Shoot, Kill, Bludgeon, Slice and Obey. Ruiner opens immediately introducing its audience to the concept of a human-controlled killing machine, mindlessly following its overlord’s wishes. In this dystopian, Blade-Runner-esque sci fi world there is little room for joy or hope. It’s a dark, gritty, merciless environment, one where kill combos, deadly reactions and brutal executions are rewarded with audio congratulations, upgrade points and guns, guns and more guns. In mechanical terms it’s a polished shmup with an emphasis on chaining kill combos and dashing and dodging incoming attacks.
Ruiner begins with the player character under the control of an unknown overlord commanding you to “Kill the Boss.” This sequence works well as a tutorial segment introducing you to the core gameplay loop that you’ll be repeating as you play through the game: kill a number of enemies, progress through each sequence and defeat the boss at the end of the level. Thankfully the gameplay is solid and takes inspiration from titles like Transistor and Hotline Miami, but it breaks free of those comparisons and carves its own unique blend of gunplay and melee combat. Everything is slick and moulded together. You’ll dash and strike an enemy with your melee weapon, immediately equip his gun, bullet time will initiate, and you’ll spin around and shoot all three of his buddies. It’s brutal and satisfying, rewarding your quick reactions and dead eye aim with combo effects and a better rating at the end of each level for chaining together more and more kills. With a plethora of weapons to choose from there are several ways to dish out your favourite flavour of death: shotguns, assault rifles, plasma cannons, flamethrowers, ice freezing beams, pipes, swords, flame maces - the list goes on. Weapons only last as long as you have an ammo reserve which requires you to scrounge and adapt to whatever you can find. There’s also a nice little mechanic that recycles all unused weapons in a given area rewarding you with a juiced up special item. It’s all well thought out, focused design which benefits the overall experience.
Now, let’s talk about the game's difficulty. The game is incredibly tough even on Normal difficulty, so much so that the developers have since taken on feedback to reduce its difficulty. To progress and achieve decent rankings after each sequence, you’ll need to display lightning quick reactions, dead eye aim and an understanding of the enemies you’re up against. Difficult games that are challenging yet fair are great, but occasionally Ruiner falls into the realm of hard for the sake of being hard, which gets frustrating especially when there aren’t many alternatives to approaching a situation or battle scenario. Investing in a particular style of character build is important, and certain skills are essential, like a shield that blocks all incoming fire. The game gives you the option to invest character customisation points into different abilities but certain abilities should be given to the player automatically and should not be a choice.
The world that Ruiner depicts is a gritty cyber punk dystopia. The characters and plot that exist within this world are unfortunately bland and a little bit too stereotypical. Each character and enemy you come up against is depicted by text and some snazzy art, but there’s little backstory to give them any identity or association. The writing is barebones, suitable, but doesn’t really help to differentiate character or incentive. Most of the main antagonists are more or less the same apart from their portrait art. This is understandable in an indie title whose clear focus is rock solid gameplay but it would have been nice to have more incentive to progress apart from numbers, kill counts and level ratings. Audio matches the setting well: techno beats, electronic rhythms and urban sound effects fit the bill, but much of the level design can get a bit repetitive. It’s difficult to make original breathtaking environments when your main camera is facing the floor and the audio doesn’t help to differentiate between the levels, enemies or boss characters. The environmental design is occasionally interesting and the Unreal Engine’s lighting gives the world a futuristic, neon feel that fits.
Depending on the difficulty you’ll take roughly six to eight hours to finish Ruiner. There is a certain level of replay value here as ranks and alternate character builds can be created to mix things up, what’s odd though is that there’s no way to see what your previous ranks were on specific missions and sequences, which is a little frustrating as perfectionists may want to “S+” every section of the game. There is also a string of side quests that can be accepted from a social area but these are simple affairs that are just there to help you develop your characters attributes.
Ruiner is a blistering top-down shooter, one that demands skill and strategy to master. Its narrative beats are often muddled and throw away, but the world it paints melds perfectly with the carnage and chaos of its gameplay. Refined and polished moment-to-moment action make this title well worth the admission fee.