RUINER? I Hardly Know "HER"
The wildfire in your grey matter swirls and blazes in unmitigated pain. You can't feel control of your own body, just a driving, pounding force to keep progressing forward as your blood-soaked sneakers squish through the trail of viscera you just laid down. The intangible fire forms into three words you see over and over and over. KILL THE BOSS is the only thing you understand. You holster your Ruiner pistol to pick up a sawed-off TAS-8 shotgun. KILL THE BOSS. Your High-Frequency vibro-blade hums on your back. KILL THE BOSS. Death in your wake, voices in your head. KILL THE BOSS.
Ruiner is a twin-stick shooter by Reikon Games published by Devolver Digital (of Gris and Hotline Miami fame). The first thing that may grab you, especially if you're a fan of the genre, is the cyberpunk art and industrial music. Hand-drawn static images by Benedykt Szneider give an austere cybertronic vibe to all the characters, even those without any augs....poseurs. The avatars onscreen are small, but the blown up renderings of the characters they represent help sell them as inhabitants of this world. The sound design feels a bit weak as each weapon depends more on a distinct visual outline to show what is on the ground littered with gauss rifles, grenade launchers, and flame throwers. Popping a Creep in the face with a heavy pistol doesn't feel as weighty as it should, but you're too busy trying to stay alive to worry about it. The punctuated breakbeat is very reminiscent of Hotline Miami sound design with crazy, unsettling synth booms pounding through every laser blast and grenade explosion.
The gameplay loop is perfectly adequate: enter a level, plow through some street punks or Exo-Mercs in a battle arena, collect some XP, repeat. In my opinion however, the true appeal of the game is seeing how high that combo score can be racked up before the last body hits the floor. Score systems like these may seem secondary these days, but for a 5-7 hour jaunt, it feels necessary for not only replayability but also growing as a player character. The rankings at the end of each level and stage feel very generous early on, but as the deaths stack up from small missteps, you'll be hearing the disappointment in your hacker companion's voice at your "E" ranking. This has no bearing on gameplay, but slicing and dicing through 15 enemies without being touched at all makes the fist pump S+ ranking at the end mega-rewarding. Aiding you in this endeavor is perhaps one of the best skill systems I've played in any game, even including AAA titles. It's the simple fact that you can reallocate skill points to whatever kit is right for you at the time. Getting firebombed to hell? Beef up that energy shield. Want some AI buddies to fight on your side against a boss? Short-circuit their feeble brains. All of these options can be swapped and moved with a few seconds and it feels really good to try different loadouts even if you've already found one that can't be beat.
There is some downtime in the main hub world between missions. Rengkok South is small as far as hub worlds are concerned, but there are just enough small details packed in to make it feel alive. People talking in emojis, pleasure bars, drunkards, crazies, and businessmen all inhabit some small corner of the city and it's up to you to seek them out for side quests....if you want. The side quests are barely meaty enough to warrant your time; it is just neon-colored frosting on the dark red velvet cake. Eventually, you'll start to see the same level templates again and again until you're deep in the late game which shakes things up only a bit. You'll need some help navigating level traps but it doesn't equate to more than pushing a button and waiting. The Unreal Engine the game was made in isn't perfect either. I encountered 2 bugs on the Xbox One that were neither glaring or game-breaking because, huzzah, load times are infrequent and short. These are all minor gripes on an otherwise terrific game that is action-packed, respectful of your time, and doesn't overstay it's welcome. I hope the studio has plans for a sequel in the future. Until then, stay frosty and chipped in!