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RUINER

Score: 70%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Reikon Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:

RUINER hates your guts. Itís a nasty, mean-spirited game that in many ways plays to the expectations surrounding it. It fancies itself a cyberpunk take on Hotline Miami (itself another Devolver product), but fails to rise to that example at nearly every turn. So itís not as good as one of its inspirations, so what? Most games arenít as good as Hotline Miami. Thereís some enjoyment to be had in RUINER, but itís much more of a taker than a giver. The pieces are there: itís confident, ultraviolent, thematically pure, and boosted by superb sound design. But itís so hung up on its own design philosophy that itís frequently difficult to enjoy outright.

I donít have any complaints when it comes to RUINERís presentation, and that starts with the visuals. Itís not terribly novel, a strikingly ugly, crowded vision of the future that heavily relies on a single hue. Thereís a lot of red in RUINER, and Iím not just talking about that stuff you splatter all over the floors and walls that constitute the gameís levels. All of this red exudes a pall of suffocating hostility; even when things are calm, you get the definite sense that Rengkok is a bad place in which to live and an even worse one in which to die. Most character design is restricted to static cels used in dialogue boxes, and they get the job done. It straddles the line between western and eastern animation, which is clearly the point. My personal favorite visual quirks tie into the fact that very little of the protagonistís body is organic. Thatís all Iíll say on that.

RUINERís sound design is almost perfect. Its soundtrack actually is perfect. Comprised mainly of dance and electronica tracks from an eclectic group of artists ranging from Sidewalks & Skeletons and Zamilska to Antigone & Francois X, RUINER always has the right note for whateverís transpiring on the screen. I claimed that RUINERís sound design is almost perfect. What hurts here is the fact that the one thing that keeps it from being perfect goes a long way in rendering the gameís combat far less exciting than it should be. Audio feedback during combat sounds like itís heavily diffused throughout everything else, and as a result, the sense of impact is severely lessened.


Gameplay:

Your brother has been taken and your brain has been hacked. You were sent on a suicidal assassination mission, but someone has intervened and claimed you as her own. Sheís even started calling you "puppy." I donít personally know the extent to which such a horrible situation is capable of affecting RUINERís mute protagonist. All we have to characterize the guy is that his helmet features an electronic display that shows little more than meaningless phrases that donít contain any memetic potential beyond the forced edginess of the writers. Thereís some "dialogue" at points, and your lack of meaningful input (when pressed for a response, youíre generally limited to a nod or a shrug, neither of which anybody ever acknowledges anyway) is probably meant to be satirical or in sync with the gameís themes, but it comes across as just ugly. But you donít play games like RUINER for their narrative ambitions.

You play games like RUINER when you want your digital murder fast, furious, isometric, and indiscriminate. Generally speaking, RUINER delivers on all of that, but it doesnít particularly do it better than (and in many cases not as good as) others. Using a variety of conventional and futuristic firearms, as well as some good old-fashioned melee weapons, you rampage through a series of levels, cleaning them out as you go. Along the way, youíll earn experience, unlock new abilities, and periodically return to a hub world to do some sidequests and other associated business. Itís pretty standard fare for the genre, but the real differentiating factors are in the difficulty and mechanics.


Difficulty:

RUINER conflates difficulty with fun factor; a claim I donít need to back up, as itís openly advertised in the gameís difficulty settings. Thatís all well and good, but it doesnít excuse the game from being significantly more interested in being difficult than it is in being fun. The lengths to which it often goes to demonstrate this are likely more than adequate enough to keep most gamers from returning.

This isnít the kind of game that always gives the player the tools needed to conquer any given challenge. It can feel that way at times, but when you run into a really ugly spike, a more-than-cursory examination of your surroundings, enemy attack patterns, environmental hazards, and other factors is more than enough to confirm that the game is heavily weighted against you at nearly every turn. RUINER does not feature the kind of difficulty that makes it easy for you to observe and adjust, and as an unfortunate result, several of your failings simply cannot be learned from.


Game Mechanics:

RUINER is a twin-stick shooter at heart, though some of its mechanics freshen the proceedings and help distinguish itself from its competition, which, as of late, is surprisingly scarce. Sure, you run, you aim, you fire, and you swing Ė but thatís not all RUINER is.

It couldnít be just that; if it was, the game would be borderline unplayable. But when it comes to these main mechanics, RUINER is functional. On the fly, the controls have a tendency to feel slippery and imprecise. And worse yet, certain feedback loops feel broken. By that last point, I mean two things. First, it's often difficult to tell when you're receiving damage, much less narrow down the origin of that damage. Second, most garden variety enemies have no health bar and don't visually react to damage until they're dead. Yes, RUINER looks like a game that would prove supremely satisfying, especially at the end of a brutal encounter. But I squeaked past several ruthless engagements with no such feeling; I didnít feel exhilarated or skillful, I felt wrung out and lucky. I really donít think thatís what the developers were going for.

Apart from its twin-stick sensibilities, RUINER makes use of both its setting and its tone to excellent effect. The protagonist, being a cyborg, can upgrade himself with skill points earned in the field. Whatís particularly interesting and uncommonly forgiving about RUINER is its flexibility; skill points youíve assigned can be refunded and reassigned at any point. Itís the gameís way of encouraging you to experiment with all the possibilities and be the best murderer you can be. The natural progression of the tree ensures that the game has the potential to get significantly easier the further in you get, and by extension, it's more rewarding and fun once you really are able to start messing around. Shame it takes so long to get there.

RUINER teeters on the edge of being a masocore game, but errs ever so slightly on the side of reason. It goes without saying that itís not for everyone, but it most certainly has a target audience. If youíre a fan of brutally difficult games, you may like what this game has to offer. But the method behind RUINER's madness isn't readily apparent until you're finally let off the leash, and I don't know how many players will be able to reach that point before they turn it off in frustration.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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