Disclaimer: We were lucky enough to be given a key for the purpose of this review.
I feel like I’m being targeted. Another title that ticks a bunch of stylistic boxes that I really like has been waved under my nose. Saturated neon lighting, retro-esque synth soundtrack and cyberpunk as shit. In Ruiner, the main character suffers from a brain hacking episode and is tasked with killing THE BOSS but of course nothing is that easy. You might have been led to believe the gameplay is pretty simple, a fairly straightforward twin-stick shooter, but as you unlock more of the the anti-heroes abilities it opens up to something much more interesting than I had bargained for.
Your first stop is of course the tutorial, where you’re guided through a limited set of abilities and their uses, on top of the basic control scheme. Managing your energy is also a valuable lesson, you’re gonna need to use it efficiently to power all of your auxiliary skills but the timing of their use during fights is something you’ll have to learn the hard way. Now this might sound odd but the boss fight at the end of the tutorial is actually really difficult compared to the pretty standard fights leading up to it. They really throw you in the deep end here, you get a boss with a sizeable health pool, infinitely spawning minions to assist him and a countdown timer with only 15 seconds on it. You only see another timer in a similar fashion at the very end of the game. You do gain 5 seconds for every peon you dispatch but you need to dodge them and the boss all while managing the remaining time. At this point, I turned the difficulty from Hard to Normal. Not gonna lie, it felt like I wasn’t doing enough damage compared to the amount I was receiving so I caved.
Having completed the game I looked back on the early stages and wondered how I got through them, because playing through them again almost immediately I still felt like I was having a hard time. I hope that the early stages of the game don’t scare people off because the tools you get as you level up make things much more interesting. When you gain access to new skills and modifiers to those skills things change dramatically. It’s a lot of fun to play around with your setup and even necessary for some segments. For example, in the first area after the tutorial which is kind of a punk infested car park, they are shown to rig traps that you can quite easily mitigate with the use of your shield ability. The hard part is paying attention to your surroundings and noticing the trip lasers so that you can activate your shield in time before eating a buckshot sandwich. The shield isn’t only for the few environmental traps though, it’s handy in your standard firefights as well. It comes down as soon as you fire but if you upgrade it enough you can use it as a battering ram, making it so that when you dash through an enemy they take a bunch of damage and have the chance to drop Karma which is just icing on the cake really.
Karma is the experience point of Ruiner. You get them for just about every action you can make. Kill a dude, take his Karma. Open a box, found some Karma. Hack some robo spy cats in the town for a girl, you gained Karma. All this Karma is used for is leveling up, unlocking your abilities along the way. I have a bit of a gripe with the timing of your unlocks though. This is a PvE game so there’s no real reason other than pacing to make things available in the seemingly arbitrary order that they come for the most part. I think if the tiers were simply all available at normal intervals, say every 4 levels, you’d still have access to everything in time for the endgame and feel like you’re getting a good amount for the time it takes. I do however like the way the skills are implemented. You can’t simply stack them all on nor can you have any combination you want of what’s available. Certain skills can only go on certain slots, this makes you weigh up each option and reconsider your choice if you come up against a wall during the course of your playthrough. Should I have taken the mind control skill instead of the regeneration ability?
The whole brain hacking thing is very prevalent throughout the story. Not so subliminal imagery flashes across your vision urging you on, your benevolent guide making her presence known as often as is necessary and sometimes more. You should already be skeptical of the people heavily involved in the main story as the guide through the tutorial is outed as a snake by its end. That’s not to say no one can be trusted in such a dystopia. You gain the respect and loyalty of former enemies, though this isn’t realised in a gameplay sense which would have been cool. You can help the people around the town (for Karma) and make a positive difference. I would have like to have been given something other than the randomised contents of a semi hidden gun locker and/or some karma for the side quests but they’re baked into the flow of the game well enough that it’s silly to ignore them.
The characters you interact with are fairly simple, matching the style of game, but your avatar has the ability to make the simple interactions just a little bit more charming. Instead of voiced lines or even a full line of text, you’re given 2 options with one word queues and a fitting overlay for the mask for each. I try to be as defiant as possible or at the very least, pick the option which gives the funniest imagery.
I’ve really enjoyed my brief time in the Ruiner world. It’s short and sweet, not overstaying its welcome. Having said that I would like to have seen a little more diversity in the level layouts and some sort of level editor but knowing the companies Devolver usually publish, that sort of thing might be out of the reach of the four devs at Reikon Games. It’s certainly a good start to their library nonetheless. Add it to yours on Steam, GoG, PS4 or Xbox One when it releases September 26th (27th here in Aus.)
The Good: Top notch design and gameplay backed by a killer soundtrack.
The Bad: Not the most logical difficulty curve.
Final Verdict: Hard and fast, just the way I like it.