There are far worse inspirations that one can draw upon for an ultraviolent third-person shooter than that of legendary anime Akira and Devolver Digital’s own Hotline Miami. A seemingly obvious pairing upon reflection, RUINER makes the most of this highly compelling bridge between two pop-culture fandoms by giving players a twin-stick shooter that is every bit as enjoyable to play, as it is to look at and hear.
A shooter with interesting, if flawed narrative designs
RUINER has players as a nameless, augmented cyborg who, alongside a mysterious hacker, must carve a path through the cyberpunk underworld of Rengkok in order to rescue a long-lost sibling. As much as that plot might appear to be window dressing for RUINER’s more violent twin-stick shooter pursuits, the game does actually make a fair attempt at trying to make the narrative seem more sophisticated than it actually is.
A big part of this is the multi-choice system of dialog that RUINER employs, allowing the player to affect an outcome to particular conversation. The problem with it, despite the commendable notion of trying to introduce some extra depth to a genre that typically doesn’t embrace such things, is that the dialogue choices are overly abstract and as such you feel like your choices simply don’t matter in these situations. The reason why these dialogue choices seem so abstract is because the admittedly cool screen mask which obscures the protagonist’s face essentially means all he can do is nod, crack his knuckles or display one of a small handful of images on the mask’s surface. A Telltale Game, this is not.
Equally, when you’re not cutting about the place, laying waste to an army of futuristic rent-a-goons in effortlessly stylish fashion (something we’ll get right to in a bit), RUINER allows you to explore a small section of downtown Rengkok and it’s here that the game invites you to chat with its downtrodden denizens and pick up some side-quests while you’re at it. The issue with this is that not only do many of NPCs have very little to say (a shame because Rengkok itself is absolutely stunning feat of neon-lit cyberpunk design), but the quests that you occasionally do pick up from them are pretty uninteresting to say the least.
One such quest for example, has you jogging around Rengkok, finding cybernetic cats to hack that in turn provides the player with a reward once a set number have been discovered. Another meanwhile, has you locating a set of special coins that have been tucked away in each of RUINER’s levels and hardly does much to fire the imagination, or more crucially, provide incentive to complete them in the first place.
The most stylish twin-stick shooter you can buy by far
What makes RUINER so special isn’t its limp side quests nor it’s admirable, though ultimately flawed attempt at doing something a little more adventurous with the dialogue system, but rather the euphoria it elicits from the player by virtue of its satisfyingly ultraviolent and ultra-stylish twin-stick shooter beats.
Akin to a hyperkinetic ballet where the movements and musical intonation are expressed through the ejecting of bullets into faces and the hefting of blades through flesh, it’s fair to say that no other twin-stick shooter on the market manages to satisfyingly empower the player quite like RUINER does. One of main reasons why RUINER feels so good is because the weapons are all an absolute pleasure to handle. From the thudding recoil of a multi-barrelled shotgun, through to the wide arc swath of a katana swing, the entirety of the arsenal in RUINER simply feels great to employ in combat.
More than just the weapons that you have at your disposal, another big contributing factor to the satisfaction of RUINER’s blissful contests of violence is the well-judged use of slow motion during its array of frenzied encounters. Although The Matrix released some 18 years ago now, the fact remains that when done correctly, slow motion can be used to great effect and in the case of RUINER, its effect extends far beyond that of merely being a visual flourish.
Indeed it’s here, in that almost imperceptible gap in time where split-seconds of time and action fall upon each other, that RUINER does its best work as breakneck exchanges of gunfire and explosions slow to a crawl, allowing you a precious morsel of time to plan your next move accordingly; usually involving a speedy dash away from a volley of incoming fire, or, the opportunity to empty your arsenal in the direction of the nearest aggressor.
Beyond the ability to slow the action down, RUINER’s progression system, which uses an in-game form of currency called ‘Karma’ (think experience points), also gives rise to a multitude of other abilities and attacks such as the ability to deploy an explosive charge or even hack into an attacking enemy and have them fight against their former comrades. There is however, a limit to how much you can abuse these powers and the limit is set by a power bar which depletes the more you use these abilities. Luckily, replenishment comes in the form of handy recharge stations and collectible tokens that drop from your fallen foes, the latter providing a small recharge of power, while the former allows a much larger amount of regeneration.
It also doesn’t hurt that RUINER controls brilliantly, too. One analogue stick is used to move our masked protagonist, while the other is used is used to make him look in a given direction and though, initially at least, such a scheme can feel a little odd at first, it soon coalesces into a wholly comfortable method of control as you strafe, move, aim and shoot with ease.
Another interesting aspect of RUINER’s design DNA, is that rather than embracing Hotline Miami’s open plan approach to violence, where players are given a map in its entirety and must carve/stab/shoot their own path through it, RUINER instead frequently forces players into a series of ad-hoc arenas where waves of enemies assault them and improvisation in both your offence and defence are key to making it through in one piece.
Perhaps nowhere is this emphasis on improvisation felt more keenly than in the numerous boss encounters that RUINER forces upon the player. Robustly challenging on even the default normal difficulty level, RUINERs assortment of twisted cyborgs, demented AI cores and augmented mercenaries demand not just a rare synergy of powers and gunplay from the player, but also an innate awareness of how to use cover in the environment to their advantage, too.
Nonetheless, as sound as RUINER’s twin-stick shooter shenanigans are, it’s the audiovisual presentation of developer Reikon Games inaugural PS4 title that will likely endure longer in memory. A heady and intoxicating mix of far eastern culture, bleeding neon futurescapes and cyberpunk beats that have been clearly informed by the likes of Akira and Blade Runner; there is not a single twin-stick shooter on the market that can boast the sublime stylings of RUINER.
A special mention must also be made of RUINER’s soundtrack, too. Comprised of works from such artists as Sidewalks & Skeletons, Zamilska, Antigone and Francois X, the thrumming, relentless beats that lace together each of RUINER’s violent encounters also find themselves punctuated by bouts of tribal techno that deftly recall the game’s Asian and anime influences; weaving an astounding aural tapestry of sound that completely befits the on-screen action.
Oozing style and braggadocio from every digital pore, RUINER arguably represents a new standard of audiovisual extravagance for twin-stick shooters. It’s perhaps telling then that the only real stumbles RUINER makes is when it ventures outside of its twin-stick shooter sandbox.
Nonetheless, whatever Reikon Games is making next, you can be sure they have my attention and based on the evidence seen here they probably should have yours too.