The creation and dissemination of video games under capitalism makes it nearly impossible for indie projects to find success by word of mouth alone, regardless of how good they are. Yet somehow, Cruelty Squad, developed by Finnish artist Ville Kallio under the moniker Consumer Softproducts, has accomplished precisely this over the last three months. While still in the early release phase, and thus constantly being updated by Kallio, Cruelty Squad feels so aesthetically and conceptually fleshed out that its praises, even in the game’s unfinished form, are absolutely deserved.
While most contemporary games prioritize realistic and pristine graphics, Kallio makes the
valiant choice to design his world and its characters as jarringly as possible with horrifically bright colors and distorted pixelations that downright hurt to look at sometimes. Perhaps the easiest way to describe its aesthetic is the video game equivalent to the artwork for a vaporwave album, but even this is an overgeneralization. It simply needs to be seen to be believed. The game seems to break every single rule of graphic design on purpose in its attempt to create a surreal nightmare world.
Then, of course, there’s the story and setting. The game’s unnamed protagonist works for an
Uber or Doordash-esque gig-economy corporation called the Cruelty Squad, who hire hitmen to assassinate various figures that threaten the financial interests of the company itself or
capitalism in general. Each level is conceptually simple — you kill the required targets and find an exit, much like the early Hitman series games — but there’s so much room for exploration and experimentation that Kallio encourages and rewards replaying levels. One of the reasons for this is that the missions are littered with level-specific, non-player characters who offer surreal and unique insights into the game’s capitalist hell-world, including a character you meet at a rave who has an “artistic take on finance” and a “black suppositories and debased” internet user. Moments like these, along with the level briefings, reinforce how great and uniquely hilarious Kallio is.
Another reason for revisiting missions is the unlockable weapons and purchasable
augmentations which add new ways to explore levels and reach targets. This
makes speedruns incredibly fun and viable for those willing to practice using unlockable items. It should be noted, in typical Cruelty Squad fashion, that these aren’t the sleek body modifications of Cyberpunk. For instance, the fittingly named “Grappendix” allows you to use your intestines as a grappling hook, while the “Gunkboots” allow you to eject disgusting waste from your feet in order to get an extra jump. Appropriately, getting better at killing increasingly makes the protagonist less human as they mutilate their body more and more in the effort to please their capitalist overlords. While their boss, a red gelatinous blob in a trucker’s hat who looks like Jabba the Hut, describes the Cruelty Squad HQ as “an oasis of love and friendship,” your character is always at the mercy of the status quo which they consistently preserve through bloodshed.