Last week was a test for the hardcore, weren’t it?
On one hand, we had Cuphead, Studio MDHR’s painfully developed run n’ gun, met with constant delays and people who couldn’t get past the tutorial, sparking a debate as to whether people who aren’t good at video games should cover video games (Spoiler alert: they shouldn’t). And on the other hand? Ruiner, a game that couldn’t be more cyberpunk if it tried.
Today’s anime-inspired hit comes to us from the developers Reikon Games, a team of 5 from Poland who all have different histories in the gaming industry. Some worked on The Witcher, others worked on Dead Island, that sort of thing. Since 2014, they’ve been working hard on this brutal twin-stick and now, they and Devolver Digital have released their baby into the wild. So, without further ado, let’s ruin Reviewe— I-I mean, let’s review Ruiner.
Ruiner tells the story of a masked psychopath killing people to aid some unknown figure, set in the far-off year of 2091 in a cyber metropolis based off of [ENTER ANIME HERE]. Supposedly, this unknown figure has your brother held hostage for your compliance, and after the mission is botched, you get saved by “Her”, some giggling girl hacker who wants to help you with her tech-wiz skills. Now you climb up the ranks, in order to get your brother, and find out who is behind it all.
One thing you’ll notice straight away is that Ruiner wears all its influences like a well-made suit, many of said influences being the golden years of anime: Ghost In The Shell, AKIRA, a slight zest of Fist of The North Star. Hell, I get the sense that they probably got a few ideas from Hackers as well, the horrifically cheesy film from the 90s, starring Angelina Jolie. However, it’s what Ruiner does with the influences that makes it stand out, and thankfully it isn’t a case of a fanboy title. Ruiner might be able to join the greats of cyberpunk.
As is the case with most Devolver-published titles, there’s only two goals in mind for Ruiner: Ultra-violence and a taste for the sadistic, in terms of difficulty. The ultra-violence is handled well, and Reikon approached it with nuance and grace. The art style helps a lot, with the metropolis still looking somewhat clean, despite all the scum populating it. Nevertheless, with the art style hand-in-hand with the violence, this is where Ruiner shines.
It goes in typical fashion with the revived FPS genre: you enter a room, and if it’s filled with guns and explosive barrels, you better nut up buddy, because this is going to get messy. The masked Ruiner can approach enemies with either a melee-focused loadout or just going in guns blazing, with both of them utilizing the “dash” that is given to you early on. Both options are equally balanced and have a massive variety of weapons backed by an amazingly deep upgrade system.
The upgrade//skill tree system has a lot to offer. From simple health and energy upgrades to new power-ups to decimate your foes and it all ends up being a cathartic blood-fest of epic proportions. The closest comparison would be the 2013 reboot of Shadow Warrior, but it ends in a much bigger bang here, and Ruiner definitely comes out as the top dog.
For one, despite looking like a convoluted mess, the skill tree isn’t as foreboding as one might assume at first glance. It’s not like Shadow Warrior, where you had to pull off Street Fighter-esque combos in order to deal a bit more damage. Thanks to the twin-stick layout, there are plenty of buttons for which you can add a ton of power-ups, meaning that combat becomes varied and beautifully orchestrated chaos.
Despite the well-made mechanics, Ruiner definitely suffers when overstaying its welcome, as levels tend to drag on near the end, where you just don’t know why it keeps continuing. It’s not a long game by any means, with my first playthrough clocking in at 8 hours, but the levels and environments definitely needed a bit more thought put into them, no matter how appealing they are.
The bosses also suffer from a case of bipolar difficulty disorder. On one hand, the melee focused bosses are incredibly easy, due to the fact you can kite them with no hassle, so the fight ends in seconds. But the bosses with guns? Oh my god, they will kick your arse to the cyberpunk moon and back, due to them being you but with a different design.
This might be a beginner’s trap however, as when you actually play how the game wants to see you play, it becomes a fair fight of fun. However, the boss fight against the vulgar mechanical unit MOTHER? That boss fight can get lost in a field of needles. It doesn’t help that you’ve got to dodge a laser that can almost insta-kill you every time you step foot in it, but when you use to shield to reflect it, the shield is the same colour as the laser. So when all your energy runs out? Be quick boy, or that laser will turn you into chunky salsa.
Another thing I will mention is that even if Ruiner is unable to win any form of Game of The Year awards, it will most certainly the Soundtrack of The Year, as I have not played any games this year with an OST that goes this hard. It’s one part vaporwave, one part chillwave, two parts techno, and the overall effect is a mesmerizing brilliance. It compliments the game wonderfully, and it’s another example of the game wearing influences, but evolving into much more than that.
As for the story? I don’t know how to feel about it. Not that it matters, no one will care at the end of it, but it’s certainly nothing spectacular. This is mainly because Her’s attitude towards you throws the player for all kinds of loops, with her constant uttering of “come on, Puppy!” getting on my nerves. It’s all for the tone though, and I don’t mind that.
The characters that populate the world all manage to craft an identity of their own as well, despite the possible negligence from the player. They all look like knock off Frank Miller drawings, but they all add zest and a slight comedic flavour to the world, when it most definitely could use it. They’re drawn well, they fit in with the environments and they don’t come off as typecast background extras.
One stupid thing that I won’t forgive the game for is the “open-ended” dialogue choices of Ruiner. You’ll sometimes be given a choice on how to react towards conversations, but they all end in the same way. Why was choice allowed? It doesn’t ruin the experience but the presence of it is ultimately confusing and not necessary. It’s merely a small complaint towards a solid core, but sometimes they can go a long way.
At the end of my first playthrough, Ruiner did fill me with glee. Did I have fun? Yes, without a doubt, if you want a hardcore twin-stick to kick you in the arse and remind you what the word “Difficulty” means, then grab this game, as it’s one of the hardest games to be released this year. Will I recommend it to friends? Yes, as anyone who likes the golden age of anime or just cyberpunk aesthetics in general will certainly get a lot of airtime with this. Does it have replay value? Ehhh, I don’t know about that, Sergeant.
While Ruiner was a wild ride, it’s clear that Reikon showed their full hand throughout one playthrough and I don’t see myself returning in the future. It was a fun trip that I definitely won’t forget for a while but… I don’t know, it’s like anchovies. You eat one and you’re like “Goddamn, that wasn’t too bad”, but then the second enters your mouth and you grimace a bit, knowing that this isn’t a binging food.
Odd analogy, but you know what I mean.
This review of Ruiner is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A brutally difficult twin stick with just enough variety and pizazz to climb aboard the top of the twin-stick empire.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.