Sitting on a couch in the middle of PAX South with a giant, 100-inch screen just six feet away is hardly the ideal way to play a game, especially with a keyboard on your lap and a mouse on the armrest. But as I dive back into this final arena for my tenth attempt at besting it, I realize there just might be something to Ruiner.
There’s a lot, actually, to Ruiner. The four founders came from CD Projekt, and after getting tired of working on the same stuff over and over again (you know, like the very excellent The Witcher series) decided to start Reikon Games. And from there, boy did they go off in a different direction.
Ruiner is an immense, overwhelming, frenetic top-down action game set in a cyberpunk anime world. If you’re thinking Ghost in the Shell at this point, you wouldn’t be wrong; that is an actual influence on this game, according to graphic designer Karol Wieczorkiewicz. It’s dark in every corner you find but light somehow bleeds through, dripping neon onto every steaming surface you can see.
And between the electronic helmet and impossible firearms, you’ll find pipes and swords. If you’re looking for the inspiration to the combat, it’s Hotline Miami (though the Dark Souls attitude of teaching the player to play is also present). Ruiner certainly not as unrelenting in blindingly quick chunks, but it carries the same spirit of chaotic precision in parceled chunks of violence.
Rapid, incessant movement is key to both the game and your survival. You’ll WASD around, but you’ll also need to dash in order to both avoid taking hits and doling them out. And from that simple mechanic, the game blossoms into myriad interactions and combinations.
One of your gadgets allows you to pop up a recharging shield. At first glance, it seems to only protect you from bullets as you close the gap on well-armed foes. But, as Wieczorkiewicz points out, you can and should combine this with the dash to charge into enemies and obliterate them like a cyberpunk linebacker. After failing so many times at the final arena, though, and watching the journalist before me do the same, it became immediately apparent there’s a necessary depth to this game.
This is especially true as the next layer of your dash skill shows itself. It operates a bit like the turn planning from Transistor. Time will slow to a crawl, and then you can click a sequence of dash movements between and into enemies. It’ll both get you out of sticky situations and into them. It feels sort of like that same tremendous satisfaction you feel after a successful Superhot run and you just know you’re a badass.
Employing these gadgets and skills against varying enemy types forces you to indulge in that intellectual level of play. From what I saw, there are the usual types of fodder guys that just bum-rush you, the slightly more advanced gun-toting baddies, and the acrobatic assassin dudes, and most of them have brute variants that take more hits. It sounds pretty basic, but combine them in the right ways and they make for some engaging and incredibly challenging battles.
The story is also a priority for the team, pouring plenty of attention into the overworld you’ll explore when you aren’t fighting. There’s a pretty neat karma system that, oddly enough, isn’t about being good or bad but more like following the totalitarian city’s rules. Abide, and you’ll find that some parts of the game change for the easier or for the worse.
I didn’t get to see much of that; most of the overworld was locked due to it being a demo, but it looked fantastic. It was like if you blended up every cyberpunk book, movie, and comic and poured out the pulsating mechanical sludge all over the game. It’s pretty dang great.
If it’s any indication of how much promise Ruiner shows, I haven’t gone a single day since PAX South without thinking about it at least once. Its combat is that rare blend of chaos and control. I’m really excited to see if it holds up for the full experience.
Ruiner comes out for PC, macOS, and Linux sometime this year.