Ruiner doesn’t really like you, or anyone, for that matter. It’s a masochistic experience peppered with some seriously dark moments that are treated as harmlessly by the game’s eclectic and sincerely fucked-up bunch of characters as chit-chat about weather. Its gloomy misanthropy may turn away some players, but the rapidfire delivery of stylish action at the heart of Ruiner kept me coming back.
Set in 2091, Ruiner looks like Blade Runner and plays like Hotline Miami; a heady concoction that somebody really should have released sooner. Reikon Games, who consist of former The Witcher and Dying Light devs, have created an ugly yet beautiful world, lashed with as much bloody crimson as it is neon fury. Ruiner is a visual force, which helps to carry its somewhat barebones plot.
To delve into it too much would ultimately be to spoil it – think of Ruiner’s plot as window dressing for its hypnotically vicious combat instead. In short, the Heaven megacorporation’s stranglehold on Rengkok has ruined the city’s residents and left many broken or almost. It’s a traditional cyberpunk tale told moreso through visual flourishes and small dialogue cues rather than massive exposition dumps, so there’s a lot to be discovered when you read between the lines.
Your avatar into this miserable world is a faceless and nameless assassin whose only mission is one that will repeatedly be barked at you by a female hacker: find your brother. She, with a mixture of affection and scorn, nicknames you “Puppy” and shows her disdain each time you fail, and fail you will – you will almost definitely be able to repeat all of her lines by memory before your time with Ruiner is up. You’re in for a rough ride with this isometric twin-stick shooter, but it’s a ride you’ll be glad you strapped in for.
Ruiner’s combat is a sadistic joy from the first fight to the last as it feels seamless and intuitive, even if there are so many different ways of playing. You move with the left stick and move with the right, firearms are controlled with R2 and melee belong to R1. All fairly simple stuff, but as the game progresses, more abilities can be unlocked which means that more or less every single button on the DualShock could be mapped to do something, such as dropping an electric grenade to stun enemies or slowing down time to make the onslaughts slightly more manageable. This could have been overkill elsewhere, but thanks to Ruiner’s precise and on-the-dot button inputs, it’s just so damn smooth.
A lot of complaints have been made about Ruiner’s difficulty and while it certainly is punishing, it never feels unfair. There’s often a solution for every tricky mini-boss or enemy heavy room; it’s just a case of finding the right “loadout” of skills to get the job done. For instance, the first big encounter with Mother is sobering until you realise to max out your shields as much as you can before dashing out of the way of her gigantic bastard laserbeam. Another encounter features a bomb-loving mini-boss (referred to as “Headhunts”) who will make short work of you until you liberally use your Reflex Booster to slow things right down and dodge around the explosions before picking him off with bullets. Another (admittedly cheap) solution is to stun enemies with electric grenades and then go to town on them with a souped-up melee weapon. Once you think how Ruiner wants you to think, you’ll be slashing and shooting like a cackling man-hating baboon and loving every second of it.
Of course, all of these skills don’t become immediately available because of the game’s progression system, which is RPG-lite with an emphasis on lite. You accumulate Karma -basically Ruiner’s XP points- during combat and even dotted around the game’s claustrophobic levels in boxes pretty quickly, so most of the juicy stuff is available after just a couple of hours. The ability to swap out abilities at will is a thrill, knowing that you can change to Plan B with a quick bit of menu management. Once you reach the game’s latter stages, it all becomes second nature, which helps you to feel like a killing machine directly out of a hyper-violent anime.
Ruiner’s staggering breadth of weaponry also cannot be overlooked – I haven’t played a game with such a formidable arsenal in quite some time. There are some very vanilla assault rifles that seem to tickle enemies more than damage them, but the real firepower comes in the form of lasers, grenade launchers, meaty shotguns, lancers, and so much more. The default gun is no slouch, but you’ll be wanting to find one of Ruiner’s more ludicrous weapons each time you find yourself in combat, as much for progression as your enjoyment.
A game oozing this much character needs a soundtrack to back it up and Ruiner certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department, offering synthy and almost demonic beats to complement the mayhem going on on-screen. I always thought that Hotline Miami’s soundtrack was the best collection of retro-infused beautiful noises I would ever come across in a game, but Ruiner’s unmissable yet never overbearing offerings from the likes of Zamilska and Skeletons and Sidewalks gives it a run for its money.
Despite all of the praise I have lavished on Ruiner so far, it does have a couple of missed opportunities, namely its hub world. It may look like a gorgeous blend of Akira and something out of Final Fantasy VII, but it’s disappointingly empty in that its inhabitants are seldom interactive save for a few lines of text and a lot of its interior locations are closed off. It’s even more of a shame that Puppy will only visit Rengkok three times in about eight hours or so of gameplay, making it feel like something that Reikon Games never managed to flesh out as much as they would have liked.
The storyline, as mentioned previously, is also littered with cliches; bosses reeling off hammy lines like they’ve just spent an afternoon watching eighties kung fu movies. Adding to that, Ruiner’s disassociation with empathy and decency in the nature of its characters means that there isn’t a lot for the player to care about, either. It teases some broader themes and touching moments without ever really committing to them, which is a real shame. If it just had a bit more heart, Ruiner would have come pretty close to being my favourite game of the year.
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