Release Date: September 26th, 2017
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Reikon Games
Genre: Action, Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Calling RUINER a pleasant surprise is an understatement. Even though the trailers looked appealing, I had my doubts since the game seemed like a Hotline Miami clone. However, RUINER turned out to be a fluid, exciting, atmospheric and frustrating gem of a game. Even though I have some problems with it, the gameplay is incredible. The practical use of upgrades that actually change your play style, the fast and fluid combat system matched with gorgeous visuals and a rocking soundtrack makes this game shine beyond all expectations. Reikon Games has created something that will be recognized as a classic by many, and even with its shortcomings, it’s an astounding experience.
In the story of RUINER, you play a silent protagonist searching for his brother’s whereabouts in the streets of a cyberpunk city called Rengkok. You’re being helped by a mysterious hacker referred to as “her,” and together you plan to unravel the mystery of his disappearance.
The story isn’t revolutionary or genius, but it is likable especially when it comes to certain characters. It doesn’t focus heavily on the plot points, but what we’re told works well with what’s going on. My big problem here is the way certain things are written. Mainly with the use of foul language, similar to when a child learns a swear word for the first time and continues to use it in poor taste. Certain conversations seem like they were written by a kid because of how suddenly a character might drop the f-bomb.
I also appreciate that there’s barely any voice acting. I can imagine how bad certain characters might sound if they had voices, so it’s a relief that there is little to none. It’s also pretty interesting how often this game makes light of what’s going on, with “her” referring to you as a puppy hunting its prey, and using a random emoji every time she speaks with you. The game also seems to take place in what might be futuristic Japan, perhaps China? I’m not particularly sure, since Rengkok is fictional.
Frustrating, Unforgiving, Novel
When clicking “play” in the main menu of RUINER, the most important decision you’ll make is choosing the game difficulty. When hovering over hard mode, it warns you of how much hell you’ll go through with it, but it also states that it’s what the studio has recommended. Reikon Games doesn’t shove the titles challenge down our throats. They want this game to be hard as hell, but they know that this is not for everyone, and they’re okay with people defying their vision. When compared to similar titles that just force you to suffer, this is surprisingly relieving. Even though I ended up playing it on hard anyway, knowing that this was MY choice changes how you experience the frustration.
This is especially evident when you consider how much else there is to this game. Not everyone will see value in the difficulty, especially with a game that’s meant to be as hard as RUINER turned out to be. This game is monumentally tough, and there is so much more to it than the difficulty that others might be interested in.
However, before going onto those others things, let’s talk about the actual difficulty here. Nothing is more satisfying than finally beating a boss after fifty tries and RUINER capitalizes on this feeling of accomplishment expertly. This is one of those games where each and every boss will only go down after you hit them a hundred times, yet they can kill you in two. Even encounters with regular enemies poses a giant threat to your life. I’ve had so many moments where I had beaten down a huge wave of enemies only to be taken out by a lower level one due to my growing cockiness. It’s deceptive how weak some enemies might seem yet they have the ability to take out half of your health with a single swipe. This game is a huge challenge when it comes to the actual combat, but thankfully, the checkpoint system is fair.
This game works in waves, you continue to one area, get locked in that area, and fight twenty enemies at once. These battles are pretty tough, but once you do clear a wave, you get a checkpoint and even if you die a second after it’s over, you’ve got nothing to worry about. I absolutely love this design, as it allows you to keep going with the difficulty more based on your ability to do well rather than the games ability to screw you over.
It’s also quite amazing how each encounter feels fresh. There isn’t one wonderful strategy that can beat every enemy. Every other battle I had to respec my skill tree as the enemies constantly change, and the game expects you to adapt to these changes. This is especially evident when it comes to the bosses. After a while, I started to learn that each boss has their own weakness, and even though they might seem impossible at first, it slowly seems more and more possible once you figure out their soft spots. It’ll still be tough to execute, but with a lot of patience you’ll get there.
An uninspired trait that plagues certain video games is the gimmicky skill tree, typically used as an attempt to keep the player invested. If you can’t keep someone playing because your gameplay is engaging, you keep them playing with the expectation of another level up or a skill point they can spend to further “progress” their character, even if it only increases their health by 2%. These systems are dull, and I was worried RUINER would implement something similar.
Thankfully, every available ability is practical. There are a few things in here that resemble these gimmicky upgrades, but for the most part, a lot of these things actually help. When you defeat enemies, open chests, or complete a side mission, you’ll get Karma, which is this game’s version of experience points. You can unlock a stun grenade which will keep a boss at bay for a few seconds, a shield that will make certain bosses impossible to fight without, the ability to slow down time so you can think strategically, an incredible power boost in times of desperate need, and/or the power to heal yourself in exchange for energy. All of these abilities saved my life, every single one of them. I genuinely think that without some of these things, I would not have been able to beat this game.
It’s also great that you can just exchange these abilities for new ones whenever you want. You don’t have to go through some complex method to respec. You can just do it on the spot, at any time.
Fast & Engaging
Even without these insane upgrades, RUINER has an awesome combat system. The game has you dashing around, swiping at enemies, dashing back, dodging what looks like bullet hell and swiping at enemies some more. This series of events occurs within a few seconds, and how quickly these enemies come at you is horrifying. You need to focus on so many things at once to keep yourself alive. The game very subtly prompts you when things happen, so you have to keep an eye out. In the early stages of the game, I had trouble realizing when I had taken damage. Later on I learned to always keep an eye on my health bar.
You also have to focus on shooting at certain bosses while paying close attention to when they shoot you. This may not seem like a big deal, since a lot of us are used to our games prompting us when this happens, but RUINER is so subtle about these prompts that you have to pay close attention. Because you’re so focused on other things, like when a boss might laser you, when a specific enemy is preparing his swipe, or when a big machine will drop down to suck your energy, it’s very easy to die to something you didn’t have your eye on. This is very frustrating, but it is exciting. You need to put all of your heart into this game, and you can’t have your focus elsewhere or you will die.
Something that really stands out about RUINER is how immersive it is. This is thanks to the incredible cyberpunk world that tells us a great deal from the visuals alone. The way police lights shine on you from above, the way the machines go through their motions in certain parts of the game, and the way a music track perfectly compliments what’s going in the story is incredible. The soundtrack adds a great deal of tension to every encounter, and makes walking in a straight line feel bad ass. I’m not a professional when it comes to music, but I can say that it fits this game very well.
Lackluster Hub World
There is an over world in RUINER, and although it’s visually gorgeous like the rest of the game, it’s quite bland in terms of its relevance to the gameplay. You can talk to residents of the city, accept side quests from certain people, and freely explore what the small zone has to offer. Some of these missions are pretty funny too, one rewarding you if you die 100+ times, and one provided by a girl dressed up as a cat, claiming that the cats in the city are spying on the citizens.
I also quite like the way these characters are written, typically just providing small bits of information that tell you more about this world. The big problem for me is that the rewards you get from these missions are insignificant. It took me a while to even notice I was getting rewards in the first place, but when I eventually realized it, it was such a tiny bonus that I felt like I had just wasted my time. The only reward that I appreciate is the weapon lockers, which even then, they rarely helped, but at least I had something to show for it.
The Weapon Grinder is quite the cool mechanic. When you defeat a wave of enemies, the Weapon Grinder comes down and allows you to destroy the dropped weapons near you in exchange for Karma and a very powerful weapon. By having you wonder what crazy gun you’ll get next, the mechanic adds an extra layer of excitement.
I’m not exactly sure why you can make choices in the dialogue, as all of these choices just lead to the same answers regardless of what you pick. I’m not a big fan of this design, they might as well just have removed this feature entirely.
There’s also a point in the game where you need something to unlock certain gates, and going through these motions feels pointless. You just have to hold E for five seconds and then wait another ten seconds while it unlocks the door. There’s a point in the game where you go through this three times without a single enemy in between. What’s this mechanics purpose? Is it just to waste our time?
RUINER is an incredible game with an awesome combat system, a practical ability tree, compelling visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and an impressive understanding of how to make a video game hard as hell. Reikon Games has done a wonderful job with it, and I highly anticipate their next title.
- THE GOOD
- Exciting Combat System
- Practical Ability Tree
- Fantastic Audio/Visuals
- Hard As Hell
- THE BAD
- Subpar Hub World
RUINER is a frustrating gem, and for its ten hours of non-stop action, it’s well worth the twenty bucks it’ll cost you.