Game name: Ruiner
Release date: September 26, 2017
Price: US$ 19.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Top-down action game
Developer: Reikon Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Ruiner‘s vision of the future is dark, neon-lit and hyper violent, showcasing a brutal world where most citizens are too afraid to say what they really think because they fear Heaven, the all-controlling corporation that seems to have everyone under vigilance with elaborate cybernetic gadgets… and cats. In this world, poor people are treated like cattle, kidnapped so the rich can take their organs, or force them to live out their days in virtual reality pods, drained of their thoughts by lifeless machines serving The Man.
Fittingly, we’ll start the game as a hacked human being whose brain has just been taken over by a mysterious villain, who urges us to kill “the boss of Heaven” lest they murder our dear brother. After a short-lived assault on a heavily guarded compound, a seemingly friendly hacker will reprogram our brain, directing our masked protagonist towards the slums of Rengkok, a dark city bristling with night-time activity.
It’s here on Rengkok that we’ll meet the game’s most interesting characters; civilians, shopkeepers, strange cults and activists who claim that Heaven is using robotic cats to spy on the populace. Rengkok isn’t a big, sprawling metropolis (it’s actually a walled-off series of dark alleys and rooftops) but the developers did an excellent job cramming all sorts of quirky characters and interesting details that won’t necessarily be found by all players, but will definitely enrich the experience of the ones who actively seek them out. Ruiner‘s outstanding visuals and anime-inspired soundtrack also help a lot with the atmosphere, with the extremely detailed environment lighting creating a world that wouldn’t look out of place in a Philip K. Dick novel. Everything feels gross and dirty, but it’s the kind of grossness that actually improves our experience, making us feel that we are there, living in this rotten future through the eyes of our character.
Following our friendly hacker’s counsel, we’ll leave Rengkok and enter a lawless area controlled by a crazed gang hell bent on our destruction. This will be our second chance to test out Ruiner‘s fast paced combat system, as our character must destroy all opponents before being able to confront the man who hacked his brain and forced him to undertake this bloody adventure. Players familiar with Hotline Miami will feel right at home here, since death is swift for both our enemies and our playable hero, forcing us to plan every battle as if we were engaged in a deadly (and chaotic) game of chess. A dash mechanic will let us close distances in the blink of an eye, and an RPG-like upgrade system fueled by “Karma” (a currency dropped by dead enemies or obtained as a reward for completing side quests) will add a ton of flavor to the combat. We may also pick up weapons from defeated foes or special boxes, enhancing our combat potential with a plethora of different options, both ranged and melee.
As we advance through the game’s plot, new enemies will be introduced regularly, keeping us on our toes and adding variety to the challenge. The weaponry at our disposal will also evolve, with outlandish versions of the same basic archetypes appearing on every level, and powerful abilities being unlocked through our skill tree. Interestingly, we can choose to re-spec our hero’s powers at any time, without suffering any penalty. This can be used to get through difficult areas with relative ease, as a shield may be needed to avoid damage from a specific enemy, yet the next could require a different ability mapped to the same button, for example. There are some issues with game balance that may throw people off, such as insta-kill enemies spawning during the last waves of a fight, or the power of the shock grenades we’ll unlock after some time (which can even stun certain bosses, making some engagements seem trivial when compared to others) but overall, I had a great time with Ruiner‘s combat.
Doing well and chaining up combos will reward us with ranks at the end of every fight (ranging from E to S++) but for some strange reason, I wasn’t able to see the specific rank I got on each level anywhere else, something that felt like a missed opportunity, as most gamers love leaderboards and stats.
This becomes even weirder when we take into account the relatively short length of Ruiner‘s campaign, since we’ll be able to beat the game’s three main areas in less than six hours, and once that’s done, the only thing we can do is go through them again on a harder difficulty level (unless we started on Hard Mode, in which case there’s nothing left to do). There are a few achievements that require going out of our way to complete optional objectives or beat a certain number of enemies in a specific manner, but other than that, there isn’t a lot in the way of replayability here.
Moving on to the tech side, while Ruiner looks gorgeous and runs like a dream, there is no 21:9 support, and the controls can’t be customized, leaving out players who require specific layouts in order to be able to enjoy a game. Hopefully, Reikon Games will be able to fix this issue, as they have done a marvelous job on everything else.
To conclude, Ruiner‘s fast paced combat and excellent atmosphere more than make up for its lack of replayability. A few tech issues conspire to bring the experience down, but most gamers will have a blast with this cyberpunk adventure.
8/10 (Very good)