There is one genre of gaming in which fans have not been left wanting and that’s twin-stick shooters. This year we’ve had some absolute gems like Nex Machina, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a few more. This week Ruiner joins the pack and is on Steam at a very reasonable starting price. According to the developer Reikon Games, it is a top-down action shooter created in the spirit of cult cyberpunk anime. Reikon has worked on games like Dying Light and the Witcher series: so they know their stuff. Also with a publisher like Devolver Digital backing this project you almost know what kind of game you’ll be getting with titles like Shadow Warrior 2 and Broforce in their stable.
Ruiner is indeed a twin-stick shooter, set in a future where the line between human and technology has become blurred. You start the game with very little information other than someone is holding your brother and you must find him while being guided by a woman's voice in your head. How do you aim to accomplish this goal? Well, by killing everyone while sporting an LCD screen attached to your face of course. Obviously that is as far as I will go in regards to the plot but needless to say, this game is not about edgy dialogue and deep character progression. In fact, while there is a story running under the hood it mostly serves as a means to get the bullets flying and the red stuff running.
Two sticks and a glass of red.
Right from the off, the action in Ruiner is intense and bloody. As you quickly move through the tutorial you will see that your character can carry one melee item and a single ranged weapon. You can equip a good selection of guns and when you have drained them of ammo you revert back to your standard potato gun. This means that unless you are proficient at chopping and swinging you will need to pick up new weapons almost constantly.
If I’m honest I would far rather have had a system that let me keep the guns I found in a Borderlands style shooter-looter. However, this is just my own preference and I can see that the system they have gone for encourages players to try new weapons. This is also a way that Ruiner keeps you well truly out of your comfort zone.
One area of the game that does give a degree of permanence is the skill tree, which lets you choose and then improve a range of, well, skills. Some of these abilities add a great deal to your capabilities and others seem somewhat muted. You can take points and place them into other parts of the tree at any time, which lets you try new setups and adapt your strategy on the fly. The first skill you pick up is Dash and mastering it will be essential for success in this game because it is this skill what the combat is based around. It can be used once or if you hold down the dash button you can place markers allowing you to set up multiple dashes while time is slowed. This combination of dash in, attack and dash out can lead to some very nice sequences where you do feel absolutely badass, however, these moments can be fleeting. I do think it’s odd that you still take damage when dashing, given the difficulty (which I will discuss) this would have been a welcome refuge from gunfire.
Once you have got a few stages under your belt you will have seen most of the enemy types in the game, which is a shame really considering combat is the core stick for the game. However, the boss encounters are actually pretty interesting offer a change from the standard enemies. These encounters still come at the thumb blisteringly difficulty level of the normal mobs so get ready to live out Groundhog Day - the game.
Pucker up buttercup
So this game is hard and that's putting it mildly. If you are one of these players who likes to feel godlike while turning everything on the screen into raspberry trifle: get good or get out. This is one of the most difficult shooters I’ve played in a while and makes Nex Machina look like Pong for the over fifties. There are three difficulties and while easy is pretty much that, medium makes this game grow a set of galvanised balls.
So here’s the problem: I can handle difficult games as long as they are fair. However, with Ruiner I do feel like the visual feedback loop isn’t exactly being a good sport. When you take damage your character avatar lights up red and in the heat of a fight it can be confusing as to where damage is coming from. The health pool is also very shallow so one or two good hits and it’s time to reset that phase. Thankfully the game loads back in within seconds and the checkpoint system is very generous so that 'one more go' feeling will keep you plugging away. This is my only main criticism of Ruiner and I do think that if the developer spent some time tweaking this imbalance the game could be far more enjoyable.
Paper and Neon
So I’ll just assume you’ve seen Blade Runner. This film for me is one of the all-time greats and made me feel like I was actually there on those rain-soaked streets with Deckard. I have longed for a game that takes us into a believable world like that and lets the player get lost. Of course, this level of immersion isn’t what Ruiner is going for so I can’t hold this against it. In between missions you enter a city hub area where you can speak to various NPCs for missions. Even though this area felt paper thin I did like the look and overall atmosphere it gave off. Which unfortunately made me wish the rabbit hole had gone deeper and Reikon had given us a little bit more to do in these city areas.
I think that this is the overall feeling I had when it came to the look and style of Ruiner. We have this wonderfully presented cyberpunk vision with some fantastic artwork and effects. However, I would have loved to see each facet of the game go little deeper. A more fleshed out weapons system, a more diverse set of level types and some meat to the hub area.
Is it PC?
As I have mentioned, Ruiner looks and plays great. Not only is the colour and lighting very nice but details like being able to see individual fingers on the protagonist are nice touches. The weapon sound effects are mostly good which the energy weapons letting the side down a little. However, in the chaos of battle, this is hardly something most people will notice. The music is exactly what you would expect from a cyberpunk style twin stick shooter with fast-paced techno being the staple here. The game ran very well on my GTX 980 with everything cranked up on maximum and good frame rates throughout. One thing that did bother me a little is how close the camera is set to the main character. This was possibly to help console keep a steady framerate but regardless: this is a very minor gripe.
You can play Ruiner on either controller or Mouse/keyboard and both work just dandy. I played for most of this review using my controller, however, on my next run, I'll be using K&M for the precision it offers. I was surprised to see there was no game plus mode when finishing the campaign. You can replay any stage if you wish but it feels less engaging that starting afresh while packing all your hard-won abilities.
If I had to describe Ruiner in nutshell I would say it's a mash-up between Hotline Miami, Dead Nation and has flavours of Blade Runner rubbed all over it. While not as tight as many of the other twin-stick shooters I’ve played recently there is no denying that Ruiner is a very fun game and could potentially see new content or even a sequel. My hope is that the developers don’t drop it and head to the next game. With a little bit of tweaking, I think it could join the other highly recommended classic shooters we have seen in the last few years. I can recommend you pick up Ruiner as long as you go in knowing the caveats I’ve set out above.
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