Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Linux.
Ruiner came to my attention during the Devolver Digital Press Conference in 2017. It’s one of my favorite press conferences of all time and is worth a watch as it’s brilliant comedy. During the conference, two games were shown with Ruiner being one of them. It wasn’t a serious press conference so that game can’t be real, right?
Well, no, Ruiner is very real, and unlike the entire press conference which was done for a laugh, Ruiner is completely dead serious. It’s often called a cyberpunk Hotline Miami and that seems like a good description of the game. The only issue I have is I’m actually not a fan of Hotline Miami. It’s an ok game, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as most people. So that might be worrying but still, I’m giving this a shot.
The obvious difference between the two games is the graphics. Whereas Hotline Miami tried to get to a trippy psychedelic look, Ruiner drops all that and goes straight to cyberpunk. The main character wears a mask that shows a text display as well as images. His face is never shown, his entire interaction is done through these icons, whether it be the words “Kill you” repeated over and over, or “No File” or so on.
This is all the personality you get, but also all you need.
The world is gorgeous. The levels are designed to be overly industrialized futuristic technology factories, where there are constant movement and fulfillment of shipping desires. It sounds complicated and the looks are complicated, but it is just amazing visual eye candy. Even though it’s mostly uninteractive, I love the look of machines merging and working together. I’m a huge fan of Factorio due to its production line, so when Ruiner takes place in that production line and uses it as an aesthetic, I get the same feeling from it.
I love the look and feel of the world, the character models are great, enemies feel unique, and the style really makes the art pop. Overall, I adore Ruiner’s graphics most of the time.
At the same time, the music and sounds of the game perfectly complement it. I rarely focus on the music of the game, usually only noticing one or two songs like Civilization 4’s Baba Yetu, but Ruiner’s presentation is near perfect and the music is a huge part of it. I played the entire game of Ruiner with no distraction because the music kept pulling me back to the game. This game has an incredible soundtrack.
It’s not just the music that is incredible, it’s that it also fits with the style and tone of the game that makes for a perfect experience for me.
But, there’s a small problem here. The graphics in the game caused a small issue, there was one point in the game that I wasn’t sure where I could move and I got lost because I didn’t realize I could move upwards on the screen and kept trying to move left and right and down. It’s a shame because those great graphics that I am raving about hurt my enjoyment a couple of times. They look great when they work, but when they failed, well I was stuck for almost five minutes. It’s a minor complaint but at the moment I was really disappointed when I realized what I missed.
The level design in the game is really solid outside of those moments, and it’s a natural progression to move from one room that serves as an arena to the next. The level is usually laid out in a way that has a few side rooms and a path to the next area. The downside is when the game wants to give the player a choice, it’s usually not clear which direction leads to bonus content or even a reward for completing an earlier quest until it’s too late and the game has locked off the path backward.
There’s one other feature of the levels that is a little odd, after each arena room you’re given a score similar to Bayonetta or any game that awards you a score based on skill. At the end of the entire level, you get a score for the entire level. Oddly enough this score isn’t saved. There’s a leaderboard system but that’s for the speed run and arena modes.
Still getting a good score feels great.
With the presentation, the level design, and the rest taken care of we can look at the gameplay of the game, and if the presentation is great, it’s the gameplay that compliments it perfectly.
Ruiner is played with a 3D Isometric style where the player uses both sticks for movement and aiming. At first, you might think this is a twin-stick shooter, and it’s a good thought, however, the player manually fires the gun with the right trigger. In my first look, I comment that it’s an odd control scheme because I just want to fire constantly. But the more I played it, the more I realized that I was wrong.
When I was out of special ammo, it could work as a twin-stick shooter, but the fact is there are tons of gun pickups and I wanted to be very careful about ammo use because those gun pickups tended to be worth saving. There are enough ammo drops that I almost never was back to the default “Ruiner” gun you get in the first level.
At the same time, I didn’t always have to use my guns, the right bumper is used for melee attacks and those are more powerful than the guns so it’s useful to switch to whichever is right for the current situation you find yourself in. The fact is this twin-stick shooter works better by forcing the player to actually use the attack buttons as well. There are also a few abilities like the shield that can be aimed with the right stick and will disappear when you fire a weapon so the original thought that I wanted a twin-stick shooter doesn’t work here.
That’s a lot of thought that went into a simple change to the Twin Stick shooter mentality but the more I played the game, the more I realized that level of thought and consideration went into almost everything in the game.
I will say though, that the one thing that was also challenging was the aiming. With a few shots, you can usually hit your target, but I have auto aiming turned on and often I aim at enemies and my first couple of shots missed them. This might be intentional, it could be the auto-aiming doesn’t work, or I might be making a mistake somewhere else. But after a couple of levels, I realized that complaint wasn’t as bad. The auto-aiming felt better, and maybe I just wasn’t shooting as quickly but something changed and it worked. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing a laser sight to target the enemy. Sometimes it appears in games, but oftentimes the character won’t aim the weapon the way he’s targeting unless it’s right after firing a round.
Since we did talk about the huge amount of thought that went into the gameplay though, maybe the auto-aim has the same level and I just mentally fell in sync with what the developers expected. I’m honestly not sure what changed for me, but if we look at their other designs we can begin to see their genius once again.
The ability tree in Ruiner is… well, I want to say perfect. That’s a really high praise, and I usually hate ability trees, because it’s making a choice and losing other options. Ruiner makes a lot of decisions here that I like.
The ability tree is pretty big as well.
The first big move is the ability to refund any points spent. It doesn’t require you to refund the whole tree or cost the player anything. You can just remove a single skill and place the points spent on it somewhere else. This is absolutely fantastic, and I wish every game did this. It’s a joy to tweak and play with abilities because you can play with the system knowing that you’ll never make a mistake that can’t be fixed with a couple of button presses.
The second thing the skill tree does is have a lot of different options and variety. There are a couple very obvious choices. Dashing, for instance, is extremely useful in this game as is the shield ability. However, most skills in this game are attached to a specific button and many of them have multiple different choices. For instance, you can hit the Left trigger to block all attacks form a direction, or drop a Kinetic shield or get a perk that makes you more powerful or deadly.
Which of these are the best? It’s up to you. The game starts with using a shield to block all attacks but it drops when you fire. A short time later, you can switch to the kinetic shield which can be dropped and the player can fire through, and quite a few people swear that the perk is essential. You can try out each of them and figure out what you like, or even choose not to spend points in that part of the tree because there are others you might want more.
But beyond that, you can activate all three. Only one skill will be used when you hit the Left Trigger but you can pop open an action wheel to switch to another skill and I believe have all three active at the same time. It’s like that with all the abilities and the abilities also have upgrades that all feel worth it. If you like a specific ability, you’re going to like most of the upgrades.
Dashing is one of the best abilities in my opinion because it lets you evade damage and just feels damn slick. There’s also an ability to tag a couple of locations and dash between it. I didn’t use the secondary functionality often, but I’m sure there are a number of uses for it that people have found. However, it was almost always active on my character because it was that useful.
Another ability that was on my must-have list was called Supply drop. It dropped ANY weapon I had picked up previously in my playthrough once every 25 seconds at no cost to the player. It would also kill any enemy it is dropped on. While it could kill you, the ability was just another useful ability. It sounds overpowered but there are so many guns that drop in each battle that I fully believe other players would choose not to get that ability for other choices.
There’s also a slow-mo mode, that doesn’t make you faster but gives you far more time to think and act and it was extremely useful to me. I found it hard to live without, and again, I fully believe that other people might not take it because they prefer other modes.
I could say this about almost every ability I liked, or even the abilities I disliked. The biggest thing in the game is that the ability tree has synergy. If you maxed “Use of Weapons” it had an ability that would return energy to you every time you fired your gun. That’s extremely useful. Using that with my Slow-Mo ability, as well as an ability that regenerated my health, made me unstoppable. I then Supply dropped weapons with large capacities so I was constantly recharging energy and just killing anyone in front of me. The entire synergy of those four skills is amazing. Yet I’ve seen other combos that people swear by. So I haven’t just stumbled on the one great combo, it’s just one of many.
So how do you earn new abilities, you earn them by getting upgrade points. To earn upgrade points, you can either level up or find them in the level or sometimes they will be dropped from bosses. The accrual of points comes so fast and quick that I usually was able to get a few new upgrades per level played, and it comes in such a fluid style that I always was double checking the ability tree.
I never felt I was grinding for a level or an ability. I could trust the game and sooner rather than later, I would have the points to get another ability.
There are other features in the game, such as a “weapon grinder” system. When I mentioned how many weapons were dropped in the game before, I wasn’t lying but the game actually rewards you if you don’t use those weapons. Either through skillful play or through use of supply drops, the weapons on a level add up. At the end of almost every room, a Weapon Grinder drops, which will suck in any weapon not currently held by the player and reward him with Karma (the game’s system of XP) and sometimes a more powerful weapon (usually with more ammo than normal).
There is also the idea of “Ruiner Kills” these are ultra violent moments of mayhem that seem to reward the player with bonus karma, health, and energy. They can be achieved when enemies are low on health and give up but aren’t “fully dead”. You’ll notice enemies slump to the ground and an orange circle appears around them. That’s the sign for it. The nice thing is that the enemies allow you to do the kill without ganging up on you too bad, and can’t injure you in the middle of it. They are just a touch of ultra-violence with a nice reward.
Finally, there are major boss fights. These come around every couple of levels. Each level has a “boss” but then there are the big bosses of the entire section of the game and they stand out. There are a couple of them in the game, and I enjoyed all of them. They are all a change in pace from the game, and usually have some small rule change, such as a boss who can jump out of sight for a mega-attack, or a boss that has to be shocked to become vulnerable. Each one is excellent, and I’ve actually replayed a couple of them because of how solid they are.
But even minor bosses look great.
Overall the game has great gameplay and I kept coming back for more. Even when I was struggling on a single room when a new enemy had appeared and made the game a decent amount harder, I played that room for over an hour and never considered stopping. The gameplay just was very addictive, and that’s a sign of a great game.
It’s a shame I can’t end the review right now. I absolutely adore the game up to this point. Sadly I’m going to have to tear down the model of perfection I’ve been gushing about.
The biggest issue for me was the finale of the game. This game is an amazing experience, and I adored almost every moment of it. But after you kill the “final boss” you get an Epilogue. The story stops making full sense, and there’s just not a good reason to have that scene. You don’t get a final boss but just a large arena room.
Worse they throw in a timer battle. At the end of the tutorial, the game has a timer battle where you have to fight a room with only 15 seconds on the clock, and 5 seconds added per kill. It’s the most intense fight in the tutorial level and actually might be the most intense fight in the game. I was surprised and thought “If that’s the gimmick of this game it’s going to be great.”
That “gimmick” isn’t used again until the epilogue, and I would feel bad about giving that away but there’s no reason for it to be used only twice. I am a little offended by it being offered in the tutorial and never again. Even the speed run and arena doesn’t appear to use it. So why is it in the game, and if it’s for the finale, why spoil the surprise of it?
The overworld map makes little sense. I’m not sure why it is in the game. The quests there don’t seem to give a noticeable reward (perhaps it’s giving me a level with no graphical indication) but even if it was a clear reward it doesn’t feel meaningful. So I get a reward from talking to a sketchy guy? I hack some cats, and then I get a key to some area that’s special but isn’t labeled? These just feel like odd moments instead of major quests.
Sometimes the overworld tries to take you to other modes. One time the game warned me I was going to the arena, and the other just took me out of the game into a speed run mode and then quitting that, took me out of the game completely.
Finally, the game teases the idea of the “Bounty Hunt” quest which doesn’t make sense in hindsight. Why are the bosses at the end of a level on the list and not the bigger bosses? Who is paying me? It’s just bonus karma for killing the non-bosses. I should just get karma as a thank you for killing the boss. The addition of it being on a bounty list doesn’t seem to make sense at all.
Here’s the thing… all those are valid complaints, and I have issues with them. The overworld especially doesn’t feel like it works in my book, though it does add story, it could be done as part of a more linear level. But when I finished the game, I wasn’t thinking about the complaints. Even the poor epilogue I just had been through made me think “wow that was a weak ending level for a great game”.
I like Ruiner, I actually love Ruiner. This is the type of game that really gets me excited. Yes, there are ultra-violent moments but it’s not overly bloody. Yes, the controls took me an hour or so to get used to, but even when I was learning them, I was having an amazing time. The game might last only about a few hours, but I honestly could play the game again a second time right away.
As such, I feel I have to reward this game a
It’s not perfect, but it’s very close to it.
Final Thoughts: An excellent shooter wrapped in cyberpunk style and look that just impressed me every step of the way. Excellent ability tree and gameplay worked well but the presentation sealed the deal.
Stats: 14.1 hours, 14/33 achievements.