If you tuned into the bizarre yet hilarious mock-press conference this past E3 from publisher Devolver Digital, you may have noticed a black and red aesthetic sci-fi punk slasher and shooter by the name of Ruiner. The publisher is known for games that are generally way-out-there, like Serious Sam, Shadow Warrior, and Broforce, and tend to be in the business of making enjoyable games first and worrying about how they'll turn a profit second. Ruiner is a budget-priced cyberpunk meets Judge Dredd meets Ghost in the Shell top-down shooter with incredibly satisfying melee attacks and one hell of a kick-ass soundtrack. This is a game so good it actually shuffled several titles down my best of 2017 list, and when I mean several, I mean almost all of them. Ruiner is simply put, amazing.
I am generally opposed to games that sell themselves off as being incredibly difficult. I'm not a fan of the Dark Souls franchise and I was really hyped for Cuphead until I heard just how difficult it was. While Ruiner is a very challenging game, it's a good difficult that never comes off as being unfair. Ruiner gives you all the same tools as the bad guys and a set of systems and mechanics that always makes you feel powerful despite how vulnerable and squishy the main protagonist can be.
That protagonist is a mute and unnamed sociopath that is initially hacked to kill the Boss of resident MegaCorp, HEAVEN. It is during this assassination where he is saved by a mysterious hacker simply known as "Her". Also, as it turns out, your brother has been captured and together, the two of you will track him down and put as many bullets in as many heads and slice and cut into all those who stand in your way. While the main character doesn't have an actual name, the hacker assisting you will often call you Puppy, and frankly, it adds a bit of silly charm to the gritty and dark world this game presents to you.
Your quest for revenge, as well as to save your brother, starts in Rengkok South, the poorest, dirtiest part of town and behaves like the typical slums found in most futuristic sci-fi. It has pleasure bars, mechanix shops, and a wide variety of NPC's to interact with, some of which even have a few quests for you to do. What Ruiner does well is using much of the dialogue and events in the game to ease you into the lore instead of dumping tons of exposition at you. For those wanting to dive a bit further into the locations, characters, and weapons, there is a massive database that goes very in-depth into every facet of the world Reikon Games have created here.
Ruiner is essentially a twin-stick shooter mixed with the hectic pace of the bullet hell genre due to the various gunfire forcing you to always keep moving. This fast pace nature of Ruiner hardly ever lets up and only does so to build tension between battles. You will be equipped with a melee weapon and a pistol at all times, but during each mission, you will encounter several pipes, swords, and a pretty impressive arsenal to make the killing a whole lot easier. There is such a wide range of different guns to pick up and several of them will become instant favorites, like the massive chaingun or the mid-range flamethrower. Despite being incredibly effective, they also don't last terribly long and this forces you to adapt on the fly and seek out new and different ways to drop bodies left and right.
Apart from the shooting and slashing, you will earn skill points to use and upgrade a variety of different skills. What is refreshing about Ruiner is that it allows you remove and add skill points on a whim, meaning you are never locked into a set build and can pick and choose your skills based on the encounter. The types of skills you have access to are bubble shields, kinetic barriers, hacking your enemies, regenerating health, explosive and stun grenades, a speedy dash, and the ability to slow down time, a staple of the video game industry. You will also have a few skills that increase your health, energy, or weapon effectiveness.
Despite the wealth of choice between skills, I found my comfort zone in the bubble shield, dash, explosive grenade, and the reflex booster. I would consistently dash around my foes while in slow motion and drop them before they knew what hit them, either with my sword or a well-placed grenade. The dash also has the ability to set down touch points that when the button is released, it auto speeds you through each of these points you've set down. This can come in handy when attempting to speed through lasers or get behind an enemy rather quickly.
While I usually stuck to the same tactics throughout much of the game, there were several moments where I had to step up my game and rewrite the meta. The game has a wide range of enemies that have different behaviors and when mixed and matched with other types this can cause certain playstyles to clash against a wall and you'll again have to adapt. Teleporting enemies can drain your energy meter as you dash around in slow motion attempting to find them, forcing you to revert back to regular speed to seek them out.
While the game is filled with gun-toting mercenaries and underground gangs like the Creeps, there are enemies that explode when hit, proximity-based explosive drones, and robotic leeches that drop down and can siphon your energy or health. As you progress through each chapter you will also encounter higher threat enemies that are called Head Hunts. These are your mid-bosses and can offer up a steep challenge to take on. These bosses have better weapons and tend to be accompanied by several smaller foes to make the action a bit more hectic. I'd say these are some of the more enjoyable moments in Ruiner, but frankly, every minute of this game is an absolute blast.
The game does offer up a few major boss battles and these are really well thought out with one, in particular, having a few mechanics to the fight that you are not initially made aware of, making you run around and survey your surroundings to figure it out on your own. There is a boss that you will face off against a few times throughout the game and while that sort of thing can be a bit annoying or feel lazy, it works well here as each encounter still manages to feel fresh and new. This is mainly due to the wonderful dialogue and the energized soundtrack that is paired alongside the fights.
While several encounters are generally wave-based, there is a mechanic that I wish the game repeated more often. A few times during the game you will start with a small timer that is usually somewhere around 15 seconds and each kill will add a few more seconds to the clock. These fights are some of the best moments in the game as it kept the action fast and furious, not to say that the other encounters are slow by any means, but it did elevate the pacing of the combat to a much higher level. There are point rewards for hitting high combo's but the game hardly ever threw enough enemies for me to break a combo streak of 15, garnering me an achievement.
Ruiner contains one of the best gaming soundtracks I've heard in years. Whether it's the subtle beats of the track 'We move as one' which reminds me a lot of the music from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime series, or the track 'Quarrel' that feels as if it was made with the sounds of intricate machinery. My favorite tracks are performed by Zamilska, and whether that is a single person or a whole group, their music here is phenomenal with 'Rise' being my top track featured in the game. This soundtrack can be mellow one moment and blood pumping the next and is part of my playlist of music I listen to when I'm not playing games. It's very rare that a soundtrack can actually heighten the quality of the gameplay itself, but Ruiner is a much better game due to each and every one of these tracks.
Any way you look at it, Ruiner is a gorgeous game. The in-game 3D elements are fantastic and its use of color and contrast is unmatched. While there is a heavy emphasis on red and black, it doesn't last the entire game and you do get quite the variety in color, but don't go expecting the aesthetic to change drastically as the game usually only offers up a few colors at a time to give each level its own look and feel. The character art is jaw-dropping and beyond gorgeous as is the character designs that feel inspired by several sci-fi films. The main character sports an animated helmet that looks as if someone wrapped a flexible TV screen around his face, emitting messages and pictures throughout much of the story.
My experience with Ruiner did showcase the rare bug every now and then. I had my main character vanish a few times, only leaving a floating gun behind, but it was the entire HUD disappearing that did get me killed a few times as I didn't know how much energy or health I had, but this happened maybe two or three times. There are also moments where you will ride a transit vehicle from parts of the level to the next that started to occur a bit too frequent and break the flow of a few levels.
While I missed the train on playing (and reviewing) this game around the time it came out, I'm glad I gave it a chance as it's one of the best games I have played this year. Ruiner doesn't really bring anything wildly different than games of this genre but what it does, and how it does it, is leagues above everyone else. The action, the visuals, and my word the music, all come together to produce an instant classic. Honestly, I can't stress how good this game is and apart from it being a tad short, It's a must own for anyone that wants a solid action game with fun enjoyable mechanics, and yes, a truly impressive soundtrack. Ruiner is a masterpiece.