RUINER Review – Dragged down by Design
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC (reviewed)
Developer: Reikon Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: 26th September 2017
For uneducated eyes Reikon Games’ RUINER may look like a clone of the famous indie series Hotline Miami, just in a cyberpunk world. Yet, it´s nothing like that, in fact, RUINER is a whole different game and it´s just as fun. Still, the 2D shooter world of RUINER isn´t flawless, suffering from strangely contradicting design.
RUINER is set in the cyberpunk city Rengkok of 2091. Told from the perspective of a silent, masked protagonist, who chases the signal of his kidnapped brother through every corner of the world. A hacker-girl seems to help him, or at least, that´s what she pretends, while the man kills hundreds of creeps, assassins and what not, while Rengkok reveals more and more of its true face.
Before starting the game I didn´t expect much more than a simple revenge/kidnap story with badass characters. At the end, I experienced a dark, brutal, inhumane cyberpunk world that truly impressed me. While the story itself is certainly nothing special, being pretty lackluster and forseeable throughout the 9 hours long campaign the world is where RUINER truly shines. I can´t remember a single character name, except the protagonist and was never too satisfied with the story. The fact voice acting is non-existent doesn´t help the plot either. Still, the presented dark cyberpunk world is the main strength of RUINER´s story. Discovering more and more about HEAVEN or the inner parts of Rengkok isn´t just interesting from a visual perspective but really disturbing. Humans being used as dispensers, soulless meat bags or flying heads .. that´s grotesque … I love it. It reminded me a lot about films or dark interpretations of the future and the brutality used to underline its message is amazing. 9 hours wa also the perfect length to dive into such a crazy world without being bored or annoyed and constantly surprised.
Another reason are the quite amazing graphics, which can perfectly portray this cyberpunk dystopia. Able to produce stunning looking environments with superb lighting and texture resolutions. Frankly, there isn´t much visual creativity, mostly playing in the same kind of cyberpunk levels but the few existing designs are amazing. Playing it in 4K on PC is a pleasure to behold. Due to the quite good optimisation frame drops below 60fps on a GTX 1070 in 4K are rare. There were some bugs present in the review build though, the game crashed 2 times and had several sound glitches, so there´s some work to be done. Otherwise, the brutal soundtrack, great visuals and beautiful character portraits let RUINER stand out as a gorgeous looking indie game. Even when character models seem a bit muddy.
Naturally, most of the time we don´t be able to look at those stunning environments, due to the fast-paced 2D combat and hordes of enemies. Similar to other 2D games, there are 2 basic weapons, a melee and ranged one. Naturally, better weapons can be picked up and used as long as they have ammo or durability, dealing way more damage at the same time. The standard RUINER gun is nothing compared to a giant shotgun after all. However, in contrast to the often referenced Hotline Miami, RUINER builds its gameplay completely around arenas in designed levels. In one moment we run down a corridor, in the next the doors are locked and enemies spawn. Every level has multiple arenas, each with their own enemies and thrilling combat.
Since the RUINER guy doesn´t really have much health, dying after 4 hits or so at the beginning, avoiding attacks is crucial. Therefore the dash exists, a pretty ordinary evading move limited to 3 charges which need to refill themselves after being used. Those elements alone guarantee a fast, brutal and adrenaline boosted experience. Similar to Hotline Miami, dodging bullets, grabbing a shotgun and shooting the enemy right into hell feels absolutely fantastic.
Combined with the various abilities like a bullet reflecting shield, which can be upgraded up to 4 times, RUINER´s gameplay is diverse, brutal and feels right. The fact every skill point can be reassigned allows for a ton of different playstyles without having to replay the game. A really great addition.
Honestly, I really like the gameplay and speed of it. I love it, honestly and that´s why the sometimes horrible level design is such a bummer. After the first few levels RUINER got clustered with slow design choices, in addition to the repetitive arena gameplay. For example, to hide loading screens levels implemented some sort of railway, that requires you to hold “E” for 5 seconds or so before watching a 15 seconds long cutscene or longer.
So, 30 seconds simply wasted on watching a unskippable cutscene in a game revolving around speed and fast action isn´t good design. There´s also a passage where the path is unlocked by holding “E” for some seconds, in order to activate a lever. Nothing is accomplished with such design except boredom. I already had a problem with the lacking overview of the action because the bullets and enemies merge way to good with the environment but this tops them all.
It´s a shame really. I love the basic gameplay and world of RUINER, the brutality, speed and cyberpunk flair make it a great experience, in theory. In reality, the great gameplay ideas are dragged down by a lacking overview, repetitivity and a design, clueless what it actually wants to accomplish. In the later hours the game intentionally slows itself down, looses even more overview due to the lack of colour variation and can´t offer anything else than arenas.
With more variety and better design, I´m sure RUINER could have been a great game. Sadly, it´s just an “okay” one, I can´t fully recommend when games like Danganronpa V3 or Blue Reflection are releasing on the same day.
[A Review Code was provided by Devolver Digital]