Until Elden Ring comes out, which is slowly but surely turning into my white whale as of this week, I decided to boot up RUINER for some quick entertainment and have something to write about.
And no before you ask this is NOT cyberpunk Hotline Miami.
RUINER is a 2017 cyberpunk shoot 'em up developed by Reikon Games and published by Devolver Digital. You play as a silent, cybernetically enhanced protagonist nicknamed “Puppy” and are tasked with rescuing your lost brother while being guided by a mysterious woman known only as “Her”.
Will go into gameplay and story details. There will be SPOILERS AHEAD!
RUINER was developed in Unreal Engine 4, so you can expect some good visuals. Reikon Games is a small studio but they’ve pushed themselves to the max in regards to creating the world. The game is going for a very specific dystopian feeling in terms of presentation, highly reminiscent of old cyberpunk anime.
Think of Akira, AD Police, Cyber City Oedo 808, Ghost In The Shell or Battle Angel Alita (I’m referring to the original OVA not the Rodriguez film). At least those are the memories the game is evoking for me. You even get your own personal Kaneda inspired bike.
All combat arenas in the game seem to take place in a giant factory, much like the setting for The Surge. Every single surface you see in the game is metallic, plant life is essentially extinct, production technology is being pushed to the very limit with dozens of small or large contraptions working in harmony in the background to produce…something.
The Surge made you feel like you were walking through the guts of a giant factory. RUINER on the other hand makes you feel like you’re walking through the guts of a giant, sentient, angry factory. Architecture has this sterile, industrial, minimalist design, almost as if resources need to be prioritized for efficiency and longevity.
Non-combat locations are populated enough to give you the illusion that there’s a world outside but overall, you’ll spend most of your game time in production floors or other similar facilities. Even relatively mundane locations such as a garage have that mega city feel, engorged to ludicrous proportions just so the city can accommodate the vast quantity of residents.
The game has a very clever use of lighting and colors. Most levels will be left in strips of darkness to convey a moody, isolated feel, reminding you that you are indeed deep in enemy territory. Whenever the game does get generous with the lighting it is when fighting. That way you can appreciate all the trails of red you’re leaving behind you.
Speaking of red the game does use that color a lot. Not just because it’s what comes out of the legions of enemies you’re going to slaughter, but for tension building as well. Like you’re bathed in emergency lights, in factory lights, in blood and danger.
Deus Ex Human Revolution used the color gold to sell the feeling of the new golden age of technology. It was meant to reflect themes of prosperity, wonder and progress. The RUINER red lighting goes for none of that. Instead, it’s trying to tell you the world is violent and unforgiving. A little bit like ours.
The game has a liberal use of screen effects and particle effects. It’s nowhere near the same intensity as Cyberpunk 2077 but still a good touch. It’s sometimes easy to lose track of things once you couple explosions, screen effects, ability effects and bullets flying everywhere. Chaotic and I like it.
Sound effects are good. I’ll keep it that short. They are good. There. I said it.
The real deal here is the soundtrack.
Currently the listed composers for the game on Wikipedia are Natalia Zamilska and indie musical artist Sidewalks and Skeletons. Additional tracks are provided by Memotone, DJ Alina, ORION_GmbH, Antigone & Francois X and Susumu Hirasawa. Each piece of music does a good job of building the proper mood and I can’t imagine what the game would be without the selection. It all just fits so perfectly, like they were made for this setting.
These are the tracks that stood out the most for me.
Memory (Sidewalks and Skeletons) – After beating the game you get a new appreciation for the song. Good when pondering about the more somber moments in the game. Yes there are somber moments, if you can look hard enough.
Ritual (Memotone) – The drums add a mystical quality to the track mixed with the more industrial elements. Like technology is competing with violent, primal human tendencies.
Island Door/Paranesian Circle (Susumu Hirasawa) – Heard while exploring Rengkok. Calming, almost entrancing. Good after all the violence you’ll endure.
Ruin (Zamilska) – Good beat, nice way to get pumped during a fight.
Quarrel (Zamilska) – Best reflects the dystopian cyberpunk setting with a heavy reliance on droning.
I know its subjective but again, these are the tracks I associate the game with. Caveman brain say music good. Music make caveman feel good. So caveman think music good. Caveman no like argue.
Sadly, the least favorite track for me is the main RUINER theme. Combined with the rest it feels sort of out of place for me, it’s way too “hopeful” as a theme, feeling more like something you’d find on a Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. Not in your dystopian cyberpunk mega corpo world. Ironic, right?
The game does have voice acting but it is reserved to just Her’s gameplay comments and the occasional NPC bark. In-game cutscenes do not have any voice acting, which is a good choice when watching the artwork cutscenes and not so much when in-game characters interact. Their lips aren’t moving, nothing is coming out, but the game is pretending they are talking. Most likely due to budget but still odd. And weapon sounds are meaty. I like my meaty weapon sounds.
Key point is: the soundtrack is awesome and that’s what matters in this kind of game.
Now that we’ve got a killer soundtrack and cool presentation, the only thing left is to match it with good gameplay and ladies and gentleman I’m proud to say we’ve got ourselves solid gameplay.
With a few inconsistencies.
You play the game from an isometric perspective with fixed directional controls, up is always up and down is always down etc, they don’t change depending where your character is facing. If you’re unfamiliar with games like this it might be jarring at first, but the game takes things easy at the start giving you enough time to get used to the controls.
You will always have a ranged option and a melee option. Your default ranged weapon will be the RUINER pistol. It has infinite ammo and a small reload period, but stats are poor, it is best only for the weakest enemies when starting the game. Your default melee weapon is a pipe at the start of the game, later swapped for a katana called NERVE, with better performance and a bleeding effect.
Ranged and melee weapons can be picked up from containers, dropped by droids, recovered from dead enemies or through a little bit of exploration. There is no reloading save for the RUINER pistol or ammo packs to speak of, so if the weapon runs out of bullets, you’ll switch to the default RUINER pistol. Melee weapons have durability and like ranged weapons, once durability reaches 0 you’ll be stuck with your default weapon.
You start the game off with two abilities, a dodge move (you can chain dodge by the way) and a shield for deflecting damage and performing ram attacks. As you progress through the game, completing the game’s few “sidequests”, exploring and killing enemies, you gain Karma and upgrade points. In RUINER, Karma is described as a form of currency, but for the player it is the equivalent of skill points; higher levels of Karma will give you access to more upgrades. Upgrade points you collect throughout the game are finite but the game gives you the option to redistribute them in case you want to change playstyle.
Abilities can be either active, such as the ability to enter slow motion or turn enemies against each other, or passive such as ammo and health boosts and you can develop these abilities more. With the exception of dash which runs on charges and replenishes relatively quickly, every other active ability consumes energy. Fortunately energy can be recharged at stations and is dropped by enemies, same thing goes for health, and with proper resource utilization you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use your sick talents.
There is a variety of weapons. Including defaults, I think there’s 7 melee weapons and 19 ranged weapons in the game with varying stats each. In the early game you’ll have mostly pistols and SMGs, good for dealing with the weaker enemies but as the game progresses, you’ll gain access to the heavier, more interesting artillery. I’m talking flamethrowers, miniguns, sonic canons, freeze rays, lightning guns, a pipe that’s on fire for some good fire damage over time and the FOX BLADE, a katana that can freeze enemies for an instant kill and yes we all know MGS is a thing, nice reference there.
You move fast and your built-in dodge ability lets you escape damage and makes it easier to DEAL damage. You’ll be dashing all over the map, alternating between melee and ranged, using your abilities and generally showering every single surface in the contents of your enemies. Couple that with the killer soundtrack and you’ll have a nice dopamine surge. You can read about the world, factions and weapon stats anytime.
Just when you think the gameplay is getting too similar the game does things to change it up. New enemy types and mini bosses are introduced on a regular basis, and they’ve got cool, stylistic intros. A little warning for things to come and gives each faction some identity. I’ll list a few.
Just as the name and appearance suggest, they’re corporate security with the only initiative to fight you being their coveted paycheck. Being the first enemy faction in the game, they’re armed with weak weapons and come in predictable fashion. Essentially they’re canon fodder.
Creeps are the next enemy faction. In the world of RUINER, you’re only allowed to have two children. Any third child is given to the government for public service. Any of these kids who escape the government are labelled Third Children, most of them resorting to a life of crime in the hopes to see another day. Creeps are a faction of these Third Children, psychotic, poorly armed, but attacking as a horde makes them marginally better than the Guards.
And finally during the later stages of the game you have the cyborg enemies. You can guess what to expect. All you need to know about them is they’ll work hard to make sure you’re snuffed.
You’ve got enemies with various guns, melee weapons, charging exploding enemies, turrets, health leeching drones, energy leeching drones, mindless zombies etc. Higher tier enemies will be equipped with a shield, maybe they’ll have wave attacks and dodge.
If you damage an enemy enough and they’re on the brink of death you’ll be able to perform finisher moves; these finishers will give you a small stat boost and the effects stack. You already were a lightning-fast destroyer of worlds with your dodge ability, with the finishers it starts entering power fantasy territory. Awesome stuff.
Each stage will give you a rank based on performance. At the end of stages, you can receive gifts from Her or a Weapon Grinder. The Weapon Grinder is simple; whatever weapons are left in the area will be destroyed upon activation. The more weapons are left, the more Karma you’ll receive; it’s the game’s way of telling you that if you want to receive more rewards you’ll have to go the difficult route, that is using only your default weapons. Using a grinder has a chance of giving you a high-quality weapon.
Dashing all over the place and raining blades and bullets in tandem with your abilities will always be fun. It’s not as daunting as people think it is. On normal difficulty I managed to earn either an A or S for my stages, earning a B+ for one because I wasn’t paying attention. If you’re really aching for a challenge, then you’ve got hard difficulty, an arena mode and a speedrun mode. Hard is truly, truly, TRULY hard. At least for me.
You’ve got fast and fluid combat and my only real issue is that some of the abilities feel out of place.
Most of the abilities in RUINER help you adopt a fast, aggressive playstyle. For example.
Your dash helps you escape danger and close the gap between enemies, really useful when chaining finisher moves. Your shield, another starting ability you receive, can deflect incoming projectiles but can also be used to ram into enemies and damage them, with later upgrades adding a stun option and increased ram damage. Your Overload increases your speed and damage. You have stun and damage throwable abilities, upgrades that boost your ammo, melee damage, the upgradable RUINER pistol, your health and energy.
All of these listed abilities increase your survivability and encourage you to be in the middle of a fight. Your enemies are many, fast and deadly so you need to be on par with them to make it out so it’s odd the game has abilities for slower approaches.
Grid Converter lets you regen health for energy or sacrifice health for energy, later upgrades optimizing and letting you recharge ammo as well, but it is best utilized when fully upgraded and on Normal I found little reason to use it since enemies dropped a fair bit of health and energy. Ghost Break, which lets you control enemies, is also redundant. Why hack enemies to fight for you when demolishing wave after wave of goons with swords and guns is part of the appeal of the game?
Kinetic Barrier is by far the most useless ability in my opinion. It deploys a protective barrier and the barrier gets more lethal with more upgrades, but why use a ability that makes you slow down or stop when you’ve got a foundation that is begging you to run and slaughter all you see? Best way I can describe it is this.
Imagine Doom, but there’s an ability that lets Doom guy take cover and blindfire.
I understand they wanted to appeal to different types of players by adding different options, and yes you can respec if you’re unhappy, but it doesn’t stop it from feeling off. With the exception of Reflex Booster, which gives you Matrix slow-mo, I hardly found a reason to use the more defensive abilities.
Combat is great even if some elements are odd to me. I would’ve loved it if they added more aggressive options or had fewer options with branching upgrades. Still, what there is on offer is good.
If I had to describe RUINER’s story, I’d say its basic but well conveyed. I warned you at the start of the blog, so yeah…
On the surface it appears like you’re trying to save your brother from this merciless corporation called HEAVEN, but as things progress, you’re asking yourself a lot of questions about the world and the characters. Reading the lore bits and progressing through the story, the themes of the game become more and more apparent.
You start the game as an unknown individual in HEAVEN, ordered by a hacker called Wizard to “kill the Boss”. HEAVEN is a megacorporation specializing in Virtuality, a process where live hosts are connected to a pod where their minds are being used as a digital playground, allowing people to experience different virtual worlds at the cost of killing or zombifying the host.
The main character doesn’t question his situation or Wizard’s motives or feels any remorse for the dozens of people he’s killed. He’s ordered to kill someone and he just proceeds, anybody in his way is collateral damage. He sees horrible things happen but doesn’t react much besides nodding, shrugging or cracking his knuckles.
The assassination is botched and your character loses their cyber arm, only to be saved by a mechanic who is being manipulated by Her, a young, rebellious girl with impressive hacking skills. She gives you a nickname, Puppy. You don’t argue. You don’t suggest anything. You just accept the name and do whatever she tells you. There’s not a moment where you question her motives or who she really is. You just do whatever she tells you.
She orders you to hunt down Wizard and rescue your long-lost brother and eventually you begin to realize she’s got the same demeanor as the guy who hacked you in the first place. She constantly tells you what to do, who to kill, where to go, incessantly reminding you of your “objective”. And you never question her even if everyone around you does.
Your journey to find your lost brother eventually leads you into killing the leading figures in the HEAVEN organization. As you kill the last one it seems like you’re about to meet your long lost bro…but then it is revealed it was all a scheme.
You are the Boss’s clone, bred in a tube and put in storage. Your body was going to be harvested for parts for the Boss in case of declining health. However, you were captured by the other leading figures of HEAVEN and programmed to kill the Boss so they can take over the corporation, your DNA allowing you to bypass security. Knowing of the plot, the Boss hired Her to hack you again and program you to kill the other leading figures of HEAVEN, even using your mask’s feed to view the killings. As the Boss gloats of his victory, Her is revealed to be a cyborg/AI and hacks you again, programming you to kill the Boss and meet her outside of HEAVEN.
The Wizard hacked you to kill the Boss, the Boss paid Her to hack you and kill the conspirators, and finally Her hacks you to pursue her own agenda.
You never tasted freedom. Somebody was always pulling strings. Your entire existence does not have space for self-determination. When Her nicknamed you Puppy, it wasn’t a way to tease you, she was mocking you. You are like a puppy, the places you go and what you do depends on who has the leash.
Some people might call it a basic plot twist to have you actually be the Boss’s clone, but the theme of lack of identity is conveyed competently and consistently so its easy to appreciate it.
There are other themes such as apathy towards violence, typical cyberpunk stuff, but the other theme that stands out the most to me is the theme of lack of identity.
Most characters have nicknames instead of actual names, like Puppy. Their function in society is their only real characteristic. You live in a society that benefits you only if you conform to its standards. There’s no room for the weak, sick or young. Everyone is expected to serve somehow. People, presumably thousands, who are desperate for work donate their bodies to HEAVEN for the Virtuality machine; thousands of nameless people being used for someone else’s entertainment and once their sole function within society is done, they are spat out by the machine. Left dead or broken but always forgotten. It’s easy to forget a person is a person with hobbies and desires when their identity is stolen or warped. I might sound pretentious saying that, but RUINER’s themes are from obvious to subtle but all are easy to appreciate. It’s a short game so I’m glad it managed to do what it set out to do.
So the story? It’s alright. I dig it.
Not much. Had a very stable experience. Just minor complaints like the dash effect lagging, some weapons spontaneously flying around and me getting stuck because I got punched and dashed the wrong way. Luckily, not too frequent.
I give this game a...
A solid game with a clear vision. Gameplay might take you around 5 hours and you can squeeze more out with hard difficulty and the other modes. It’s short, but short and sweet.