This is the one hundred fifty-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. This particular entry is also part of the Keeping Score series about games and their soundtracks. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred fifty-third random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has just landed in a sleek hovership, brandishing a high-tech pistol. It’s SYSCRUSHER, by DirigoGames, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Sci-fi first person shooter. The system is corrupt, a human touch is needed

I’ve just clicked on the checkbox that says “I am human”, so we’re ready to go.

I was surprised to see a quote from Rock, Paper, Shotgun on the page for SYSCRUSHER. Rock, Paper, Shotgun is my favorite games website and I read it regularly, but I did not remember a post about SYSCRUSHER. Googling it, I realized I had indeed read it before, and it’s by Sin Vega, one of my favorite writers, no less. The post is full of praise for SYSCRUSHER after discovering it in the bundle, and as usual, Sin was not wrong.

SYSCRUSHER is a small first-person shooter game, but an impressively stylish one. This was evident as soon as I launched it. What I thought was a simple intro screen was revealed to be part of the protagonist’s (the titular Syscrusher’s) ship, as the camera pulled back to a first-person view of the cockpit, complete with hands on the controls and a futuristic city flashing past outside the canopy. This view is the main menu, and starting a new game seamlessly segues into a conversation with Syscrusher’s handler, explaining the job. Syscrusher then lands the ship on a nearby roof, climbing out and readying a pistol, all without any cuts. Straight into play. It’s super cool.

And SYSCRUSHER stays cool. It has excellent art direction, the cool blue tones of the city and its sci-fi corridors contrasting with the expressionless red face of ADMIN, the corrupt system mentioned in the tagline. ADMIN’s face appears on occasional wall screens, where it taunts or insults Syscrusher, but also on the head-mounted displays of its robot minions during combat. ADMIN is in all of these robots, watching from all angles, coordinating its assault. And what an assault! Bright red laser beams fly past, smoke billows from broken robots, a lovely glitch effect desyncs the RGB channels of the display when Syscrusher takes damage. It all looks so much better than I expected, especially given the retro styling with low polygon counts and an intentionally limited display resolution. It sounds great too, with a great synth-heavy soundtrack, sizzling laser blasts, and unsettling synthesized voices for the robots. Fantastic stuff.

Playing SYSCRUSHER is every bit as fun as its presentation promises. Combat has a great mix of running around blasting, taking cover to avoid incoming lasers, and lining up carefully aimed shots. Holding the right mouse button causes Syscrusher to aim down the sights of the currently equipped weapon, but it takes a moment to engage and slows movement significantly while held, so it’s not the default way to shoot things like it is in so many other games. Instead, I found it most useful in conjunction with the limited-use slow motion power, for lining up headshots with the slow-firing pistol. Successfully blasting ADMIN’s face on a robot trooper’s head-display results in a satisfying ping sound and takes the trooper out instantly. Then I would take cover while the pistol recharged, but if I cowered behind a crate or server rack for too long the robots would toss a grenade, which emits increasingly frantic beeps before going off in a huge and disorienting explosion. So I would soon be off running again, frantically dodging lasers and maybe trying another slow-mo shot mid-dash.

Later weapons are more effective without precise aim, so I wasn’t relying on slow motion all the time either. There are only four weapons but each is useful in the right situation, and the opposition gets more deadly to match Syscrusher’s growing arsenal. Late encounters saw me facing a room full of robots firing from different elevations, or on the run from the heavy cannons of a gunship. There are even some simple boss encounters, which manage to be frantic and threatening without being punishingly difficult. It’s great, is what I’m saying.

You could easily finish SYSCRUSHER in about 30 minutes, but it will be 30 minutes well spent. This is an easy recommendation. And it gets bonus points for actually offering the option to invert the mouse and set mouse sensitivity. If you fancy blasting a few robots but missed it in the bundle, SYSCRUSHER is sold for any price you wish to pay, including free.

The Score:

I liked the soundtrack to SYSCRUSHER enough to pick it up on Bandcamp, where it’s sold for a minimum price of $1. Composed by Philip Willey of Dirigo Games himself, it features about 28 minutes of sparsely arranged synthwave, spread over 11 tracks. There’s a surprising amount of variety on show, including several tracks that have some chiptune elements, and a couple that borrow some classical music themes.

I’m most fond of the earlier tracks, including the self-titled theme track which is a lovely wash of synths both in and out of the game. The slow build of “Soft Rains” from a barely-there bassline to layers of synth loops is another highlight, working equally well as an introduction to the action during play and as a chill listen on its own. The energetic “Heli Theme” is another cool track, its percussion and pulsing synthesizers working in tandem to evoke the thrum of a helicopter rotor.

Later tracks see increasing use of fuzzy, fat synthesizer bass, which can dominate with its harsh sound. I’m less enamored with these, but when the whole soundtrack is offered so cheap it’s worth it just for the ~75% that I like. Fans of retro synth music will want to take a look at the soundtrack as well, especially if they enjoyed playing SYSCRUSHER as much as I did.

That’s 153 down, and only 1588 to go!