Ruiner is a stylised twin stick shooter set in a dystopian future most of us like to refer to as Cyberpunk, as it supports all its hallmarks with a huge gap between the rich and poor, corporations ruling in place of governments in the fictionalised city of Rengkok whose people are steeped in cutting edge tech, most of them criminals. The story follows a masked and sociopathic anti-hero, mainly referred to as “Puppy” by a female hacker who frees you from the control of a rival hacker in order to help him find his brother who has been kidnapped.
I will be honest, Ruiner was perhaps one of my if not my most look forward to games this year, everything from the cyberpunk aesthetics to the stylised design of the protagonist with an expressive mask had made me want to experience it. Not to mention there are several nods and inspirations here from the classic dystopian Japanese animations, most notably Akira which made another strong case for me to play it, and now that I have finally played it I am afraid I have come out with a mixed feeling.
To talk about the good first, the game’s combat is very responsive and you are given a variety of different skills from slow motion dash, to shield that ricochets enemy projectiles and even mind control which allows enemies to briefly fight for you, that are easy to utilise as both the PC and the consoles’ control scheme is well thought out with specific buttons where you would expect, such as shoot on your right trigger or left mouse button, etc…
There is also a variety of guns you can pick up, that either your enemies drop or are lying around in order to gain the upper hand against enemies. Different weapons will have different firing types and projectiles that can clearly be seen when fired, allowing you to either easily dodge or track your attacks.
The visual design of the game is also superb, with a very atmospheric soundtrack that is largely licensed tracks playing at opportune moments, of which I was very glad to hear Sleep Paralysis by Sidewalks and Skeleton actually playing in the game. Furthermore, the entire design of Rengkok, including its citizen is very aesthetically appealing which tells that the artists didn’t skim over anything and took their time to craft the overall design of the world. It is just a shame that an official art book hasn’t been planned as of yet.
The particular mechanic I really like in this game is the ability to relocate your skill points freely, so depending on the situation you can take away points from one ability and invest it in another. In my opinion something like this should be used in more games as it allows a player to create a build that they are more comfortable with, not to mention it allows for strategic thinking when a player is faced with overwhelming odds.
So you can see, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the aesthetics or the main gameplay even, and in fact Ruiner boasts some of the best character and protagonist designs currently that can easily be turned into mascots or icons due to their striking silhouettes, so the problem isn’t with the setting, or gameplay mechanics but how they are used.
For example, one thing I was truly hoping for were properly animated cut-scenes, which even though are present and very well shot, feel unfinished as they have no voiceovers, and are missing crucial sound effects. What irks me is that the game does have voice over’s, which means that they had actors who they could’ve utilised to record the actual lines in the cut-scenes as it breaks the flow when you must read tiny text at the bottom of your screen during an atmospheric cut-scene and pressing continue when done.
Susumu Hirasawa’s original music which easily steals the spotlight isn’t even in the official soundtrack which mainly consists of licensed tracks that can easily be acquired separately and are not original. Seriously, why wouldn’t you put original music in your official soundtrack? I hope it is on the way as it wouldn’t exactly be respectful to someone as important as Hirasawa who has been responsible for the music of movies such as Paprika or Berserk.
The protagonist’s display mask is without a doubt one of the hooks in this game that feels both unique and badass at the same time. With a silent sociopathic character who communicates through his helmet and his actions there are a lot of interesting things you can do, however most of the characterisation potential is lost when the only actions the protagonist is limited to are, Shrug, Nod, Look Away and Crack Knuckles during text based story sections. I was at least expecting different reactions from people when I selected Crack Knuckles but it doesn’t matter what you pick as the choices during these are not meaningful and nothing changes. In my opinion the cut-scenes should have shown him in action more, executing some cool moves.
Not to mention, I am not so sure that for a strong setting and visual character like this where most of the draw is from his visor, that it should be top down. Although it does work and it is fun being a twin stick shooter, both the setting and protagonist have enough potential to be in a third person blockbuster game, but that is just my opinion. However, if there was one thing that frustrated me and felt wholly unfair were the game’s difficulty spikes even on easy mode. I understand that the developers wanted something brutal and challenging to complement the setting but they have not balanced the game properly as more than usual you die due to confusing enemy placement or heavy attacks without any sort of cool down that let you breathe.
One of the best example of the unfair difficulty is during one of the levels where a boss King is chasing you and you have to run away from him. However, with so much going on in the environment with all the moving parts and the heavy contrast, it is not that easy to discern where the path begins and ends, so even where it looks like you can move turns out to be a dead end or a wall. It is moments like this that make me believe that the game needed more balancing as the environment can get really cluttered, making it hard to discern enemies or hazards from the environment. In a well-balanced but difficult game, every time you lose, it will be your fault that you can easily acknowledge and learn from your mistake, however here it is the opposite as certain elements just blind side you, leeching on your health bar.
However, to its credit with easy mode, the enemies do drop quite a lot more health, and the more you level up the easier everything gets, even on the normal and hard difficulty, so this is where the customisable skills mechanic does help but not as much as it should. To sum it up, The Ruiner is a fantastic looking game with some interesting gameplay mechanics and character designs that I have really enjoyed, especially story wise, however, its unbalanced difficulty mixed with lacking narrative elements and an underuse of character prevent it from reaching its full potential.
+ Fantastic Protagonist Design
+ Mind-Bending Storyline and World Design
+ Music Selection is Brilliant
+ Susumu Hirasawa's Ambient Tracks Take the Spotlight
+ Customisation Flexibility Allows Strategic Experimentation
- Unbalanced Difficulty
- Needed More Original Music From Susumu Hirasawa
- Lacking Storytelling Elements
- Text Based Storytelling Limits The Protagonist and setting's Potential
- Meaningless Dialogue Choices