Developer: Reikon Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 26/09/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
You know what I love? Twin-stick action games that offer brutal, quick-paced combat. Know what else I love? Cyberpunk themed games. Naturally then RUINER, the new game from developer Reikon Games and publisher Devolver Digital, appealed to me from the get go, with the title’s focus on all-out action packed combat in a cyberpunk world making it one of my most anticipated releases this year. I’ve finally got my hands on it and I’m glad to say that it has lived up to my seemingly endless hype – it’s one of the most exciting, action-packed experiences I’ve played this year.
RUINER puts you into the shoes of a masked assassin who finds himself trying to kill someone known only as THE BOSS. Before you can get your hands on this mysterious person though, you’re awoken by a strange female hacker who informs you that your mind had been hacked and that you were being used. Not only that, but your Brother has been kidnapped, so you need to head out and rescue him. The only way to do this is by finding the person who hacked you in the first place and find out what exactly he knows, thus begins your journey across the deadly city of Rengkok South as you look to save your Brother and maybe take down an evil corporation in the process.
So RUINER’s story isn’t really the highlight of the show; don’t get me wrong, it offers an enjoyable little tale to work alongside the action-packed gameplay, but there’s nothing about it that felt particularly clever or unpredictable. Admittedly, the ending came from out of nowhere, but there were a few too many loose ends left in the narrative to be fully satisfied with how everything came to a conclusion.
One thing that took away from the overall cinematic feel of the game was the fact that there was no voice acting on offer. It was odd to see cutscenes play out with characters reacting in different ways, but for no actual voices to be heard – it was something that was particularly noticeable during the game’s ending sequence. During the scenes built around static character illustrations it wasn’t as obvious, but I really do think the overall narrative would’ve benefited a lot if each character actually had a voice.
There’s a ridiculous amount of lore on offer in the game though, with a ton of information on each weapon, location, and character available to read in the game’s database. The main story often misses out on a lot of these details, but if you’re willing to do a bit of reading you’ll find there’s a hell of a lot more to the world of RUINER than the main narrative alone suggests – It’s actually a little odd that the developers didn’t choose to use a lot more of these details throughout the story seeing as they made the effort to put the database together.
Despite how dark the world of RUINER is, it still manages to fit in some comedy elements with a reference to publisher Devolver Digital’s ‘fictional’ CFO Fork Parker, as well as some humorous encounters with the worker robots (who are called Yoshi, might I add) who threaten to ‘Kick your ass’ or offer to drink vodka with you. RUINER’s narrative is typically a dire and gloomy one, but these little moments certainly brought a smile to my face.
RUINER’s gameplay is built around twin-stick action that sees you taking on a ton of enemies in a mixture of melee and gun-based combat. This means pulling off a series of quick-paced assaults on groups of enemies, all whilst avoiding their counter-attacks and the countless hazards that are littered across the environment. Once you defeat a wave of enemies you get a ranking (S+ being the highest) and then move on to the next area of the level until you eventually reach the exit (or a boss encounter). It’s the same tried-and-tested formula that we’ve seen in other games in the genre, yet it all feels incredibly stylish and cool thanks to the game’s slick presentation and sheer variety on offer in its combat mechanics.
There’s a great mixture of weaponry on offer in the game, with guns and melee weapons hidden in the various chests around each level or dropped by enemies when you pulverise them. You’ll rarely ever stick to just one type in a combat situation – why would you want to though when there are a ton of different pistols, machine guns, flamethrowers, power rifles, and melee weapons on offer? Each one has a limited amount of ammo/durability too, so you’ll often find yourself switching your arsenal around whether you want to or not. Each weapon feels incredibly satisfying to use though and with so many on offer you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t actually get to try them all out in just one playthrough of the game.
Just because you might not use the weapons that are available though it doesn’t mean they all go to waste – at the end of each combat situation a weapon grinder drops into the area, disposing of all weapons around you and exchanging them for Karma (more on that later) and for a more powerful weapon. It’s actually a neat little touch that ensures you’re always well-equipped, plus you’re keeping the environment clean; it’s win-win for everyone.
You’ll need to use a ton of the weapons if you’re going to survive though, with enemies coming at you non-stop throughout the game. It’s never just one or two enemies either, with the screen seemingly filling up with them at times. There’s a good variety of different enemies to encounter throughout the game that each have their own unique skillsets and weapons; whilst the Creepers of RUINER’s early levels are easy enough to take down thanks to their lacking tactical capabilities and poor weapon choice, the deadly Cyborgs you face off against later on certainly pack one hell of a punch and will come at you from all angles with their fierce attacks.
One thing that I really appreciated about combat was that enemies often had the same abilities that the player was able to use. Nothing about them ever felt ridiculously unfair or over-powered, but instead they were simply using the same tactics or skillsets that I was able to. So often in video games we see enemies that have some massive unfair advantage over the player, but that wasn’t the case in RUINER (well… apart from being massively outnumbered, but that’s the norm); instead, it was simply a case of kill or be killed.
Most importantly of all though is that RUINER’s combat is just a hell of a lot of fun. It’s so quick-packed that battles are often over incredibly swiftly, yet I never felt out of control or like I was just button-mashing. There’s a real satisfying sense of precision to combat that’s often missing in these kind of twin-stick action titles; It just really makes you feel like a f***ing bad ass.
As you progress through the game you earn Karma which acts as the game’s form of experience points. You can then use this Karma to unlock new abilities, upgrade them, and improve your stats. There’s a decent variety of options available as far as upgrading your character goes, with the levelling up system playing a massive role in your progression through the game. It might be a case of giving yourself more health, more energy, or having weapons become more durable, or alternatively you could unlock sweet new skills like the use of explosives, the ability to hack enemies to fight for you, or even get a shield to protect yourself from the non-stop enemy fire that’s coming your way.
One thing that RUINER deserves praise for is the fact that the skillsets on offer seem to cater for all different playstyles. You’re able to fight both at range and up close in the game, so naturally there are skills on offer that work in conjunction with the varying styles. You could mix things up, stick to a melee focused skillset, or instead make sure that your weapons and shields are more efficient when fighting from afar; it’s completely up to you with the game granting you the full freedom to play exactly how you want to.
Despite the fact that it’s easy to quickly establish a playstyle that suits you, you’ve also got to be flexible in your approach to the game. I loved dashing around enemies and taking them out with melee attacks, so naturally I made sure my character had upgraded his dash ability so that it would recharge faster and that attacks performed whilst dashing dished out extra damage. For the most part this proved incredibly effective and I was almost unstoppable against the standard enemies you come across in each level.
However, I then reached a boss who was based around close-range explosives. The strategy I’d been following throughout the game suddenly had a massive flaw, since every time I seemed to get close to the damn guy I’d end up getting blown apart. It forced me to think things through a bit differently and play in a more effective way; it’s not something that I got frustrated with though, but I instead appreciated the diversity on offer in RUINER’s hectic combat mechanics. You’ve always got to be ready to adapt and change up your approach, because you just never know when the game is going to throw a nasty curveball your way.
Besides the main storyline RUINER has a fair few side missions on offer, though they typically boil down to simply finding or collecting items in the environment. They never really felt like actual side missions though, but rather compulsory objectives that feel like a part of the main mission; there’s one character that gives you a list of bounties to collect for example, but those bounties are for the boss characters that you have to take down during the main story anyway. It would’ve been nice if the game offered something that genuinely was optional and not part of the main game, especially since each level was large enough to host them.
RUINER’s aesthetic is slick and stylish, with everything looking sublime when in motion. The cyberpunk themes are clear throughout each of the environments, with a clear focus on showing a world that feels like a blend of Deus Ex, Ghost in the Shell, and even a little bit of Mad Max for good measure. Despite some of these inspirations being clear though, it still manages to feel incredibly unique; everything about the world felt fresh and it was a joy to explore. My only real issue was that the metallic world and focus on red tones often brought a lack of variety to the actual visual style of each level, with a real sense of familiarity felt between each area you visit – this was a minor gripe though and one that didn’t really have a negative effect on my time with the game.
It’s worth mentioning that the soundtrack is absolutely banging too, with plenty of high-paced techno tracks playing alongside all of the action-packed combat of the game. Whilst I couldn’t actually name any of the artists you hear in the game (nor can I remember the tune of anything I heard), each track offered an incredibly fitting beat to go along with the non-stop brutal action. The soundtrack really (and I mean REALLY) complimented the game’s ultra-stylish quick-paced action.
I absolutely loved RUINER. The varied combat mechanics ensured that both the player and the enemies had a slick variety of skills to unleash, the quick-paced action was both sublime to play and to witness in motion, whilst the cyberpunk setting offered a stunning landscape to battle across. It’s simply oozing with style and personality, with the experience as a whole really proving to be something special.
The lacking narrative and lack of visual diversity between levels were the only real issues I had with the game, but neither of those did enough to really dampen my experience playing it. All in all, RUINER is simply one of my favourite games that I’ve played this year and is something I’d easily recommend to all gamers who love a bit of quick-paced non-stop action.