RUINER review: Hello darkness my old friend

Credit: Reikon Games, Devolver Digital
Credit: Reikon Games, Devolver Digital /

Ability experimentation is the name of the game in RUINER, an intense cyberpunk top-down shooter that will test your reflexes and your patience.

Developer: Reikon Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One,
Release Date: September 26, 2017

When we first got our hands on RUINER at PAX East 2017, I walked away from the demo with two main takeaways. First off, I loved the game’s cyberpunk aesthetic and electronic soundtrack. And second, the demo taught me that maybe I wasn’t quite as good at top-down shooters as I thought I was. After playing through the final version of RUINER in its entirety, those two points still hold true.

Set in the year 2091 in the futuristic cyberpunk metropolis of Rengkok, RUINER is filled with neon-bright red and blue coloring that’s visually stunning. Its high-intensity electronic soundtrack fits perfectly with the game’s aesthetic and fast-paced gameplay. RUINER is about as close as you can get to an isometric shooter crossover between Hotline Miami and Blade Runner, intertwined with some of SUPERHOT‘s subliminal messaging. Your current objective flashes across the screen in bright lights that should probably be accompanied by a seizure warning: KILL THE BOSS, KILL THE BOSS, KILL THE BOSS!

Credit: Reikon Games, Devolver Digital /

It’s easy to draw parallels between RUINER and Hotline Miami, especially since both are published by indie specialist Devolver Digital. In addition to its colorful aesthetic, RUINER separates itself from the pack with its intriguing and relatively well-defined story. The future world has embraced high-tech VR helmet rigs that not only deliver visual and auditory feedback, but also emotional feedback – imagine truly feeling what it’s like to die.

The monopolistic corporation that controls this market, called Heaven, has created an underground human trafficking ring for the wealthy to use as “puppets.” Enter your character, the nameless, speechless sociopath killer whose brother has been kidnapped by Heaven. With the help of a mysterious hacker, you fight your way through the depths of Heaven and Hell to uncover the unpleasant secrets behind this dark company and save your brother.

Without giving away plot spoilers, I found the story unexpectedly captivating – much more so than other games in the genre. The relationship between your character and this mysterious and sassy hacker (who so graciously nicknames you “puppy”) becomes the real backbone of the story. Who is this woman and why is she helping you? I was expecting a few twists and turns, and while the final level certainly had those, it was a bit disappointing that I figured out the gist of the twists beforehand.

Credit: Reikon Games, Devolver Digital /

RUINER’s story and character development are consumed passively, though, despite what we initially thought after our PAX East demo of the game. There are a few minor side quests and some opportunities to explore the levels. But in general, the game is mostly a linear, combat-focused experience. Your character is speechless, communicating via nods or shrugs. He’s a crazy killer, and all that matters is finding his brother. Which is obviously done by brutally killing everyone that stands in your way.

The game’s combat and enemies are all intertwined with the story at least. Your helmet not only acts as a way for this mysterious hacker to see what you’re doing and provide instructions, but also gives you special abilities in combat. You have the option to choose between a number of different abilities, from shield barriers to grenades to quick dashes to slowing down time. These abilities are all upgradeable and interchangeable through an ability tree, which grows as you play through the story and collect “Karma” points.

Credit: Reikon Games, Devolver Digital /

You aren’t just killing to kill – you have a goal and you know why and who these enemies are. Different enemy types are introduced as you progress through the progressively challenging story. You’re usually either fighting waves of different enemies or a boss (or occasionally both). RUINER does a tremendous job mixing up your combat experiences, always keeping things fresh through your short 8-10 hour playthrough. Only one aspect is a guaranteed constant: the combat is hectic.

There are typically a lot of enemies coming at you from all directions, who often times can move just as fast as you can. And there is usually no one clear way to beat a level either. It’s all about experimentation, both with the plethora of weapons at your disposal, and the variety of different abilities you can swap between. This naturally leads to dying. A lot.

RUINER‘s combat is challenging, especially when played on the developer recommended “hard” difficulty setting. My deaths always seemed fair, and with frequent save points, I never felt like it was overly difficult or annoying – just quickly change some abilities and hop right back into the fray. It’s just as much about quick reaction times as it is figuring out a winning strategy, especially against boss mechanics.

Some bosses it might be easier to rely on using dash ability to avoid contact and shoot from afar, while others using your shield to deflect damage is crucial. What if you don’t understand an ability? Well, your ability tree comes complete with short popup GIFs of the ability being used in battle, making for one of the most easy-to-understand help menus in recent memory.

Credit: Reikon Games, Devolver Digital /

My only complaint when it comes to combat is balance: some abilities just seem way too strong in too many situations. I managed to cheese my way through several boss fights by using passive abilities to regenerate energy and spamming my stun grenades, effectively incapacitating the enemy. Other abilities, like “hacking” enemies to fight for you, seemed way too slow and unreliable in the heat of battle. I would greatly appreciate some indicators or timers letting you know when you were using certain abilities as well.

More from Reviews

RUINER is challenging, even on normal difficulty. And you are given the freedom of changing your difficulty at any time. This will affect the damage enemies deal and the amount of health and energy pickups that drop off enemies during combat. You can always go back and play through the levels again on a harder difficulty. In doing so you maintain your Karma level and acquired skills, however, making things a little easier for you the second time around the block. And for whatever reason, there seems to be no way to completely restart the game from scratch, which is slightly frustrating when it comes to replayability.

These small gripes aside, RUINERs visceral combat makes you feel like a badass. This is especially true when playing on harder difficulty levels. Some of the boss fight mechanics were excitingly clever for an isometric shooter. The balance between boss fights and enemy waves, combined with constantly changing enemy types and the plethora of weapons and abilities makes RUINER a delightfully brutal experience. Expect to die smiling.

. RUINER. 8.5. RUINER is more than just a cyberpunk action shooter – it’s an exercise in ability experimentation and heart pumping combat. With no one single way to finish a level and constantly changing enemies, the game’s intense electronic soundtrack will get your adrenaline pumping as you slice, dice, and blow your enemies into pieces. Combat is the name of the game, despite an intriguing but relatively predictable story. There are some questionable combat balance issues, but overall the game is a short, fun challenge that will leave you feeling both amused and badass.. Reikon Games

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.