Released by Reikon Games in September ‘17, RUINER is an exquisite combination of William Gibson and Ghost in the Shell, suffused in red. The game is short, but despite that, it’s filled with thrilling battles, a light yet engaging plot, and can safely claim to have one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard this year.
In RUINER, you play as an unnamed, masked warrior on a mission to save his brother. It opens up with an exciting introductory level, getting you into the pace of the game quickly – something I can always get behind. RUINER is a frenetic action shooter/hack and slash. You have a handful of regenerating dashes you can store up, a ranged weapon, and a melee weapon, and it’s your job to cleave your way through hordes of underlings from your vantage point above your protagonist. Your first goal is to find and kill the boss of a shadowy megacorporation called Heaven, which seems to hold sway over the city of Rengkok. You’re being commanded by a hacker who looks a bit like he belongs in The Matrix – we’re talking black blowout and giant trapezoidal sunglasses. Before you can do the deed, he’s forced out of your mind by a different hacker entirely, a woman named Her.
She informs you that you’re being taken advantage of, your mind having been hijacked. You need to recover quickly, because the original hacker is holding your brother hostage as collateral against your failure. On its masked face, RUINER has a simple plot. But don’t be fooled – there are surprises ahead, and not everything is as straightforward as it might seem.
As you work your way deeper into the bowels of Rengkok and Heaven, you’ll find yourself pitted up against wilder and more outrageous opponents, a cyberpunk dungeon dive where things rapidly spiral out of control.
RUINER boast a very grungy cyberslum aesthetic, especially in the hub neighborhood between missions. It caters to exactly what fans of Blade Runner might expect to see – giant corporate arcologies dominating packed alleyways, each one filled with the hopeless, destitute, and anarchistic shadow dwellers of a megalopolis. There’s a seedy ex-cop at a bar who wants you to collect bounties, a freedom fighter who needs you to prevent company surveillance over slum-dwellers, and a chromed out mechanic who will fix you up and do your dirty work, but only with Her holding blackmail over his head.
This hub area is a chance to see some more of the world and its inhabitants out of combat. And though it’s in a limited capacity, it’s all a game RUINER’s size really needs. It’s just enough to build up the world and add some detail and depth to the game’s atmosphere without bogging the player down in minutae. RUINER does an excellent job of maintaining its focus on high speed entertainment and hypnotizing audiovisual experiences.
RUINER’s ability to keep the game feeling active comes in part from its art direction and animation style. Everything in the game feels like it’s been ripped out of a gritty comic book or a classic cyberpunk anime – perhaps Transmetropolitan or Cyber City Oedo 808. Character portraits are sharp and filled with detail – characters might not have many lines or a deep backstory, but they fill the colorful prototypical roles that an action-packed game needs to keep everything rolling. Reikon picked an aesthetic and a degree of action, and hit the nail on the head. RUINER never stops, even when it’s taking a breather.
These visual qualities are reinforced and magnified by a soundtrack strong enough to contend with the likes of Hotline Miami in quality. Where Hotline Miami has bangin’ ‘80s-wave tracks replete with drum machines and funk, RUINER drips dark electronic and synth, hurtling you into the bowels of the city, stranded between a laser grid, a spotlight, and a retinue of teched out zaibatsu gaurds sprinting your way. For this, you can thank Zamilska and Sidewalks and Skeletons.
The OST also features a track by Susumu Hirasawa, and it’s hands down one of the best songs in this soundtrack. Titled Island Door, it’s a 13:34 minute dive into occult ecstasy, the sonorant chanting lyrics setting the scene for the hub world of Rengkok South and its mix of grimly pragmatic and dreamily esoteric denizens.
Combat in RUINER is electric, the soundtrack weaving in seamlessly with the gameplay. The momentum of combat dances across the screen with your movements as you dash from foe to foe, rending with swords, smashing with pipes, or blasting them apart with railguns, grenade launchers, machine pistols, and a variety of other melee weapons or guns. I suppose one could argue that the combat becomes a little formulaic – a hallways leads to an open area that contains some barriers or hazards, and you fight groups and waves of formidable opponents – but it never felt that way when actually in-game. Typically, I was thirsting for the next encounter. The fights are dazzling and drip with the same attitude and atmosphere that the game gives off in its art style. The guns are inventive and fun to use, with plenty of variety.
Beyond that, players can earn powerups as they progress in level, with enough variety to suit different styles of play. These upgrades include but aren’t limited to a kinetic barrier, an EMP blast, brain hacking, and bullet time — each lending a new facet to your fights.
Combat is also unforgiving. While it’s not a one-and-done situation like Hotline Miami, your health bar can deplete quite suddenly, as most enemies hit hard. Fights are neon-fueled fueled adrenaline rushes, and there’s only ever a short lull to catch your breath every now and then between waves. RUINER’s creativity and commitment to its aesthetic also shines through in enemy and weapon design. As enemies change and grow in difficulty, their designs also become more involved or unnerving. The player might start off against a mere security guard, but soon they’ll be facing down husks of former human beings, engineered into mechanical shells capable of dangerous acrobatics and merciless acts of murder.
RUINER is the kind of game you can come back to. The art direction has so much character that you’ll want to replay it just to see cutscenes and characters again, and the potential for difficulty hikes in new game plus or speedrun mode allows for challenge to match your growing skills. Because it’s such a frenetic game with short bursts of action, it’s great to fire up and sit down with for short chunks of time if you don’t have the time for long periods of gaming. Add a responsive dev team and an absolutely killer soundtrack to RUINER’s $20 price tag, and you’ve got a deal. Do yourself a favor, and head down to the seedy underbelly of Rengkok South. Just make sure you bring a lead pipe with you.