass and then the head like 258 times. That didn't do it. I read about a powerful weapon hidden in this level that I have to get, and I get the weapon and I have to go back and I still can't kill the bastard. The powerful weapon hidden in this level, it's only powerful if you're a stock market god with a lot of financial holdings, and getting it requires finding a secret door at the top of this nightmarish house of worship of capitalism, getting past a golem that, no shit, will explode into a million flechettes upon death so you can't be in the same room with him, and it's not like you can leave the level with the weapon, no, you'd have to kill the target to do that.
And unless you've already accumulated the wealth you'd need to do that, it's not gonna happen. BUT! There's no way for you to know that because you can't read the weapon's description until you leave the level with it! So what you have to do now, since I got my divine light back after being cursed, is to go back to Cruelty Squad HQ, turn my graphics down to 640x480 so I can see the curse orb, and then use that to get through the door again, yeah I know there's an item for it, it's the Holy Scope, which you need to equip on the head but only after you use echolocation to get the spike breakers and the gold and the silver ring. No, I'm kidding, you just have to go back to Archon Grid which is way worse. I'm reading there's another weapon hidden in the Office level that will kill him, and every time I try to capture footage of me getting this weapon, the game seizes up. I don't know if it's ShadowPlay or what, but Cruelty Squad isn't playing by any normal rules anymore, there are no rules, it's just him and me, and all of this radiation but I've had my DEATH surgery so I'm immune to it now.
*microwave oven beeps* *Bolt ACR's ear-splitting sound effect* *Super Mario Bros. 3 Sky Land Theme* *Bolt ACR's ear-splitting sound effect* *microwave oven beeps* *indescribable music* OH GOD, WHAT? WHAT?! It's not over. I need to buy a house, y'know achieve the American Dream of owning property and… To do it, I have to either play the stock market or… *woohoo!* [ROD from Birdemic] Caught the big fish. One million dollars.
[CIVVIE] The house is… mostly empty. Some boxes for a game I'll never play. A toxic river with no fish in it.
Some targets I can't quite see from the property. Oh, there they are… WHAT THE FUCK?! Now I go home and sleep it off… and then the nightmare really starts. Trauma Loop is the best name this level could have gotten.
I have played it over… and over… and over… and I get to this part where there's some kind of psychic thing that screws up my vision and shoots me while I'm trying to platform which I wouldn't be doing if the level didn't take your cybernetic enhancements away at the start. I can't see where this thing is no matter how much I turn the view distance up. I found this secret book in the library near the start and it takes me to a less awful path to what I assume is "the end" where I have to crouch under these things, otherwise they murder you and I can't destroy them, and then play around with the way I fall to avoid falling damage.
The "DEATH" surgery I got allows me to wall jump which is 100% needed for this level, and every room in this mission is like hitting a wall, and I know there's a way to get my augments back by gonna this guy and killing him but I have yet to survive long enough to get to him because I'm being chased by unstoppable, invincible PIG THINGS… And half of every enemy in this level poisons you. Invincible monsters are generally something you put in a game to discourage players from continuing. There's NOTHING. NOTHING I CAN DO. And the other path has some trap that seems designed to be as irritating as possible, see there's a pit here, you can't see it, but if you fall into it, you might as well restart.
And every time I think I can get over it, I don't. I almost, almost get to the end, I can see it, it's right there but I get shredded and die, I killed this guy here, whatever that means. Maybe I didn't unlock every single piece of equipment or every weapon, but I do want to go back at some point and do that. I didn't think I was going to beat this one until someone on Twitter told me to drop my weapons and b-hop instead of the thing I was doing, which was not dropping my weapons and b-hopping. Going without weapons didn't even occur to me but I can't kill the enemies so there's not really any point to keeping them.
And here we are. The world is over. If you couldn't tell what this game was about before now… I don't know if I can help you but you can read all of this. I am broken.
My hope is eradicated. I am dead, and I am death. I have ascended to wealth and status, beyond those that would employ me, I am the lifeblood of society, I am a flesh automaton animated by neurotransmitters… *nightmarishly bit-crushed voice lines* *How'd I Do?*