Forgetting Cyberpunk 2077 for a second, the cyberpunk genre has been tweaking my nipples these past couple of years and ignoring the troubled triple-A title, I was getting a thirst for dystopian games such as Ruiner.
Ruiner isn’t a retro game by any means, but it’s not a brand spanking release either. The only reason it’s up for review is GOG had a winter sale, and aside from buying every point and click, including cyberpunk-themed Blade Runner, I took the plunge and snapped up this gem along the way.
Ruiner PC Review
From Reikon Games, Ruiner was initially on my watchlist for the Switch, but since getting back into the PC gaming scene, pleased to have held out a little longer as the visuals are wicked and sorry, the Switch wouldn’t have looked as good.
Presentation-wise, it reminded me more of one of my favourite games of 2020, Dreadlands; notably the futuristic flair, and the isometric views. Do note that this would be the only similarity as Ruiner is a real-time action game, not a tile-based strategy one.
In some ways, it’s like Akane, No More Heroes (a little) and with the fluidity of Ghostrunner. Ruiner is a mashup of several great games, yet if you were to dissect it a bit more, the comparisons are relatively light, and only on the surface.
Drawing on the Akane reference, you move around a maze of henchmen and bosses, killing everyone in sight, and ideally as fast as possible. It takes a bit of getting used to depending on your setup. For me it was a keyboard and mouse combo, moving with the W, A, S and D keys and aiming with the mouse.
One With The Machine
Starting with a pipe, Ruiner is a mixture of melee and ranged based attacks. It wouldn’t be cyberpunk if not for the evil corporations, copious amount of neon and some gadgetry that makes you wish your life away.
Pulling up a radial menu, you have some cyber hacks for ranged attacks and applying a slight strategy that differs from running at them swinging your pipe. That’s not a dirty euphemism. However, it’s unobtrusive as you’ll probably only have a few skills configured such as pressing Q for a regen or space for an energy shield.
Skills or abilities use up energy which can be replenished by drops and regeneration titles. The dash skill doesn’t use up energy and is arguably the best perk at your disposal. Pressing the right mouse button will have you cover small areas in bursts, and eventually, you can create nodes to dash to in quick succession.
If you’re nimble enough, you can create some terrific set-pieces as you dodge each bullet to get in close for a shotgun blast, or a crack of the skull with your melee weapon. The weapons are enjoyable to use, especially those that dissolve your opponents – similar to the laser in Syndicate.
Chain Attacks And Evil Bosses
Continuing with the checklist for cyberpunk 101, there is an underdog plot here. Your character has had their brain hacked to perform an assassination on the boss of Heaven. Not God, just some dude in a suit.
A hacker has tapped into your grey matter, what’s left of it, to free you, but also inform you that your brother has been taken hostage and you have to stomp through the levels to rescue him. This features lengthy isometric levels where you have to beat waves of enemies and multiple bosses.
Ruiner gameplay is like a modern version of Smash TV with its mini arenas connected by corridors of henchmen and turrets. As should be expected from this game style, there are multipliers up for grabs each time you chain a kill. By the end of each stage you’ll get a ranking screen that details the time it took, how many kills you made, karma gained, deaths and a final score.
My first outing resulted in an S ranking and went downhill from there. If speed runs and ranks are your thing, you’re in for some luck as the game encourages lightning-fast times, which plays an integral part in the endgame experience. However, that drop in rank is often reflected by the increasing difficulty. Ruiner is a challenging game to beat, but doable in normal mode.
Karma’s A Bitch
Karma is the currency of the game and earned through missions. Now here’s the good part for RPG fans: there’s a skill tree which you can invest in as your karma level improves. Each ability comes with an upgrade path where you can assign skills using the radial menu.
Aside from the main missions, there are sidequests for obtaining karma and becoming a cybernetic beefcake, but be aware that they’re easily missed. Ruiner is a short narrative, I finished it in just over four hours, but the levels feel looooong – especially when you get stuck fighting the same boss again and again and dying repeatedly.
Sometimes this is a good thing as if you like the repetitive nature of a dungeon crawler where you get multiple weapon drops and have the opportunity to chain attacks, the slight variation can be enjoyable. However, it can feel quite lengthy and tricky to exit out of a stage when you’re in deep.
Between these stages is a cityscape that feels a bit of an afterthought as you can’t really do much other than speak to a handful of NPCs and look at information points to work out your bearings. The ambience is excellent, which is a shame as the city space is a little wasted and is omitted in new game+ for those looking to finish as swiftly as possible.
A Bleak, But Enticing Future
The presentation is superb throughout, featuring some old school 3D cutscenes, intercut with some visual novel-based dialogue scenes. The beat of the game goes at a swift pace thanks to the editing style, using flash images that makes you question if they’re subliminal or not. All I know is I’ve ordered a ton of stuff off Amazon since playing and have no recollection of placing the order.
The protagonist has the personality and charm of a toenail, however. In dialogue responses, a lot of the time you can either nod, shrug or crack your knuckles and none of it has an impact on the story. On top of that, he wears a mask throughout disguising his face, so he’s pretty hard to identify with. Spoiler for extra features; there are plenty of outfits to unlock in endgame too.
Ruiner is often fast-paced. Due to the speedrun element, you can skip the cutscenes and dialogue, but unless you’re familiar with the storyline, you should watch them as the setpieces are great. The highlight for me, however, was the soundtrack – some of the tracks were superb, and I’d happily listen to this outside of my gaming life.
So, is Ruiner worth it? Yes. Though it can be completed in one sitting, the additional features such as speed runs, arenas (essentially a survival mode) and new game+ pad out the replay value. In fact, after finishing the game on the default difficulty, I immediately replayed on new game+, keeping all my skills (there’s no way you’ll unlock them all in one playthrough), but had my arse served to me immediately; this is a brutal game.
Ruiner PC Review Summary
Ruiner will be a great companion piece to your steadily growing cyberpunk library unless you already have it. This review was based on the Ruiner GOG version as in a sale, and worth it if you’re up for a fast-paced action title that has plenty of replay value that looks and sounds the part too. Just be advised that is can be insanely difficult.