“You are in Heaven. You’re here to kill the Boss. Do what I say if you want to live.”
You might feel like you’re in control, but in Ruiner you are the one being played.
Ruiner is a game that wants to see you destroyed: a top-down action shooter with brutally fast-paced combat to put you in your place. You haunt the gutters of Rengkok South, a cyberpunk city where the streets are watched over by faceless corporations and anything can be bought with enough Karma. Drawing on anime influences like Ghost in the Shell, Reikon Games have created an augmented blood rush of a game where combat pulses with adrenaline and boss fights leave you reeling with all systems fried.
You play as an enigma: a guy in a leather jacket, face hidden behind a darkened biker helmet, hacked to do the bidding of your Master. But as the world judders and the screen flickers with static you are overruled by a new and mysterious voice: ‘Her’, a hacker girl who takes back control over your mind, and warns you that your brother has been kidnapped: setting the player on a journey of vengeance and blood.
Ruiner nails its combat system: reminiscent of games like Hyper Light Drifter with frenetic speed and dashing around enemies at its core. You burn your way through entire armories of weapons, from flamethrowers and plasma rifles to katanas and frag bombs, all supported through various unlockable abilities whether you want a simple damage boost or to slow time and give yourself a moment to run.
Luckily, skill-points can be reallocated to different abilities at a moment’s notice, so the player is never faced with a long pause to deliberate over the best abilities to commit to. Hacking enemies brains to have them fight for you, spending energy to heal yourself, or throwing down a stun grenade to paralyse a boss are all abilities you can switch out in a heartbeat to keep your rhythm going, and should you still feel unprepared there’s always a mountain of guns littering the floor to keep the combat flowing.
With all those options available it might sound like Ruiner should be a breeze to complete, but far from it: you’ll need all the guns and abilities you can get just to make it through, and the game knows it. Ruiner loves to gloat over your every death, but with each “Get up, Puppy.” that is followed by yet another desperately magnificent death the satisfaction of finally overcoming the challenge only gets stronger.
That said, Ruiner does lack some variety when it comes to its levels. The different enemies are cool stylistically, like Creeps: abandoned Third Children brainwashed and loyal to their gang leader, or Drained Hosts: the empty shells of humans tortured and trapped in virtual reality. However apart from scaling in difficulty enemies are largely similar, and you’ll find yourself fighting the same bosses again and again at different skill levels. No doubt Ruiner could have used some extra time to develop a few more unique enemies to switch tactics against and to give the different levels truly individual art styles. Yet Ruiner’s simplicity of combat, frantic pace, and brutal punishment of mistakes form the core of a game that is undeniably addictive.
Ruiner‘s story is similar in that it’s simple at its premise: a man seeking to rescue his brother and wreak havoc on those who captured him, but the world itself offers a depth of characters and lore that is truly worth diving into. Walking the streets of Rengkok South feels like falling into William Gibson’s dystopian Chiba City, a place where street-vendors hawk xiao long bao and shrimp jiaozi, fortune tellers prattle to shadows in the alleyways, and even the cats are spliced with cybernetics to spy on citizens’ comings and goings.
Ruiner’s atmosphere is brilliantly captured by Susumu Hirasawa: combat sequences throb with bass-note shudders and the grinding of bloodthirsty machinery, while those brief moments of isolation, a fragile blue puncturing a violent sea of red, are scored with wind chimes and echoed choral voices. Suffice to say the OST is worth checking out.
Overall, Ruiner certainly has some shortcomings but its core gameplay makes for a compelling, head-pounding rush through a playground of cyberpunk nightmares. Reikon Games have said that they have plans to implement new game modes in future DLC, so it’s likely we’ll see even more ridiculously unfair game options in the future just-in-case death-timers and deathless run achievements weren’t enough to taunt you into playing. Above all Ruiner is a game that expects you to keep up, and will drag you through the mud un-relentlessly until you stand up, or give up. Ruiner treats you like a toy, but it only makes it all the more satisfying to beat. “Now get up, and try again.”