Ruiner Review (PC)
RUINER is a brutal action shooter set in the year 2091 in the cyber metropolis Rengkok. A wired sociopath lashes out against a corrupt system to uncover the truth and retrieve his kidnapped brother under the guidance of a secretive hacker friend. Combine preternatural reflexes, augmented tools, and the arsenal of fallen foes to tear down and dismantle the corporate titans of virtuality dealers at HEAVEN.
Devolver Digital is really good at publishing great games that just so happen to feature protagonists wearing masks, and Ruiner, from Reikon Games, joins that list.
Ruiner's prologue mission has you working your way through a building on the way to murder 'The Boss', the overlord mob boss-like figure running Rengkok, the fictional cyber metropolis in the year 2091. You’re introduced to combat that can seem relatively simple from initial impressions, and early previews and trailers of Ruiner drew comparisons to another Devolver Digital published gamed, Hotline Miami. However, what at first can seem like a very simple twin-stick shooter and slasher, quickly becomes more complicated and intense -- and so does the story.
After being saved from near-death by a hacker friend, you team up with her (she’s just helping from afar and on comms) to take down the corrupt individuals running Rengkok, while rescuing your brother, who is being held captive for unknown reasons. Ruiner's story gets more complicated over time, and although you may think -- considering the game genre -- it won’t feature much of a story, Ruiner is in fact, very heavily story-based. It can get rather complicated as the game progresses too, but I was interested in everything happening and took to the game's intel files to read up on characters for a better understanding. It’s a story taking heavy influence from Japanese anime, much like a lot of the game's aesthetic, but also has influences of The Matrix, Blade Runner and the world would fit perfectly in with the universe of Ghost in the Shell.
One thing Ruiner sorely misses is a full voice-acted cast. Everything in the game is so vibrant and full of life, with really interesting character designs, but every time they spoke, I wished the main cast had full VO. At most, you get a few lines here and there as your hacker friend says "good job" after a battle, or tells you to "keep going." I missed the VO most on the villains of Ruiner. They're big characters full of life, and I wanted so bad for them to actually be yelling some of the ridiculous lines they have.
Ruiner's style and world is visually striking, reminding me heavily of the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell, but also Akira and Blade Runner. It’s a cyberpunk-inspired game, but lacks a lot of the colours that would normally be associated with cyberpunk, like gold, violet, or blue. Instead, it's a more barren wasted world for the most part, as you work through levels set in the underground, or basement dwelling settings, making it feel more like a grunge version of cyberpunk.
Playing Ruiner with headphones is a must. The character wears a Daft Punk-inspired helmet and it’s a cyberpunk-inspired game -- yes, it has a kick-ass electronic soundtrack. The mix of songs from different artists, like Sidewalks & Skeletons, Zamilska, Antigone & Francois X, DJ Alina and composer Susumu Hirasawa, brings the aesthetic, tone and gameplay of Ruiner together into one tight package. It’s creepy when you're working your way through a sketchy underground area run by a gang that seems to belong in The Warriors, then sounds like something from an anime when you're exploring the HUB city area. When you walk into a room full of enemies, it's pure adrenaline as you face them down. I want the vinyl soundtrack with the artwork -- but for now, can someone please put together the Spotify playlist with all the songs for me, please?
You’ll come back to a small hub-like city area between missions where there isn’t much to do, but it does help break up the more intense ‘proper’ level stuff. You can interact with a few different characters, including a mechanic, an ex-cop and several others. They’re all interesting -- most the characters in Ruiner are interesting, if not simply from their design -- but you won’t deal with them much, if at all, outside of this area, and that’s disappointing given there is a small side-quest system. But for some of the characters I wanted to spend more time with -- like the mechanic, or ex-cop -- there is no way for you to do that yet. I say yet because I believe in an interview at a PAX event, the team at Reikon talked about possible DLC stuff, which may offer what I want. The side quests you can do are pretty meaningless in the overarching scheme of the story. One task involves finding stuff in the main story mission areas and bringing that stuff back -- I found all but a couple things without even trying hard. Another will have you running around the city to find some stuff which isn’t hard given the small area, but it’s a nice change of pace between shooting and slicing up a lot of bad guys.
Not to say shooting and slicing up bad guys in Ruiner isn’t a lot of fun, because it is. After learning the basic controls, which are very simple twin-stick shooter stuff, you will need to get more attuned with the advanced stuff as the game progress and you face off against stronger enemies. Choosing what skills to equip for the right situation is something you can constantly be thinking about, as any skill points you assign as you level up can simply be retracted and put into a different tree with no negative consequences. At first, it seemed weird to have a non-committal system, as I slammed my first few points into upgrading my dash ability, but shortly after I desperately needed a shield and I had to retract my points for the shield for a time being but, of course, lost my upgraded dash I had become so accustomed to. And there is a full weapon-wheel of skills you can access, if you wish to have one point into every tree adding to your arsenal stun grenades, explosive grenades, the ability to slow down time and other things. Or, you play like me and simply put most your points into just a couple things and switch character builds when necessary.
It would be criminal to not mention the amount of different weapons you'll get to use throughout Ruiner. You always have your Ruiner Pistol, which has unlimited ammo, but you will pick up many different guns from automatics, to shotguns, to the extremes of laser type weapons and they all come with limited ammo. So while dodging enemies, melee attacking them and using your skills, you will be keeping an eye on your ammo and picking up weapons enemies drop. Some areas end with a sort of gun-recycle machine coming down, which will chew through all guns left with ammo on the ground to give you a good one and some exp, so if you can manage to beat a battle without having to chew through all dropped weapons, there is a pay off.
Your dash will be one of your most used abilities, but it also has a secondary system where if you hold the dash button you can set three way-points where you’ll dash to automatically. This is especially helpful if you need to get behind cover quickly and you can map out an L shaped motion to get behind a barricade. This is a feature I didn’t use much playing on normal difficulty, but one I think would be absolutely necessary on hard difficulty. Ruiner is a decent challenge on normal -- especially the boss fights -- so I imagine the more tactical side would be paramount to working through the game on harder difficulties.
The mini-bosses are basically amped up versions of normal enemies and can prove to be a small challenge, but the actual bosses of Ruiner -- especially the last battle -- can be quite tough. They’ll all require more than brute strength, but it’s the fact they require brain power and consideration that makes them so memorable, even if you die over and over (like I did), you’ll know it was because of a misplaced shot, your bad timing on a dash or possibly because you should reconsider your skills loadout.
Ruiner ticks a lot of boxes for what I love in video games: fun gameplay with a degree to master it; an interesting story with characters I’m intrigued by; most importantly though, this art style and music -- I’m an admitted sucker for it. Fortunately, it is more than just art and music; it’s also fast-paced combat that requires thinking and reflexes with a story that belongs in the worlds it feels inspired by, which is a compliment. Ruiner is, most definitely, another kick-ass game published by Devolver Digital, where you just so happen to play as a guy wearing a mask (it's actually a helmet.)