Devolver Digital has published some ballsy shooters, from Hotline Miami and Shadow Warrior to the Serious Sam series. Now they maintain tradition by unleashing Ruiner on Xbox One, Windows 10, PlayStation 4, and Steam. An incredibly slick cyberpunk shooter set in a fascinating dark future world, Ruiner is destined for sleeper hit status.
Moreover, Ruiner is a Xbox Play Anywhere title meaning if you buy it for Xbox you get a free copy for PC and vice versa.
Even though Ruiner is an indie game (developed by new Warsaw-based studio Reikon) in the twin-stick shooter genre, it could be mistaken for a AAA game. The visuals feature a bold, futuristic art style drowning in red colors and shadows. Every little piece of technology shows expert design, thought, and attitude.
Ruiner's cinematics are much more dramatic and filmlike than typical indie games (though they lack voice acting). The haunting electronic soundtrack really cements the game's ultra-stylish status. Each song is catchy, intriguing, and propulsive, not unlike Grasshopper Manufacture's Let it Die) on PlayStation 4. Compared to fellow story-based indie shooter Time Recoil, Ruiner is in a whole different league.
Become an unwitting cybernetic assassin
Ruiner begins with a playable prologue in which our helmeted protagonist finds himself on a mission to kill the boss of a corporation called Heaven. A mysterious hacker called Wizard keeps flashing images and instructions to "KILL BOSS" into your mind, though Heaven itself and the boss's identity are unknown to you. Eventually, the connection to your cybernetic brain gets hacked by an even more mysterious female named Her who has other plans for our protagonist.
The prologue doubles as a tutorial level, teaching Ruiner's many gameplay mechanics. That's good, because the arsenal of moves at the hero's disposal rivals that of many FPS games. On top of shooting and melee attacks (which can be charged for added damage), you can dash, use combat abilities, and eventually gear and advanced smartware abilities too.
Dashing is your primary method of avoiding damage. Initially you can dash up to three times, but the dash count and benefits can be upgraded. Holding the dash button allows you to set multiple stop points in one continuous dash, snaking through fire or damaging enemies in the process. This dash chain maneuver is a bit hard to use in the heat of battle though, until you gain and equip the ability to slow time later on.
The actual shooting gameplay is deepened by the loot system. Ruiner has an impressively large variety of guns and melee weapons to pick up from downed opponents, boxes, and lockers. You'll wield pistols (including the titular Ruiner), flame throwers, shotguns with wide spread shots, and many more. Most of these guns have limited ammunition and can't be reloaded, encouraging players to pick up and use nearly everything they come across.
Abilities and upgrades
In the futuristic city of Rengkok, all citizens have a chip implanted into them that tracks their karma, behavior, and more. Karma is the universal currency awarded for compliance and good behavior. Stepping outside of the leadership's comfort zone or killing foes would normally penalize your karma supply. Thankfully, your hacker friend has rigged things so that you steal foes' karma when you kill them.
Collecting karma allows you to level up, gaining access to new areas within the city and increasing the upgrades available to purchase. Skill points from leveling can be spent on thirteen primary skills, including mostly equippable active abilities and a few passive bonuses. Each primary skill has 2-5 upgrades to buy too, offering a deep level of customization for players.
Unusually, Ruiner also lets you reassign spent skill points at any time. Thus you can pull points out of dashing and put them into grenades, or whatever switch the situation calls for. That's a nice idea in theory, but having to juggle points and abilities around so much bogs the pace down at times. You earn karma at a decent enough pace, but making the payouts more generous would cut down on the busywork of reassigning skill points.
After completing the prologue, players will arrive in the slums of Rengkok. There, you'll encounter a variety of NPCs – a few of whom will stop looking out for themselves long enough to help you out. The city is decently sized and loaded with details, including amusing conversations to observe and places to visit. You can also pick up a few quests and bounties, though the number and variety of quests could definitely be greater.
Between jaunts to the city, you'll visit a total of 14 levels – all of which can be replayed for additional karma. Levels have different objectives at times, but they all boil down to finding and eliminating the boss. Layouts aren't entirely linear, and you'll be rewarded for exploration with karma, weapons, and health and energy replenishment stations. Thankfully, there are no pointless collectibles to hunt down.
Boss encounters tend to be exciting affairs, with a primary human-sized foe who is armed to the teeth with unique weapons backed up by hordes of grunts. They'll put your dodging skills to the test, as the hero's minimal life meter can't take many direct hits. After completing individual rooms and the level itself, you'll receive a rating based on speed and deaths.
Achievements and difficulty
Surprisingly, the only incentive for getting a better rating is more karma. Ruiner doesn't fuss around with rating-based Achievements. There are Achievements for beating the game on all three difficulty levels, though. You can drop the difficulty down at any time, which you might have to do if things get too harrowing. Ruiner is a tough game even on Normal difficulty, so playing on Easy your first run-through might be a good idea.
Some of the other 27 Xbox Achievements involve killing enemies in specific ways, collecting all bounties, doing a thousand pushups (a totally silly ability), and even dying 666 times. The hardest Achievement requires players to beat the game without dying, which will be a real challenge.
With so many twin-stick shooters on the market, they often tend to blend together. Ruiner stands at the top of the field, thanks in large part to its ultra-cool presentation. The visuals and sounds are amazingly slick for an indie game, the sci-fi story and setting evoke the best cyberpunk stories like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, and the gameplay has more depth than your average shooter. If you can handle some serious challenge (and a whole lot of the color red), Ruiner certainly won't ruin your day.
- An extremely cool-looking and sounding shooter.
- Lots of gameplay mechanics add depth to the shooting experience.
- A huge variety of ranged annd melee weapons, plus lots of equippable skills and upgrades.
- Xbox Play Anywhere.
- More quests and optional objectives would minimise repetition.
- No voice acting during cutscenes.
- Having to sometimes reassign skill points feels like busywork.
Ruiner sells for $19.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows Store, and Steam. If you buy Ruiner from Microsoft through the Store you can play it on Xbox and PC with syncing status, but only have to pay for it once.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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