Ruiner is a top-down cyberpunk-inspired action-shooter developed by Reikon Games and published by Devolver Digital, during which you take on the role of a sociopath on the road to revenge after his brain is hacked and his brother kidnapped. Situated in the cyber metropolis of Rengkok in the year 2091, your goal is to uncover the truth of a corporate conspiracy all under the guidance of the mysterious hacker who revived you.
In the intro your task is simple - 'KILL THE BOSS'. You're propelled forward towards your goal as pulsating techno fills your eardrums with a purpose - the corporate goons fall beneath your cybernetic enchantments as your objective bursts across your display in a rapidly repeated reminder of your one function - 'KILL THE BOSS'. This in simple terms is Ruiner, a game driven by a single purpose.
After this fast-paced intro, which teaches you the basic mechanics, you find yourself in Rengkok South after an unknown hacker disconnected a hack that was controlling you, and this area now serves as the game's central hub on your journey to rescue your brother. It's a relatively small but detailed area that serves as a welcome break from the non-stop gameplay of the missions, and even hides a few optional tasks and dialogue choices should you choose to explore.
The combat in Ruiner is lightning-quick and requires a certain amount of dexterity to juggle the numerous weapons and skills. As you tear your way through the game's various missions you'll find Reikon's stylish shooter has a very pure, arcade feel to it that prioritises gameplay. The narrative seems to serve as a compelling motivator to the action, acting as a backdrop to a visceral cyberpunk world full of violence. This isn't to say that the world feels empty - Ruiner sticks to a very unified theme, including a cast of unique characters all presented in a manga-esque tone, that makes the game world appear very much alive.
At the core of Ruiner's relentless combat is a robust and flexible customisation system that allows you to arrange your skills to fit the situation. Using Karma points, a futuristic currency that's tied into your identity and social standing, you can select abilities from a drop-down menu and more importantly move them at any point and reallocate them somewhere else. This encourages you to create builds to suit certain situations or boss fights and adds a further strategic angle to the combat. It's the frantic and challenging boss fights where you'll find this customisation most useful as you try varying combinations of skills in an attempt to best your cybernetic adversaries.
The augmentations on offer in Ruiner are wide and varied, ranging from energy shields, dash augmentations, and kinetic barriers, through to wetware programs that allow you to hack cyber-enhanced goons to fight on your side. The weapons don't disappoint either, delivering all the right sounds and gory results you'd expect from such an eclectic mix of sci-fi noir-inspired technology. Some of the standout hardware includes the sonic wave cannon that blows enemies shattering away from you like bowling pins. The railgun and both beam-focussed weapons are rarer to come across but satisfyingly destructive when you get your hands on them. Aside from the aforementioned arsenal the flamethrower and ice ray are a welcome change from the usual sci-fi options. For those who like things a bit more up close and personal the Nano-sword or good old trusty pipe should hit the spot. You'll find weapons in caches around the world and dropped by enemies in a somewhat random fashion that makes you buzz with excitement if you get a heavy hitter at just the right moment.
Ruiner's art style and aesthetic will be instantly recognisable to some as it's clearly inspired by anime classics such as Ghost in The Shell, Akira, Cyber City OEDO, and other cyberpunk manga mainstays. The game has a limited amount of spoken dialogue too, opting for a manga-style presentation in keeping with the cyberpunk design. The animations are smooth and stable which is a godsend when the action really kicks off, especially when all manner of gunfire and swords fill the air. Ruiner has a strong personality that comes through in its art direction, its characters, and its world, and ties it all together in a consistent manner, making it a memorable experience.
And now for probably the most important aspect of Ruiner, the soundtrack. All the fast-paced gunplay would be nothing without the low pulsating techno beats spellbinding you into a trance of pure gameplay and moment-to-moment action. The music is a living part of this game, the glue holding the nuanced mechanics together. There's no distinct tracks so much as one rhythm that changes with the tone and mood of the action, with the combat just comfortably surfing on this sea of sound. There's an eclectic mix of music in the soundtrack from intense beats to exciting melodies by the likes of Khoven, DJ Alina, and famed anime composer Susumu Hirasawa. Music beats at the heart of Ruiner, complimenting its quick, brutal but sophisticated gameplay to deliver a whole package of rhythmic destruction.
Ruiner is a speed freak, nothing but a neon blur of a futuristic cyber city glimpsed in the reflection of a motorcycle helmet as it rushes by at 100mph. In a world where humans have merged with machines, nobody's motives are clear and the line between good and evil has blurred beyond recognition. The game is lacking in a few areas, though, that can easily be overlooked considering the size and scope of the studio. Admittedly, the lack of spoken dialogue leaves you disconnected from the narrative at points in the story, and the home hub and overall size of the areas you battle your way through could have been fleshed out more as well. It's a victim of its own limitations in parts, and at times it certainly leaves you wanting more.
What it does offer is something special, a true cyberpunk aesthetic in a genre that has become diluted of late. It presents classically modelled characters who represent the marginalised, alienated loners who live on the edge of society changed by invasive human modifications in an undesirable, dystopian future. The true beauty of Ruiner is hidden in its tight corridors and challenging bosses. It's that pure and simple video game experience that immerses you in the moment. That's what video games are all about, escapism through demanding and technical gameplay interwoven with complex narrative, and Ruiner does not disappoint in that department.