“Ruiner” doesn’t screw around. I died 17 times and got an E-Rank in the tutorial. In the goddamn tutorial. Luckily, that kind of butt-kicking sadomasochism sits just fine with me, and it cemented Ruiner as something I set out to conquer rather than set aside because of a steep learning curve. Your mileage may vary, but for the stubborn bastards out there Ruiner is going to scratch a very satisfying itch.
Ruiner is set in a dystopian cyberpunk future full of neon-lit city streets, Daft-Punk-inspired helmets and leathered-up, mohawked enemies ripped straight from the ’79 masterpiece ‘The Warriors’. As a living space, as you explore it isometrically between missions, it shuns you at every turn: invisible walls and lifeless NPCs populate the crimson swathed maze of back alleys and difficult-to-differentiate landmarks, but it all comes together despite this. It feels like a messy collage of inspirations at the best of times – from Blade Runner to Ghost in the Shell and all the tropes in between – but somehow it still comes away with a strong sense of identity.
This is in no small part to the characterful allies and enemies that assist and taunt you during makeshift cutscenes. Their art cards pop against the simplistic 3D backgrounds and their banter (and your wordless replies) fill in the blanks that the city itself fails to colour. I didn’t care too much about the overarching plot – a kidnapped brother, a brainwashed lead and a plight to overthrow the ‘Boss’ – but I did enjoy meeting – and beating – the cities likeable leads and laughable villains respectively.
Ruiner pulls no punches. Best described as a mix between Hyper Light Drifter and Hotline Miami, Ruiner tasks you with exploring levels and dispatching enemies quickly – quicker than they can dispatch you, at the very least. And they can murder you fast. You play as a faceless muscle sent to do some wetwork, but you’re incredibly squishy considering your profession. Meet the wrong combination of enemies in a dingy garage and fail to react in time to their barrage of attacks and you’ll go from full health to game over screen in seconds flat.
Once the tutorial had taught me some basic moves, it asked me to string them together fairly flawlessly before even letting me leave the prologue. My first boss fight was a brutal introduction to Ruiner’s trial-and-error gameplay, and with each subsequent shot I got increasingly familiar with my moveset. This almost mean-spirited introduction doesn’t just force you to learn the intricacies of combat, however, but serves to illustrate exactly who this game is for – and it’s not going to be for everyone.
At the beginning you have access to a modest set of powers, including a front-facing shield you can use to close distance between you and your enemies, a wide-arcing melee swing and a limited-use dash. You can also pick up guns, though the clumsy aiming – whether purposeful or accidental on the developer’s part – lends these weapons a risk/reward element that isn’t always enticing. Getting used these powers and becoming familiar with when to juggle them is paramount to success, and it wasn’t until I started mastering their synergy that I began to truly comprehend Ruiner’s deceptively complex combat. Things get a little more streamlined when you unlock new, slightly overpowered abilities when you gain EXP and level up, but you’ll nearly always rely most on trial and error to see yourself through combat situations the first time round: awkward attempt, horrible death, learn from your mistakes.
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