RUINER: cyberpunk killing action

Today, we’re looking at a Devolver Digital published game where you play as a masked person going out to massacre people. No, I’m not talking about a Hotline Miami game. Huh, what? No, I already did My Friend, Pedro. Hm. I’m starting to notice a theme here. Anyway, we’re actually talking about RUINER, developed by Reikon Games.

You are a humble masked assassin living in the cyberpunk city of Rengkok, which is pretty much controlled by the Heaven conglomeration. Your cybernetic enhanced body has been hacked and you’re being forced to assassinate the Boss, the leader of Heaven, when your brain gets re-hacked by a mysterious woman simply referred to as “Her.” According to Her, there’s a coup being run against the Boss, and the conspirators has kidnapped your brother to act as additional leverage against you. And so, you embark on a murderous rampage through decrepit facilities and factories, chasing this vague figment of a brother.

RUINER is a top-down beat em’ up set in a cyberpunk dystopia where you play as… well, he doesn’t get a name, but Her calls him “Puppy,” so I guess I’ll call him that for convenience sake. Is it horny? (shrug)

Puppy is armed with a basic melee weapon and the titular Ruiner gun – a weak weapon with unlimited ammo. However, he can pick up different weapons with limited durability and ammo off of dead enemies, and there’s a whole lot of them, so you can easily switch between blasting enemies with an SMG to a shotgun if one is lying around. Along with this, Puppy also has a handy dash ability that lets him zip around the game’s arenas, which you’ll really be needing to use if you aren’t relying on defensive abilities.

Puppy wanders around and the words “KILL YOU” flashes into his vision as enemies pop in to harass him. Slaughter them all and Her does a cute pose tied to whatever ranking you got in that bout. There’s actually a decent progression with enemies as you get further through the game. While early enemies are guys that run around trying to shoot and stab you, later ones are capable of flash stepping around just like you can while being armed with heavier artillery, which makes a lot of the end game combats fun.

That said, I’m overall at a weird place with the game’s combat. I do like its fast pace, especially when the enemies become able to dash so that fights consist of everyone zooming around the place. However, part of it feels… weightless. Enemies crumble over and let out small screams, but those reactions feel really muted in the general noise of the game. In fact, the main reason why I went through my files for a video clip was that I think it’s really hard to parse the action of the game through screenshots.

Violence is only accentuated in specific circumstances, like getting a kill combo in the 3s or doing a finisher. Otherwise, the act of killing feels, dare I say, lifeless. Game feel is a thing I really value in action packed games because it throws weight behind your bullets and I honestly think that RUINER lacks that.

Defeating enemies and recycling unused weapons post-battle earns you Karma, which within the context of gameplay, is essentially an experience point system. Gaining levels enables you to invest more in the game’s skill tree, which provides different button-mapped abilities. You can only have one skill of a button type assigned at a time, but you can reinvest skill points whenever you please, so you can easily switch between possible builds. You can try to be more defensive with shield based abilities, or if you’re feeling confident, you can redirect those shield points into an ability that increases your speed and damage for as long as you can keep your energy sustained. Personally, I liked the ability that lets you hack an enemy’s brain to fight for you, because besides the extra firepower, I appreciate having someone else taking the heat.

Cyberpunk has been a hot topic lately. Besides our reality approaching the core cyberpunk trappings except without the cool technology, there’s also that big Cyberpunk 2077 game coming out soon and it’s been subject to a bunch of criticism in the build up to its release. One of those criticisms – which tends to be aimed at people that like cyberpunk as a whole – is that a lot of people are more into the aesthetic of it and ignores the political messaging. The official Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter buddying up with Elon Musk, a tech billionaire asshole, is pretty much the complete opposite of how people like him are treated in this genre.

RUINER, however is pretty unapologetic about how much this cyberpunk world sucks, which gets some proper expansion if you choose to actually delve into the flavor text database you build up as you play through the game. Within the context of the game’s world, Karma outright doubles as a form of social credit that determines someone’s placement in life, with the hub town – the lowest district in Rengkok’s placement – being a place for the poor and actual criminals. Heaven offers people a virutal reality escape with realistic sensations, which are drained from actual people hooked up to their machines. These people are easily discarded by the corporation, as they have a huge population of jobless people to rely on – who in turn, winds up diving into their virtual realities as an escape.

And the thing is, all the things that you might consider cool is never properly shown, which is a good thing because it prevents nerds from looking at those things and “oohing” and “aahing” all “Gundam shooting over the head” style. You’re never shown the virtual reality that Heaven creates, only the people that it uses up and throws away to create it. Puppy’s cybernetics are immediately shown a big downside in that it’s how he’s stuck in his situation at the start of the game. There are sequences where you ride a hyperloop motorcycle, but it’s actually kinda lame because they only connect between these underground facilities that’s out to kill you. Very little of the setting is genuinely cool, and the stuff that is cool has clear downsides to it.

With regards to cybperunk aesthetics, RUINER takes a good approach. It has that dark grittiness mingled in with high technology, with squalid cities contrasted with mostly pristine corporate facilities. However, instead of neon colors and lighting accompanying the flash of RUINER‘s violence, there’s a lot of sharp reds that gives an oppressive look to the environments. The game even manages to carry this vibe over into its nicer looking factories, with red lighting and viscera of people that Heaven kills. And you know, thank god for this visual style, because if it was more flashy neon this would just be Cyberpunk Hotline Miami (aka, a standard nerd cyberpunk game) in terms of look.

RUINER also specifically builds itself as trying to be more like a cyberpunk anime, and it really shows in how all the guy characters are grungy looking and the women characters are cute and conventionally attractive. I don’t know, I always hate that shit. Either make everyone cute or make them all look like shit, cowards. Instead of making Her do cool cutesy poses when you do good in fights, make Puppy do it. That’d rule.

And also, Her does “uwu” speak which pisses me off. Like, it’s clearly a face that she puts on, but I truly hate to see it.

Despite that though, RUINER feels like a good realization of a cyberpunk action game and is overall a perfectly alright game. Like, I personally don’t consider it as a “must play,” especially with how it “feels,” to me, but it’s pretty dang good if you have it.

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