Developed by Reikon Games, RUINER is a top down action game made for players who desired to meet the offspring of Jason Todd and Borderlands 2’s Zero. You play as a red-hooded (definitely not Jason Todd) vigilante fighting his way through the cyberpunk city of Rengkok under the guidance of an elusive hacker, known only as Her, who affectionately refers to you as ‘Puppy.’ At the game’s open, an outside party hacks your brain and forces you to assassinate the CEO of Heaven, a massive virtual reality company. After the deed is done, you learn that the conspirators have kidnapped your brother. When you’re labeled as a fugitive and without family, what’s left to do but raze Heaven to the ground?
Top-down shooters often get a reputation for being simplistic, perhaps as a recall to retro arcade towers, but RUINER brings the genre to a modern pace. Finishing off cyber-thugs and cracking open environment pieces will drop Karma, a type of experience which will allow you to level up and unlock new special abilities like Dash, Energy Shield, and Grid Converter, each one with several tiers of upgrades. These upgrades will increase damage done, duration of the ability, or decrease the activation energy cost. Unlike most skill trees, players are allowed to reallocate their upgrade points at will without any cost, permitting far greater play-style flexibility. On paper, ability upgrades sound as if they would throw the fight in your favor, but they have a marginal impact against the scale of RUINER‘s difficulty.
Don’t be fooled, RUINER is not intended for the casual player who simply wants to fill a gap in the release schedule. RUINER is an unforgiving action game that throws mobs of angry thugs at the player, most of which armed far more than you. Weapons are scattered about the map and regularly dropped by enemies, giving you a short-lived advantage. Weapon pickups have a finite amount of ammo before it gets dropped and you return to your default pistol. The pistol isn’t the most effective weapon, but you’ll always have your lead pipe handy for melee attacks as plan B.
As you climb the ladder toward the head conspirator, you’ll come face-to-face with some chaotic boss fights that will be sure to overwhelm you. Each boss will run faster, hit harder, and have more minions than you’re used to, and you’ll most certainly die a few times before you can progress. You’ll find that while the game is difficult, it’s not unreasonable. Checkpoints are located just one or two skirmishes before the stage boss battle, allowing you to backtrack just enough to earn a boot just before the fight. While some players may not enjoy having to repeat the same scuffles when they’re so focused on the boss fight, it rarely sets players back more than a minute or two worth of gameplay.
RUINER is challenging for sure, but its responsive controls are what evens out the fight. You’ll be grossly outnumbered at all times, but control input is as close to instantaneous as you’re going to get. Quick turns and fast environmental kills are the key to keeping your head above water.
In addition to the enjoyment of RUINER‘s gameplay, Reikon added some great little touches that will keep this indie game in my head for quite some time. As a side effect of having your mind hacked, your HUD will distort, flicker, project subliminal messages, and return to normal. ‘Get ’em Puppy,’ ‘Kill boss,’ and ‘Hello Darkness’ are welcomed and familiar phrases that will appear across the HUD as you become accustomed to having someone in your head issuing commands. Distracting noises, flashing screens and animated keyboards are all just a part of the fun. You read correctly: animated keyboards. For those PC players, like myself, who own an LED keyboard, Reikon programmed LED commands into RUINER‘s code. Whenever you step onto a platform that restores health, LEDs light up red on the left side and spread farther to the right as the health bar refills; likewise for the blue energy meter.
However, there is a downside to all of the on-screen chaos. It becomes very easy to lose track of your character between bullets flying, pop up shields, particle effects, and environmental explosions. As soon as you have eyes on your character again, the responsive controls will give you a recovery advantage. But likewise, it’s just as easy to overshoot a move and end up in the crossfire or making the wrong move in a crucial moment.
RUINER is a short game, and is by no means a perfect one. But its challenge, nostalgic returns, and replay value make it worth your time. Just let the price come down first.
RUINER is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Mac